Author: riversrunthroughme PM
Aburame Shino has never been alone until this moment. Among those of the Aburame Clan you are never truly alone until you die. rated for language and dark themesRated: Fiction M - English - Angst - Shino A. & Hinata H. - Words: 5,043 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 39 - Follows: 3 - Published: 05-24-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5083460
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Shino took the assassin by surprise.
It was understandable; after all a wallflower in a hooded jacket doesn't stick out in the perpetual monsoon of the Rain Country like it does in the balmy ambiance of the Fire Country. So, when the suspiciously casual young man at the other end of the bar discretely unsheathed his tanto blade and went for his target, he probably hadn't even been aware of the Aburame's presence. That is until the kikkai bugs – up until then hiding a Bunshin nearby – flooded the front of the restaurant and coated the man in an inch-thick layer of living writhing exoskeleton and wings.
As expected, the populace took the appearance of some several hundred thousand insects like they usually did. (i.e.: not very fucking well.)
The restaurant emptied immediately; people barreling over each other and out the doors in shrieking, stampeding throngs, made frantic in their escape from the massive cloud of bugs blooming over the diners, amassing like a clicking black thunderhead. Chairs and tables flipped, chopsticks and sashimi, udon, fine sake flying in brilliant arcs overhead, making a magnificent mess of everything and forcing Shino to use the insects to get his client out of danger. Usually he would have endeavored to be more subtle, but that was not an option left to him as his employer was a dithering moron (and he meant that respectfully, of course.)
It wasn't his fault really. Accepting no argument to the contrary – AKA: his long standing history of being notoriously bad with people – Hokage Tsunade had seen fit to send him solo on an escort assignment to the Rain. This earned him, her, and everyone involved at the mission desk some awkward sidelong stares because everyone and their grandmother's left titty knew that Aburame Shino was a very poor choice indeed for anything resembling a political relations gesture…which was, essentially, what an escort mission was.
Perhaps the Sennin was in a tiff with that particular daimyo, or being brusque with the Aburame Clan for some reason or another, but the fact remained that no matter how competent, clever or undoubtedly talented Shino might be; he was also quintessentially a walking beehive, socially awkward, and creepy. (Oh hell, like he hadn't figured it out by now.) The very last man you sent to appease a paranoid daimyo and his ego. Either way, Tsunade had given him the mission, a manifestly 'do-not-question-me' look, and drained her entire tokkuri in front of him.
In other words: brooking no arguments.
Hanamuri Sakuya, detesting that Konoha had sent a mere sixteen-year-old as her personal protection detail, sought to scorn him by refusing to take her alcohol to a private table where he could keep a closer eye on her. As a result, he'd not been allowed to follow his twenty-year-old employer to the sake bar and was forced to take drastic action long distance. Sakuya-san's screams of terror did not lessen an iota at being swept from the arms of her killer and into a seething carpet of glistening kikkai bugs (for obvious reasons). But hysterical or not she was alive and that was the point.
"Get them off me! Get them off me! Oh my God, you're fired! You're fired! Ugh!"
"You cannot retract my commission because you are disgusted by my methods," Shino reminded the girl somewhat tersely. This was not the first time his clientele had tried to fire him on account of being grossed out. "Why? It was in the contract."
Nearby, the assassin was having pretty much the same reaction, but for less benign reasons as the bugs were crawling through his clothes and hair, buzzing in his ears and occasionally falling like twitching, six-legged gumdrops into his screaming mouth. All the while the insects devoured and gnawed their way through chakra and – should Shino determine this shinobi particularly resilient – flesh if need be. Though, his clan had put them at his disposal, the carnivorous strains of kikkai were strictly last resort only and encompassed only a third of his total swarm. However, a third was more than enough to strip a corpse to its skeleton; standing record: 8.39 seconds, postmortem.
He'd never been forced to use them on a living person as of yet.
"Who sent you?" Shino asked quietly.
He was rewarded with a fresh batch of screams and some gagging. Behind dark glasses he rolled his eyes and admonished his insects out of their victim's mouth while he interrogated them. Troublesome habit of theirs, as he'd trained them to cluster down throats, block windpipes and burst lungs like fleshy balloons. Useful when the intention was death, less so when he meant to get a bit of information out of his adequately terrified captive. He lifted misleadingly delicate hands, insects pouring from his sleeves and taking flight from his fingertips.
"It would be better for you to tell me what I wish to know, in which case I will be less inclined to have my insects make a nest of your eye sockets. They can do that…it takes hours."
"You lie! Leaf-nin would never –"
"Nest," Shino ordered absently. The clicking mass of bugs flew immediately into the shrieking man's face, clustering his eyes and prying eagerly at the thin membrane of their lids, clicking and scuttling and digging.
Behind him, he heard Sakuya disgorging her dinner of expensive sake and kaiseki-ryori on the floor and, having determined she was okay, ignored the woman completely.
The solo missions were new to Shino. Aburame were by nature of their techniques best suited for group combat. Shino, being no exception, preferred to have his favorite teammates at his back when he could afford to. He didn't mind the solitude though, as long as it was temporary. He disliked being alone for extended periods of time. Even now he was accompanied by a companionship of more than several hundred thousand; truth be told, he'd never been truly alone in his life. He wasn't sure how he'd be if he ever was.
He extracted the confession and details of the assassin's assignment to kill Miss Sakuya and contacted the girl's father. There was some fussing. The daimyo's hired Rain-nin arrived to take the assassin into custody and Shino was sent on his way, having done as requested. He'd no doubt be reprimanded for 'indiscretion with clientele'.
Which was the diplomatic way to say 'being a creepy weirdo'.
It would be a long, cold trek back to Konoha and more time than he could have ever wanted to mull over everything that had gone wrong in these last four months.
It had been one-hundred and eighteen days since Hyuuga Neji took his semi-secret recon mission to only-Tsunade-knew-where and hadn't come back. Since then, many of the strange odd-job assignment usually reserved for the clan genius fell to her, or some more suitable member of ANBU. This startled no one behind those porcelain animal masks. Tongues wagged in Konoha after all, it was a well gossiped topic that Hyuuga Neji took missions under the table from time to time and while having a Hyuuga pick up slack had been nice, no one in ANBU Intel would suffer too heavily from the loss (though they hoped the kid came the fuck back. ANBU Hyuuga had a nice ring to it.)
Hinata, however, did not adjust quite so smoothly to the overflow.
Like some internal mechanism had jammed irrevocably within her, suddenly all that she'd worked to be in the last two years fell to naught. She crumbled during high-level missions, choking under the pressure of heavy combat like the greenest of rookies and – at one point – endangered Kiba and Akamaru to enemy fire when she fumbled a basic chakra deflection. Her Juuken got sloppy. Her stammer was back. She could perform none of the higher class taijutsu they knew her capable of. Even the escort missions seemed too much; sending her and into random, epileptic fits of incompetence and catalepsy until Shino had been obliged to step in and take her work load.
Kiba didn't like it. She wouldn't even play with Akamaru anymore and, to the boys, the first sign of trouble was always when Hinata stopped finding Akamaru enjoyable. If there was anything she delighted in, it was incessantly spoiling that giant slobbering ball of floppy-eared fur and only a massive shift in her emotional barometer could usually change that habit. Shino took it as a matter of fact that something was eating her and strongly that whatever the nature of her hurt, its fulcrum laid with her vanished cousin.
She confirmed his suspicions by appearing suddenly in the Aburame block of the village, a duffel bag and her standard-issue chuunin travel pack her only company.
"I can't stand it," she'd told him hollowly. "The house is full of him. Every branch family member loved him. They did. They look at me like a ghost and I can't stand it, Shino-kun. I'll go mad if I'm there one more second."
Her voice never shook and that was the only confession she ever made about what the Hyuuga had done and what the Hokage had allowed them to do and what had kept her awake and screaming for the last two months. Neji and what happened to him was a clan matter and therefore secret beyond all questioning; obscure and unknowable as the arrangement of constellations. Classified, was the term. It was unfortunate she'd made the confession to him and not Kiba. The Inuzuka, brash and braying thing that he was, had sisters and cousins and people whom he must have comforted through loss and betrayal.
'I was a poor choice," he reflected. 'Or maybe she didn't want to be comforted and knew me incapable of such. All I can do for her is take some portion of the death she was meant to deal and shoulder it myself. It's little consolation that I can see. This mission was meant for Neji.' He stopped idly to inspect a phosphorescent moth on the bark nearby, each wing the size of his palm. It fluttered lazily and he let himself think, 'I fear his ghost will haunt her forever.'
"Aburame-san," a voice called suddenly, from behind him.
Under the dripping canopy Shino blinked once and turned. They'd come on him undetected. That alone made him wary. What's more, there were two of them. They made no move to hide themselves, standing cloaked and hooded near the bole of an immeasurably tall tree. In the Rain, trees and vegetation grew to gargantuan heights, fed on the moisture and minerals of ancient mountain valleys that had spouted their foliage from antiquity. Beneath their leaves, the three of them seemed disproportionately small. Also, very, very isolated and Shino was not unaware of it.
"You're working alone," said one of them and under the hood he caught the flash of an oblong disk mask.
Shino felt it unfair that foreign shinobi might take the one opportunity to catch him alone. It was a statistical kick in the face.
"Is that a question, ANBU-san, or a threat?"
"Given the Sound's reputation, Aburame, you should probably take it as a threat."
The colony inside him stirred immediately to life, adrenaline bringing them to the surface of his skin and, like a sentient ribbon of smoke, the hissing swarm of kikkei poured from the folds of his jacket, darkening the air around him. This battle – Shino feared – was not one he could win through brute force. Their auras smoldered with honey-spice burn in the fore of his awareness (it was hard to explain, he didn't sense chakra so much as smell it. His insects were telling him they would make a good meal…which was seldom a good thing actually.)
"I don't have a reputation," said Shino. "But if I did I suppose it would be the same."
"Ooh," said the kunoichi wickedly. "Those are tough words." From her jacket she produced an array of water-repellant smoke bombs, hissing and burning down their fuses. "Let's see how tough you are when we tear all your armor off, huh!"
She came at him head on, solo – they were ANBU; they thought one-on-one would be a fair fight – and hurled her bombs at his feet. They burst into noxious green-brown fumes and filled the clearing instantly, engulfing him and her equally. 'She's immune to her own poisons,' Shino thought. 'She uses that advantage to attack from a field of safety.' There was a figure moving through the smog to his left. 'She doesn't realize I can filter poison using the kikkai.' He spun and slammed a fist into her throat as she came up on what appeared to be an incapacitated victim. He followed the fist with a kunai that struck flesh and splattered blood in the grass, laced the air with a strangled scream.
He felt her leap away and the last of her poison was rinsed from the air by drizzle.
"You cannot poison me," said Shino coolly. "If that is your only expertise then know I am your natural enemy. I compensated for that weakness when I was thirteen."
"Aren't you cool?" croaked the woman. She clutched her blood soaked thigh and twisted the blade from the muscle, throwing it into the grass with a hiss. "I'm impressed, Leaf-nin. That stuff is Wind Country toxin. The best around for deadly and you just metabolize it?" She shivered pleasantly and slapped some kind of poultice bandage over the wound. A coagulate, he suspected as her wound stopped bleeding instantly. "You know talent like that makes me kinda hot."
Shino raised a hand and the black mist of insects spread from his palm. "You'll want to retreat. I don't say things twice."
She smirked and leapt back to her partner's side. "My, my, Takon. He's uppity isn't he, considering we know so much about him? How much we were told."
"Have you considered," said the male Sound-nin tersely, "that maybe our source was trying to protect him?"
"It crossed my mind."
"We don't know anything about their relationship beyond that they've trained and done missions together. Leaf-nin are so tedious about loyalty. You know how Sasuke is despite himself, that little shit."
"There is a traitor in the Leaf?" Shino demanded. The pitch of the kikkai's hum altered just minutely to match his mood at this information. "Our situations are reversed, ANBU-san. It is I taking you hostage."
"For questioning? Ah, no, I think not."
"Offer me a reason why not. I can see none."
The Sound-nin laughed, throwing his hood back and revealing a startling pretty young man, his hair stark white and hung to his pale shoulders, eyes the color of old sky. He tossed a Leaf Village hitae-ate into the grass between them, the light catching brightly in the telltale slash through the emblem. His expression was cross between condescendingly amused and pleasantly intrigued.
"Because I had two sources," he said blandly. "The first was so forthcoming about your abilities, so desperate to give us any information save information about her clan. I daresay she gave you up entirely before we broke her." His grin made him ugly beyond all description. "That Hinata-hime's a fucking whore when you push the right buttons."
The kikkai swarmed the man without a verbal command; the spike of white hot adrenaline that sent the tsunami of insects crashing down on the too-pretty Sound shinobi. The man went down with an animalistic snarl as wave after wave of angry kikkai broke over him, blanketing his body and throwing him end over end in the surf of insect bodies. The clearing filled with the cicada-like buzzing of freely enraged kikkai; a sound only a scarce few enemy-nin had ever heard from this particular Aburame as very, very few opponents had ever been intimate enough to piss him quite so profoundly off.
For the first time, he lashed out in anger.
Among the cacophony of cicadas was the unmistakable high C note of the carnivorous kikkai, keening their pleasure at the kill. It was a haze, requiring all his focus to keep control. His fingers curled as cold whorls coiled in his head and his midriff, chakra draining away into the bellies of thousands, letting them break their diet of energy to feed on real meat. Their eagerness made his own thoughts blur and somewhere Shino felt a momentary jolt of trepidation. Something was not right. What…?
Then an arm looped around his neck and the point of a kunai settled at his jugular.
Instantaneously the kikkai swarm keened as one, tearing themselves from the bones of the false shinobi and leaping forward reactively, moving to stop the threat against their host as a swirling maelstrom of black beetle wings and hunger – "Make them stop or I'll slit you're fucking throat, Leaf-nin!" The tornado swirled away, funnel shimmying uncertainly to a stop, hovering and poised to attack, held back only by the tenebrous command of the captive Aburame heir.
"Wait," he whispered. The multitude burbled angrily. "It's okay," he assured them. "Just wait."
The cloud of insects murmured and circled worriedly.
"Those things are revolting," the Sound-nin commented conversationally, "but they're quick, aren't they?"
"The kikkai were feeding on flesh," Shino pointed out. "How is it you are there and yet here?"
"My little secret. And don't bother with draining my chakra. I haven't got any."
"Me neither," said a second identical voice from Shino's immediate left.
Then from his right, "Ditto."
Two photocopy Sound-nin stepped into his line of sight, grinning as each of them grabbed an arm with hands too solid to be even the faux solidarity of a Kage Bunshin, the both of them smiling the exact same mirror-image grins, colorless hair, eyes the same shade of chemical blue drain cleaner. They were solid through and through, bone and blood and flesh but undoubtedly the exact same shinobi thinking the exact same thing and they grabbed him as collective psychic one and shoved him to the ground. The kikkai chattered and spiraled.
One of them produced a soaking rag the color of iodine while another tore the clasps of Shino's collar open down to his chest, another yanking his hood off. The one with the rag pressed it over his nose and mouth and held it against his face so hard he could feel his jaw bruise in five individual fingerprints. The smell made him retch, like inhaling ammonia and wasabi fumes laced with peppermint. It sent crazy, sickening curls of dizziness and muscle spasms through him like electrocution and he couldn't think. The chemicals destroyed his ability to focus, to control. He couldn't… Where were…? No.
He went rigid.
"Relax. This'll just take a second," the Sound-nin promised.
The clones held him fast, pinning him down.
"Yes, this doesn't hurt humans," said the clone on his left.
A voice in his ear: "This is going to hurt, though, Aburame-san."
Then the seizures took him; chemical hardwired convulsions, one after the other like tremors through a planet's core, crushing and obliterating everything below the surface. But Shino wasn't stone and earth. He was flesh and blood and he felt it. Thousands and thousands still hidden in the dark shelter of his body exploding and dying without warning or reason or purpose and their destruction ripped through his mind like a fissure opening in a continent. The shock rendered him incapable of thought or defense, helpless against the onslaught of pain and horror and knowing exactly what they were doing to him – Shino screamed as the kikkai died inside him.
"Well, well, looks like I do know my insecticide," sneered the kunoich's voice somewhere, fading, moving away.
"Oh no, you need to stay awake for this," said a voice, slapping him sharply. "C'mon. Don't spoil it now,
Overhead, the rest of the swarm milled in desperate confusion, flocking like startled birds around the canopy, crackling and snapping wildly as they lost their direction and the guiding force they were bred to have from birth and without it they coiled and writhed purposeless in the air. They were separate from him and he from them and for the first time in his life he was absolutely empty, completely and utterly unaccompanied and the aching hollowness of it left him nerveless and shaking. He could barely keep coherent. How was it possible to function this way? He didn't know… He couldn't…
There was nothing in their way. No one stopping them. The rain would wash everything away and who would find him here? He couldn't move. He couldn't do anything. All his weapons were found and stripped, tossed to join the flak and the ANBU issue armor Kurunai-sensei gave him so long ago and all he could think was he'd never lost before, that he'd never imagined losing felt like this. So goddamn lonely…
The grass was freezing, soaking and slick against his stomach, face and hands. Fingers knotted in his hair, pressing his cheek into the leaves and the mud, the overpowering smell of decomposing leaves and soil.
The buzz of kikkai filled his head.
The rain would wash everything away. Everything.
- - -
"Have you heard –?"
"Do you know about –?"
"Is it true –?"
"What happened to Shino –?"
"They carved a –?"
"– into his back! And left him –"
"– four three days before a Rain-nin found him."
"Oh my God."
"I goddamn knew it."
Kiba slammed the door shut and jammed a chair under the knob to prevent unwanted access. The nursing staff could fuck themselves but if one more Peeping-Patty stuck her nose in here with a goddamn camera he'd bite. It. Off. It was still raining outside, had been raining for weeks in Konoha which meant it had been a monsoon swamp land in the Rain Country. Meant Shino nearly drowned before they found him. Meant he was in advanced stage of hypothermia when they found him. Meant his entire swarm of several million was dead when they found him, taking with them his only defense and – according the medical record – Shino's higher brain functions; such as the ability to wake the hell up.
"Fucking assholes," he hissed, whisking the blinds shut. "Goddamn it. Insensitive shit-heads. No common fucking courtesy."
"Stop swearing, Kiba-kun," whispered Hinata from her vigil at the bedside. Her voice was muffled by her own hands, clasped against her mouth. "It's not helping anyone."
The two remaining thirds of Team 8 were silent, the only sound to break the silence being the steady pulse of the EKG machine and the faint shallow sound of Shino's breathing, a noise that Kiba was most pointedly trying not to listen intently for every second. Akamaru's big head was laid disconsolately at the edge of the bed, sad liquid eyes roving from his master, to Hinata to the unmoving figure in front of them. He licked an unresponsive hand and whined.
Kiba placed a hand on his head and stood with them.
Hinata closed her eyes.
"He looks so goddamn small," Kiba complained pointlessly. Hinata said nothing back, only sat in silence, watching. He attempted valiantly to not say anything else, but in the end, even as he hated the way his voice clenched around itself, he started talking again; just desperately trying to fill the quiet that was no longer a voluntary choice. "I thought he was…taller. Or something."
He scrubbed his eyes angrily.
"We should have been there. It wasn't his fucking mission."
"It wasn't fair. Those goddamn cowards out there in the fucking Rain all by himself, what kind of shinobi does that? Tsunade should have sent someone with him!"
"How did this happen? I mean it's Shino! He doesn't lose; he's a fucking genius, right? Why didn't he kill those sons-of-bitches and use 'em for bug food or just – I dunno – do something to stop them? Why'd he let them do this to him? I mean, dammit it, he's not supposed to…like this…not even fucking…"
The Inuzuka boy stopped finally and looked at her. She couldn't remember having ever seen him so blank with grief, so helpless in the face of everything or so desperately in need of someone to say something, anything, just something to him to somehow make things make sense again. Hinata didn't have anything to say though. Knowing what she knew, she didn't have a word in her left to heal. Her voice was level as a beam.
"Just be quiet."
There were tears on her cheeks.
"Just don't…say anything."
Kiba succeeded for exactly thirty seconds.
"I fucking hate this is the first time I've seen his face."
Hinata didn't berate him. She just reached up and touched the back of her pale fingers to the Aburame's temple in what was, as far as Kiba could remember, the first physical contact she'd ever initiated between them. The Hyuuga girl's lip trembled slightly in the gray light, her eyes looking like reflections of the moon inside her head.
When the hospital took him in, they'd removed Shino's gear, flak, and body armor, headband and all. Without his hood or hitae-ate to control the dark tangle of his hair, the weight of it and the rain that nearly killed him had washed it down around his face in a dark mess. It had the affect of making his face look thinner, unexpectedly epicene. His eyes were closed, their shape defined in lines of dark lashes against his pale skin. He looked more fragile than either of them expected.
Hinata tried and failed to smile.
"I thought he'd look different…" she admitted.
- - -
He woke up.
It wasn't a very prolific kind of waking up. He didn't say anything, didn't clutch her hand and tell her things the dying needed to tell the living, that the living needed to hear before the dying took their secrets with them wherever they went. Shino didn't do any of that. Instead, for a split second his eyes fluttered open and met hers. They were a strange ghostly white-green, unnerving and brilliantly bizarre as her own. It was impossible to tell whether his were the cataracts of blindness or genetic quirk of his clan, hidden all these years behind dark lenses. Either way, he smiled at her; a tiny thing, the kind of muscle quirk only the eyes of a Hyuuga could pick out among the shifting nuances of the face. Then he closed his eyes again and slipped back into the sarcophagus dark of his coma.
He didn't wake up again.
- - -
"It's a jutsu."
"It's a jutsu. The coma is not natural, but induced. He should have recovered."
"What does this mean?"
"It means one of two things: either we wait it out and hope the jutsu runs its course or my fuinjutsu experts can go in and attempt to break the jutsu."
"The procedure…is it dangerous?"
"Very. There is a very low chance he will survive such an intensive procedure, given the nature of his anatomy. An Aburame is more difficult to treat, their entire bodies being bound through contractual jutsu. Any tampering on our part could shatter his psyche entirely. He's still connected to what remains of his unsummoned swarm and such bindings are temperamental, almost as much as the Cage Seal of the Hyuuga, in fact. Worse, the jutsu's nature has been determined as completely benign. While it won't let him wake, it also won't kill him, though the complications of the vegetation state most likely will. Given that knowledge, his family will have a hard time consenting to an invasive fuinjutsu treatment when just leaving him be might keep him alive."
"But…Shino is in a coma."
"Yes. But he's alive. There is a very important distinction. Alive, even in such a desperate state, gives hope to the living. That is what makes the nature of a coma so terrible: that the victim cannot consent to anything, cannot offer any assurances to loved ones besides their continued living. Families live haunted by the terror that they will go against the wishes of the victim."
"B-but Shino-kun was a shinobi. Surely he left some kind of…"
"No. He did not. I believe his exact words on the matter were, 'Life is too variable to account for every situation on a single piece of paper. Better to leave such things in the hands of those I trust.' Whatever choices are made now will be those made by his family and friends. I'm sorry, Hinata, but you need to know. You are his teammate after all. Go home and get some sleep. You look terrible."
- - -
Hyuuga Hinata was alone when she broke.
"God damn you, Shino." She screamed into the dirt; on her hands and knees beneath the old sakura tree. "God damn you!"
Hyuuga Hinata was sixteen when she stopping beleiving. In what? Frankly, it hardly matters now.
Found in my backup memory cards. Can be seen as a partner peice to Nightingale or a standalone. Don't care. Just thought it was cool. Drop a review if you liked it. I know I did.