Title/Author: Firefly by Reinamy

Pairing: Shino/fem!Naruto

Summary: In which Aburame Shino is the moth and Uzumaki Naruto is the flame.

Warnings: Canon AU, genderswap, language, fluff, angst, time skips, wordiness, Shino-feels, slow build, romance like whoa.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. This is non-profitable fan work. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: Because Shino is fascinating and fem!Naruto is awesome and the combination of the two makes me want to squeal in fangirlish glee.

In other words, welcome to my first Naruto fic! I hope you guys enjoy it! Please read the warnings before you start the chapter and get ready for what I hope to be an emotional ride. Thanks for checking out my story.


"Curiosity is a lust of the mind."

- Thomas Hobbes

Aburame Shino was five years old the first time he saw her. It was during his weekly excursion to the playground, something his parents deemed important in order to get him to socialize with his non-familial peers, and, as usual, wasn't succeeding in the slightest.

It wasn't for lack of trying on his part. Shino was aware of the importance of human interaction with members of the same age group and how it contributed to his mental and emotional development, which was why he genuinely tried to get along with the children his parents tried to steer him towards. The Aburame name, however, had a stigma attached that even those who had never come into contact with them was wary of.

It didn't matter that the Aburame clan was one of the four noble clans of Konohagakure, or that their specializations were pivotal to the village. For unfathomable reasons outsiders could not overlook the fact that they were the human hosts of insects, and they looked at his clan members as if they were bugs taking human form. Shino reluctantly accepted the fact that most children lacked the intelligence necessary to distinguish a distinction, but in his experience even adults, who really should have known better, reacted the same way.

More than once he had overheard others talk respectfully of his clan's many accomplishments, and yet those same people could neither conceal their aversion to being in close proximity with them, nor hide how unsettled they were by the tools they used to achieve success.

Shino's parents often assured him that things would be different when he got older and that he'd one day meet people who would be capable of seeing him for him. And while Shino did not particularly enjoy having such little faith in his parent's wisdom, he couldn't find much evidence to support it. While his parents had indeed made close acquaintances outside of the clan such a thing seemed to be more the exception than the rule—and Shino, for all he liked to pretend that having friends mattered very little to him, was disheartened that he might not be as fortunate.

It had been another wasteful day. The moment he approached the children at the playground they instantly became wary. They didn't outright refuse him from participating in their games but they were hardly welcoming, either, and were painfully unsubtle in their unwillingness to get too close to him. Shino persevered for exactly one hour before he bid his temporary playmates goodbye and retreated to the security of his parents. As always, he pretended not to notice their poorly hidden sighs of relief.

Shino pushed his glasses further up his nose as he considered what logical argument he could make that would persuade his parents into reconsidering the necessity of those weekly visits. He was so lost in thought that he didn't even notice the figure rapidly approaching, and by the time he did it was too late to do anything but shift his stance, recall his allies back inside of him, and prepare himself for the inevitable pain.

The person crashed into him with such force that no amount of prior bracing could have made the encounter less painful. They fell to the ground in a flurry of joints and limbs and Shino couldn't help the small groan of pain he released when the person on top of him finally stopped flailing.

He stared up at the dusty blue sky somewhat dazed, uncaring for the moment that his glasses had been knocked askew, and struggled to regain the breath that had been knocked out of him.

"Ow," a distinctly female voice whined.

Shino considered telling the girl that if anyone had the right to complain just then it was him, but decided against it. It would solve nothing.

After reassuring himself that nothing had been sprained, twisted, dislocated, or broken, Shino started to sit up. His efforts were thwarted when a face fell over his, thankfully blocking out the harsh glare of the sun, and he was met with a pair of the bluest eyes he had ever seen.

"Hey, hey, are you alive?" his accoster asked.

Shino had half a mind to tell her that such a question was redundant if she still had cause to wait for an answer, but the comment died in his throat when she leaned forward to peer at him, as if to make absolutely sure he wasn't dead.

"I'm fine," Shino grunted, and the face hovering over his immediately broke into a wide smile.

Perhaps it was the glow of the sun that illuminated her blond hair into tendrils of gold, or the enormous grin that softened the curious whisker marks on her cheeks into something less fierce. Maybe it was the way her sapphire-blue eyes sparkled with amusement, with life, and her body vibrated against his with a vitality that seemed to seep through his clothes and into his skin. It might have been any of those things, or a conglomeration of all of them. In the end, Shino supposed it didn't matter; the result was the only thing of true relevance, anyway.

The moment they were on their feet she was moving again, arm raised in a wave as she ran off. Shino wanted to tell her that she should probably pay more attention to her surroundings if she wanted to avoid knocking herself and another unsuspecting victim to the ground, but the words wouldn't come. His tongue felt heavy in his equally tight throat and he absently wondered if he were getting sick. That would certainly account for his sudden bout of lightheadedness and stomach cramping. He couldn't figure out where his thundering heartbeat factored in and dismissed the idea of myocardial infarction almost immediately. He lacked several symptoms.

Shino wasn't aware of time passing, and as such, didn't know how long he'd been standing there, staring after a girl who'd long since disappeared. His parents had eventually come to retrieve him but when they asked what troubled him Shino found he couldn't answer. He'd never before had trouble with articulating his thoughts but now...now they scattered like dust particles whenever he tried to arrange them into something coherent.

Shino reasoned that his difficulty stemmed from his inability to understand it himself. He didn't know what was wrong with him aside from the physical indicators, but he had a feeling that there was more to it than that. A cold might certainly explain some of it, but it didn't explain why his thoughts were so disordered and why he couldn't bring himself to stop thinking about the girl who'd all but tackled him to the ground.

Hair like spindled gold. Soft almond skin. Eyes the color of the ocean during the sun's zenith and just as vibrant, just as vast. A blinding smile that rivaled sunlight against birthmarks that should have looked intimidating yet somehow weren't.

Brash. Reckless. Vivacious. And so completely unrepentant about it. She'd crashed into him with the force of a hurricane and hadn't once apologized for it. She was wild and she was shameless and she knew it.

Shino tended to dislike such impropriety. It indicated abrasiveness, insolence, and conceit; traits that were heavily frowned upon within his clan and for good reason. Arrogance caused imprudence which hindered logic and threatened structure. Disarray and unproductivity was the result of irrationality and instability. It was why the Aburame clan were so uncompromisingly self-contained. While they were not the insects they carried, the conduct and structure of the clan was in accordance with them. Insects were beings of pragmatism. Each and every one of them had a duty, both to their colonies and their environment. They did not let emotions get in the way of their responsibilities, and that was a principle instilled into the minds of each generation of Aburame. While it was important to remember that they were above all else human, it was equally important to restrain human instincts and impulses when they threatened to obstruct one's goals.

Shino should have been repulsed by her behavior. Her carelessness had caused him harm and she hadn't even taken a moment to apologize before she was tearing off again, no more wiser than she was before. She was rude, and reckless, and brutish, and wild, and Aburame Shino had never, ever met anyone so mesmerizing in all his five years of life.

He never saw the girl again.

He tried finding her but there was only so much a five year old could do with only a name to go on. She never returned to the park when he was there and when he tried to ask around he was constantly stonewalled. She was blond and she had blue eyes, but there were quite a few kids with blond hair and blue eyes in their village. It was only when he described her strange birthmarks that he got answers but they were all…peculiar. Not to mention the furthest thing from helpful.

According to the other children her name was some variation of Naru. She was their age, she didn't belong to a notable clan, and she was annoying. She was also something of a pariah. The kids didn't know why, but most of their parents had warned them about befriending the girl. Apparently she was really bad news and best to be avoided.

After he'd finished prying every ounce of information out of the them he'd gone on to confront their parents. He'd asked the same questions and said the same things, and while their answers had been similar in nature to that of their progenies, their physical responses had been so very different.

Hatred. Fear. Disgust. Unadulterated loathing.

The girl's name was Uzumaki Naruto and she was a monster.

They never said more than that and outright refused to elaborate, but it was a consensus between them. They were insistent that the girl was the living embodiment of evil and that Shino would do well to not go near her, lest she corrupt him.

Shino would have been quick to dismiss it as fantastical nonsense but their expressions had made him reluctant to do so. They reminded him of an enemy nin he'd once seen being apprehended by ANBU. The man had attempted to steal a forbidden scroll from the Hokage's tower and Shino and his father had stepped out of the building just in time to see the man get slammed into the pavement, two of Konoha's deadliest forces pinning him in place. Shino had only been three at the time but he could still recall the look on the man's face even now. He'd been furious, spitting mad and halfway insane from it, but there'd been fear in his eyes, too, the kind born from helplessness and despair and the assurance that future suffering would be as great as it were inevitable.

The villagers had looked like that, too, when they spoke her name, as if they had committed the greatest sin just by doing so and she'd appear at any moment to consume their souls.

The fact that they referred to her as it and thing only reinforced his apprehension. Shino had never been one to take others' words at face value, especially words as dubious as that, but the conviction in their words, hardened by audible steel and barbed wire, made him wary.

He sat on the data for two days before deciding to ask his parents. He doubted he would get any further on his own and the information he'd gathered so far produced more questions than they answered. It helped that he could always trust his parents to tell him the truth, no matter how insensitive or unforgiving it was.

"Mother, father," Shino started. He waited for them to set down their bowls, as was polite, and continued, "Who is Uzumaki Naruto?"

Shino saw their eyebrows rise from above their glasses and he shifted in his seat. That his parents would outwardly show their surprise was worrying.

"Why do you ask?" Shibi inquired, peering at his son.

Shino wished he'd had the foresight to bring his glasses to the dining table. He felt vulnerable under his parents' intense gazes and it took extreme effort not to look away.

"She…ran into me several weeks ago. I've made a few inquiries about her around the play center," he glanced at his hands, oddly embarrassed by his interest in the girl, "but the information I've gathered has been unfruitful at best and…unsettling at worst."

"I see," Noriko murmured. She sounded thoughtful, which was reassuring. Shino had come to them fully aware that they might react the same way the other adults had, particularly if there was some basis of truth to it. That they weren't reacting so strongly or negatively calmed some of the nerves he'd been carrying with him the past few days. If Uzumaki Naruto was really dangerous his parents would have immediately forbidden him from interacting with her. There caution was still apparent, which was evidence enough that there was something going on with the girl, but clearly it wasn't anything perturbing enough to cause distress.

"The girl was orphaned during the attack of the Kyuubi no Kitsune several years ago," Shibi eventually said.

"Who were her parents?" Shino asked immediately.

"We're not at liberty to say," Noriko intoned.

Shino nodded. That his parents weren't allowed to reveal their identities was significant. He filed the thought away to peruse later.

"The villagers claim she's a monster," Shino said, taking note of the way they tensed and visibly forced themselves to relax.

"Is she, then?" he prompted after several seconds of silence.

One of the reasons why he'd been so reluctant to acknowledge that there was an inkling of truth behind the villager's words was because he couldn't fathom why the Hokage would allow something so supposedly dangerous to exist within the village. It was illogical. That his parents hadn't reacted severely to the mention of the girl's name had assuaged his worries, but now…

"No," Shibi said, then repeated more assuredly, "no, she's not."

Shino wilted with relief. "Then why…?"

"It's…complicated," Noriko admitted. "We're not allowed to discuss the details of that either, but…your father's right, Shino. She's not a monster. The villagers are…not entirely logical in their treatment of the girl."

Another thing that his parents weren't allowed to disclose. Shino filed that tidbit away, too.

"So neither of you would mind if I were to approach her?"

His parents glanced at each other. Words weren't spoken but Shino knew a conversation was taking place, anyway.

"We don't oppose," Shibi eventually said. "Whether you choose to befriend her or not is a decision that should be made based on your own observations and personal judgment."

Shino nodded. He would have done so anyway.

"Tell me, Shino, what is your impression of Uzumaki-san so far? I admit that I've never met the girl personally."

"You said she ran into you?" Shibi asked.

"Yes. And then she proceeded to continue running with little regard to the people around her, clearly not having learned her lesson." Shino paused and added, "Also, she didn't apologize."

Noriko sounded almost amused when she said, "I see. So the first impression wasn't very favorable, I take it?"

"No, I…" Shino trailed off, trying to think of a way to describe what he'd felt. It wasn't the best of impressions, certainly, but it hadn't necessarily been a bad one either. "She's…" he struggled to find a suitable description. There were so many words he could use to describe her, some of them not quite good and others not altogether bad, but the words that were coming to mind weren't enough. Like puzzle pieces they all contributed to a larger picture, but when separated they didn't make much sense, not to those who didn't have the foresight to see the end result.

Shino could say that she'd been rude, and coarse, and reckless, but she wasn't only those things; she was also sincere, and charming, and bright. He didn't know how to explain that those traits were an interconnected web because it didn't make much sense even to him. Yes, she was rude, but rather than making her seem arrogant it just made her seem sincere, like she refused to offer platitudes she didn't mean. Yes, she was coarse, but instead of coming across as annoying it just seemed charming, as if her crassness was a part of her she refused to hide to appease the sensibilities of others. And yes, she was reckless, but that just made her seem alive, as vibrant and bright as the sun breaking unrepentantly through a blockade of clouds.

She was all of those things and so much more and Shino didn't understand how a girl he'd met for all of two minutes could have possibly made such a massive impression on him. It didn't make any sense.

"Interesting," he found himself saying, lost in the memory of sparkling eyes and shining hair and a smile that promised mischief. "She was…interesting."

He completely missed the thoughtful looks his parents shared across the table.

Shino was one of the first to arrive at Konoha's Shinobi Academy. After a two-hour long orientation in which the new students were supplied with a brief overview of the origins, history, and purpose of the Academy and a more detailed explanation of the rules, expectations, and structure, Shino was finally assigned a class: Umino Iruka and Shigeki Mizuki, class 1-A. He had little difficulty in finding the room, which was considerably larger than he'd expected. He took a corner seat towards the back, opposite the window, and waited.

A minute later two others arrived—Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji—and they nodded at him briefly before claiming seats towards the middle.

Nara and Akimichi were one of the few children that Shino had actively sought to befriend when he'd been younger. They had been logical choices, both of them coming from prominent clans and being of calmer dispositions, like he was. The Nara's were revered as a clan that valued intelligence and produced geniuses, and from what he'd gleaned from his father, the Akimichi's were well-known for being the most open-minded and progressive of the clans. To a child that hosted insects inside his body, they'd seemed the most suitable prospects; Nara would have been intelligent enough to realize that hosting kikaichuu did not make him one, and even if Akimichi didn't quite understand, he would have been open-minded enough to not care.

Shino hadn't been wrong in his assessment. Nara had been capable of making the distinction and Akimichi genuinely hadn't cared. What he hadn't taken into account was the fact that Nara was nearly as reticent as he was, making interaction between the two awkward, and that he and Chouji were best friends, leaving Shino to feel like the odd one out. He couldn't understand the inside jokes and references they shared (when Nara deemed to speak), and Shino was honest enough with himself to know that he'd been jealous.

He had kept company with the two for a week before he determined it a lost cause and stopped trying. In the end, it was less painful to have no friends than to be a third-wheel to people who clearly weren't interested.

More people began to trickle in. Shino counted nineteen before an adult who he assumed was either Umino Iruka or Shigeki Mizuki sauntered in and shut the door. The man, a chuunin by the look of it, was of average height and build. He had an inviting face and his only distinguishing feature was a long, thick scar that ran across his face. He spent several minutes flipping through various folders, writing in a notebook, and organizing his desk. Shino had to wonder if the man was new to teaching.

"Quiet down," the man suddenly barked, surprising Shino and shattering his first impression of him as a mild-mannered individual. The man waited several seconds for all activity and noise in the room to cease before he continued, "My name is Umino Iruka and I will be your main instructor for the duration of your time here at the Academy. Your other instructor, Shigeki Mizuki, will be joining us shortly. You will refer to us as sensei at all times and raise your hands when you have questions. Speaking out of turn will not be tolerated, understood? Now keep quiet while I call out your names and raise your hand so I can see who you are. First, Aburame Shino?"

Shino raised his hand and Umino-sensei glanced at him, marked something on the notepad he was carrying, and called the next name. Shino let his arm fall back to the table.

"Akeda Sayuri?"

"Akimichi Chouji?"

"Deguchi Keitaro?"

"Fukuzawa Masuru?"

"Hyuuga Hina—"


The whole class flinched when the door slammed open with enough force to rattle the walls and a girl wearing a bright orange civilian dress rushed in, red-faced and panting.

Blond hair. Blue eyes. Whisker-like birthmarks. Shino sat up in his seat and stared in astonishment as the girl leaned forward and gasped for breath.

"I-I'm s-sorry I'm late," she wheezed, staring sheepishly at the irritated teacher. "I-It won't happen a-again."

"Name?" Umino-sensei gritted out.

"U-Uzumaki Naruto! N-nice to meet ya, sensei-san!"

Shino caught the man's minute flinch from the corner of his eye but couldn't bring himself to tear his gaze away from the girl who Shino had thought had vanished from the village two years ago. He felt something that bordered on anticipation when he realized that the girl—that Uzumaki Naruto—would be sharing the same class with him for however long it took either of them to become genin. That was, unless she got kicked out of the Academy for tardiness first.

"Do not make a habit of being late, Uzumaki-san. This is your first offense so I'll let you off with a warning, but there will be repercussions the next time. Now take a seat."

Shino doubted he was the only one to notice how frigid the man's voice had become, but unlike most, he suspected it was not wholly attributed to her unpunctuality. Uzumaki didn't seem phased in the least, however. She simply saluted the teacher, scanned the room, and practically skipped her way towards one of the few empty seats.

It took him a moment to realize that she was heading in his direction, likely for the empty seat adjacent to his. A peculiar feeling settled into his stomach and Shino forced himself to look away as she approached. He returned his attention to the front, where their teacher was continuing the roll call with more irritability than Shino personally deemed necessary.

His ears twitched when he heard the seat beside his being dragged against the tiles. There was a loud creak as a body fell into the plastic chair, followed by the thud of a bag hitting the table, then the soft rustling of papers.

"Hi!" a voice suddenly chirped in his ear.

Startled, Shino glanced sideways to see her leaning towards him.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto. How do ya do!"

It felt like an entire minute had passed before Shino could bring himself to answer. He slowly nodded in her direction and was rewarded by a smile so blinding it could have easily been labeled a B-rank offensive attack. He blinked against the flashing spots in his vision and carefully answered, paying little heed to the way his heart was curiously hammering in his chest. "I'm Aburame Shino. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Uzumaki-san."

Her nose scrunched up, presumably at his formal response, but when she opened her mouth to speak she was interrupted by a piercing whistle from the front of the classroom.

"Take out your syllabi and the Academy regulation book," Umino-sensei commanded. "We'll begin an overview of what we'll be covering this term, our expectations of you, and what's required of you to advance to the next class. Afterward Mizuki-sensei and I will give you a tour of the building and the facilities we'll primarily be using. Ah, and here's Mizuki now."

Another chuunin stepped into the room, this one slightly shorter and slimmer than Umino-sensei, wearing a dark bandana over shoulder-length white hair. He, too, came across as amiable, but Shino would not repeat his earlier mistake of categorizing the man without further observation.

Mizuki-sensei, as they were instructed to call him, made his introductions and the class was promptly pulled into an elaborate discussion of the curriculum.

When Shino finally caved several minutes later and turned his head to observe the girl, it was to find her…sleeping. He had to bite back an exasperated snort. He took the opportunity to study her without fear of interference and practically drank in the sight of her. For the past two years Shino had nothing but the memory of their brief encounter to content himself with, but even that had begun to fade despite his best efforts. The human memory, while superior to that of other animals, was still disappointingly limited as a storage unit, and with time Shino had begun to lose the memory of what she looked like until only a vague recollection of blue eyes and blond hair had remained.

Looking at her now was like a dream. Half of her face was obscured by the crook of her elbow and her eyes were firmly shut, but it was still more than he'd had even a day ago. Uzumaki's hair, which was styled short and messy, was brighter than he remembered, more yellow than conventionally blond. Her skin was still several shades darker than his, golden-hued and seemingly flawless. The whiskers were as mischievous-looking as ever, branching out from a dainty nose and full lips and curving over cheeks still round from childhood.

She was…she was beautiful. Shino could think of no other word in that moment to describe her. She appeared calmer in sleep, vivid features softened into something chaste, and Shino was enthralled. Blond eyelashes against almond skin, tufts of hair spilling over pointed ears, a hint of moisture at the corner of a well-defined mouth; it all contributed to a visage that left Shino strangely breathless.

That a girl such as her, who contradicted everything the Aburame clan stood for, could illicit such a response from Shino, who prided himself on both his stoicism and integrity, was staggering. Shino calculated the problems such an attraction could arouse and knew what he should do to curtail it before it got out of hand. The girl was dangerous; he barely knew her and already she was making him question ideals that had been impressed upon him since birth. Worse, she was causing him to behave irrationally, for there simply was no logic in his excessive reaction towards her. If she could cause such instability without even trying then Shino shuddered to think of what she'd be capable of if she actually were.

Distancing himself from such an unknown, though potentially dangerous, variable, would be the most logical course of action to take. Shino knew that. And yet he didn't think he could. He imagined himself ignoring and avoiding her like so many others in the village did and the picture it painted was disquieting. No, he couldn't do that—not to her, and certainly not to himself. Even if she was detrimental to his well-being and her friendship had no tangible benefit for him (aside from giving some semblance of peace of mind), Shino couldn't imagine abandoning the opportunity to get to know her better. Not when he'd spent the past two years wishing for such a chance.

His attention was briefly drawn to the front when Umino-sensei cleared his throat and announced that they'd soon begin the Academy tour. The classroom fell into a burst of activity as the students rummaged through their belongings for what their sensei assured them they'd need.

Shino turned to Uzumaki and hesitated. He thought of his concerns, deliberated on why they were founded and what reason he had to dismiss them, but…in the end it didn't matter. For the first time in his life Shino was going to do the illogical thing, and he couldn't even bring himself to care.

He reached out and placed a hand on Uzumaki's shoulder and gently shook her awake. Bleary blue eyes peered up at him in confusion and Shino hid a tiny smile behind his collar.

"Uzumaki-san, our class is about to leave for the tour."

"Tour?" she murmured tiredly. After a few seconds it seemed to click and she shot up from the desk and exclaimed, "The tour! Oh man, I can't believe I fell asleep! What did I miss, huh? And did we go over anything important? Did the teacher notice? Oh man, this sucks! This is the last time I'm going to rely on that stupid alarm clock, believe it!"

At the end of her tirade she glanced at Shino and shot him a sheepish grin. "Oh! Um, thanks for waking me up! I would've been toast if the teacher caught me snoozing! By the way…what's your name again?"

"Aburame Shino," Shino said slowly, marveling at how much of a spaz the girl apparently was.

(Shino didn't want to know what it said about him that he found such a thing so endearing.)

"Shino-kun! That's right! I'm Uzumaki Naruto, just in case you forgot!"

"I remembered, Uzumaki-san."

The girl made a face at him. "Ugh, please do not call me that. It's Naruto. Or Naruto-chan. Heck, even Naruto-kun. Anything but Uzumaki or with san attached, alright?"

Shino pushed his glasses further up his nose and nodded, secretly pleased. "Naruto, then."

Naruto beamed at him. "Then I'll call you Shino, too! By the way, are we supposed to bring anything with us?"

"Just a blank notebook and pencil."

Naruto immediately began to rummage through her bag. She went at it for a long while, face scrunching in determination with every second that passed. Shino watched in impolite amusement as she eventually turned over her entire bag and stuck her head inside.

"Eh, Shino…?" she muttered, pulling her head out. Shino hadn't thought it possible, but her hair looked even messier. "Could I possibly…" she trailed off, glancing at the pencil that lay on Shino's outstretched hand. "Oh," she continued blankly.

When she didn't move to take it Shino glanced at it, expecting to find some deficiency with it, but the pencil was perfectly sharpened and looked sturdy enough so he couldn't understand her hesitance.

An alarming thought flashed through his mind that perhaps Naruto wasn't as indifferent to the Aburame name as she appeared to be. He looked up warily, bracing himself in case he were subjected to the same expression of polite disgust that so many others wore around him. What he discovered instead was a look he had no hope of deciphering but still made something hot coil in the pit of his stomach.

"Thanks," Naruto whispered, eyes shining suspiciously. She reached out and gently retrieved the pencil. Her slender fingers curled around the wood like it was something delicate.

"Hey, Shino? Would you like to be friends or something?" she asked cautiously. Her gaze never left the utensil in her hand.

Or something.

Shino licked his suddenly dry lips and forced that uncomfortable thought from his mind. He exhaled slowly and wondered how such a simple thing like an offer of friendship could seem so pivotal.

"I…yes. That would be acceptable."

Naruto's expression abruptly changed. Within the blink of an eye she was once again beaming, eyes half-shut and smile spread wide. It was infectious and Shino couldn't help but return a small one of his own, even if she couldn't see it.

Shino looked forward to the day when she'd be able to read his expressions without physical evidence, like his father's partner, Inuzuka Tsume, could with him.

Or something.

"We're going to be the best of friends, I just know it!" Naruto practically yelled. Shino didn't have the heart to tell her that his ears were perfectly functioning and as such, shouting wasn't necessary.

"I agree," Shino commented, just to see if her grin could stretch any wider.

It could.

to be continued.


"Hey, Shino, what are you looking at?"

Naruto settled in beside him and peered closely at the tree he was studying, eyes roaming over the bark like its patterns and arches held secrets she wasn't privy to but desperately wanted to know.

"The insects," Shino said in a monotone. He carefully observed her face for signs of disgust and relaxed when he saw none there. There was only curiosity and interest, and Shino suspected none of it was feigned.

"Oh. You like bugs, Shino?"

That was certainly putting it mildly. "I'm fascinated by them," he said, unashamed to admit his interest in something most people were repulsed by.

"Oh. Yeah, I get that," Naruto nodded, surprising Shino. She astonished him further by turning to him with sparkling eyes and exclaiming, "There's this place I like to go to by the river and it's always real quiet 'cause no one ever goes there, probably 'cause it's hard to get to but I can 'cause I'm small, but anyway, there's lots of flowers and trees there and I like to lay in the grass and watch the bugs, too. They're kinda interesting, right? Like they have their own little world or, or some secret society or something, where they're just like us except they think we're the gross ones. It's kinda cool to think about, right?"

Shino stared at her wordlessly.

"You should probably finish your lunch, though, 'cause I think the break is going to be over soon and then—"

"My clan is renowned for using insects in combat," Shino interrupted her, mouth forming words faster than his brain could provide them. "At birth we're offered to special breeds of insects as organic nests. They enter our bodies through the pores in our skin and remain in symbiosis with us until we die." Shino adjusted his glasses and continued evenly, "it's a mutually beneficial arrangement between us. They take refuge beneath our skin and in doing so are given a limitless food supply and a secure area to breed, and in exchange they give us access to their unique talents and allow us to use them in battle.

"The breed I host are called kikaichuu and the Aburame are the only clan in the Elemental Nations capable of utilizing them in such a way."

Shino fell silent and observed Naruto, who was doing an admirable impression of a koi. She stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes and Shino had to wonder if his impulsive decision to share such sensitive information had been the best decision. He would have told her eventually, of course, but perhaps it might have been more considerate of him to wait until she'd known him for longer than a day.

He didn't want to scare her off, which was a shocking realization. At some point in his childhood Shino had become accustomed, and later desensitized, to others rejecting him because of who he was and what he contained. In retaliation, or perhaps as a defense mechanism, he'd developed and abided by the opinion that those who could not accept him were worthless. Shino's pride in his clan and his allies was as much a part of him as the colony beneath his skin, and to undermine that by pandering to the delicate sensibilities of others felt akin to personal treason.

Shino did not see the value in wasting time, or effort, in trying to sway the minds of imbeciles and endear himself to fools. He supposed it was a cynical outlook for a seven year old to have but there were only so many times one could be rejected and shunned before they built a bulwark to stave off the…humiliation.

And yet there he was, worrying over the opinion of someone he barely knew and mulling over ways to make her feel comfortable with him. Shino was certain that if someone were to place a mirror in front of him right then he probably wouldn't have been able to recognize himself. The idea that she was dangerous reared itself again but before Shino could chase the thought he was interrupted—perhaps fortunately, perhaps not—by an earsplitting shout that made him wince.

"That. Is. So. Cool!" Naruto cried, and she moved closer to Shino—not away like he would have expected and like so many others did. She shifted so close their knees touched and leaned forward with little regard to propriety or personal space. Shino was beginning to understand that she didn't comprehend, or care about, the meaning of either.

Though he'd never been tactile or keen on being touched he found he didn't mind it so much when it was her—the familiar feeling of aversion replaced by something almost pleased.

Shino felt like a pearl in the mouth of an oyster beneath her elated, fascinated gaze; like he was something unexpected, and valuable, and entirely new. There was none of the morbid curiosity or veiled dislike he so often saw. None of the unease, or fear, or contempt. Her face was as open as the sky was wide and Shino felt something splinter inside him, and something else begin to heal.

"So you have a whole bunch of bugs inside of you right now? And they can do whatever you want them to?" She asked through narrowed eyes as if she was trying to see through his clothes and skin.

Shino wordlessly lifted his arm and a black insect, barely larger than a grain of rice, scuttled out of his sleeve. More followed, crawling out through his skin and joining the others, until they covered every visible inch of skin.

Naruto clenched her hands into fists as if she was trying her hardest not to reach out and touch.

"So what can they do?" she asked, eyes riveted and unblinking.

Shino, feeling hopelessly overwhelmed, disclosed what he was permitted to while he struggled to deal with the realization that he'd just fallen in love.

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