Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me, nor am I making any money off of this work of fanfiction, nor do I make any claim that this work reflects the reality of the series.

Warnings: None, really. Kiba swears a tiny bit, and if you don't know about Shino's "trump card" this'll spoil you, but nothing too bad.

~*~ Bug-Eyed Freak ~*~

"All right, you're done," Kurenai, our instructor, called to us. Kiba, Hinata and I tossed the remainder of the vegetation into the large pile we had amassed and made our way towards her, Kiba at top speed, Hinata more slowly, and myself the slowest of all. My internal colony has been growing steadily since I graduated from the Academy, preparing itself for my life as a ninja of the Hidden Leaf, and I have not yet become accustomed to the increased drain on my chakra. Mother insists that it will soon taper off, as growing requires a great deal more energy than maintaining; I am not sure I believe her. Some days it seems they will suck me dry.

Kurenai and the others waited patiently for me to join them. Once I was there, Kurenai addressed us. "Good job, kids," she said. "You really showed those weeds what for." Kiba rolled his eyes. Hinata smiled at him in sympathy. I could understand his irritation: what sort of person keeps a garden that requires all day to weed? I did not share their look, however. It unnerves me, this camaraderie we are expected to form. There are things about me they could not possibly understand or accept, if they knew.

"Now, after you compost the weeds, go home and get some sleep. We've got another mission tomorrow. One of the paperboys for the Weekly World Ninja called in sick today, so we're going to cover his route tomorrow morning. Meet at the bridge at five a.m. sharp." Kiba moaned, and Kurenai shot him a look. I must say I admire Kurenai: newly a Jounin, and "gifted" with such students as Kiba, hyperactive and domineering; Hinata, shy and submissive; and myself, the alien. She has a strong spirit.

"All right, all right," Kiba grumbled, then turned to Hinata and I. "OK, let's go take care of the damn compost." Kiba has appointed himself the "leader" of our little group, second-in-command behind Kurenai. It is a logical choice: Hinata is far too shy to take on such a role at this point, and I have neither the energy nor the interest. Still, one word from either of us will have him rushing to do what we suggest. I believe this will aid us in the future, when our understanding becomes more implicit. For now, though, it is amusing.

Kurenai nodded, signaling that the job was ours to complete as we wished, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. That is another of the things I admire about her: she has a good sense for when to supervise and when to leave us to our own devices. We walked towards the heap to get rid of it; however, others had gotten to it first. Hundreds of ants were already clearing away the mess, taking it to their nest to grow fungus on the rotting vegetative flesh. That was only a side benefit to them, though; they were doing it for me.

As Kiba and Hinata watched in fascination, I leaned down and fed them some chakra to take back to their queen. Then I stood and watched the last of the sunset, feeling the insects inside of me settle into my marrow, shutting themselves down for the day. When they were asleep, I turned my thoughts to the ants who were working still.

I have always liked ants. They are giving and hardworking, dedicated and sure. Occasionally Hinata reminds me of an ant, but one without a colony. She does not know her place in life. I believe that when she finds that place, she will be a terrible force to reckon with. Kiba, on the other hand, is a grasshopper: loud and somewhat destructive, but surprisingly quiet in transit. His moves are sudden and sometimes erratic, made with little or no thought for the future. If he ever learns to calm his hyperactive nature, he, too, will be a force to reckon with.

As for myself, I am a hornet.

Murmuring voices behind me distracted me from my reverie. I turned to my teammates and found them conversing with each other and looking at me. It did not surprise me. I am one who attracts speculation like the proverbial flies to honey when his back is turned. After an awkward moment, Kiba gently pushed Hinata towards me.

"C'mon, go for it," he said.

"B-But Kiba--" she protested.

"I ain't doin' it, so if you don't..." He left the threat hanging, and I cocked an eyebrow in confusion. If she didn't what? I briefly entertained the notion that Hinata wanted to ask me for a date, but quickly put it out of my head. The great majority of marriages between the Aburame clan and outsiders are made by arrangement, for good reasons.

"Sh-Sh-Shino?" Hinata asked, twiddling her fingers in the way she does when she is nervous. When she didn't continue, I realized a response was necessary.

"Yes?" I said. She winced, then gathered her courage and looked me in the eye.

"Would you--would you like to stay a little longer and train with Kiba and I?" she said. I blinked. Extra training with them? They had never suggested such a thing before. I considered my options. If I agreed, I would be late getting home, and risked exhausting myself or waking the insects. If I refused, I could easily sever whatever threads of mutual respect and trust that had prompted them to ask such a thing in the first place. They, and especially Hinata, were risking a part of themselves by approaching one as cold and distant as I portray myself to be.

It wasn't a difficult choice. I nodded. Hinata smiled, looking infinitely relieved, and I knew I'd chosen wisely. Kiba grinned at her and ran off towards the forest nearby, shouting, "Come on, I know just the place!" over his shoulder. Then he stopped dead. "Should we, ah, help?" he asked, indicating the ants.

Ants are natural workers; if there's work to be done, they will simply do it, whether alone or in groups of a thousand or more. They hate it when people who don't know what they're doing interfere with their work. The vegetation itself is part of the reward, as is the satisfaction of aiding one they consider a brother. All of these things I could have told Kiba. Instead, I merely shook my head.

"OK," he said, then bounded off.

Hinata and I followed. Without Kiba there to break the silence between us, it quickly became uncomfortable. I wanted to relieve Hinata's anxiety. However, what did people such as she normally talk about? I didn't know.

"Um, Shino?" she asked. I looked at her. She had her hands clasped tightly. Again, I wanted to reassure her, but didn't know what I could say that would. "Do you--do you know what the Weekly World Ninja is?"

I racked my brain. Should I pretend ignorance and let her explain it to me, or admit that I know and attempt to set up a conversation? In the end I ignored my instincts.

"Isn't it the gossip newspaper?" I said. The insects inside of me began to stir, alerted by my beating heart. I silently reassured them that I was in no physical danger, then turned my attention back to Hinata just in time to hear her response.

"Oh, really?" she said, her voice high-pitched from nervousness. "What sort of gossip? I..." She blushed. "I've seen it, sometimes, when I run into Brother Neji accidentally, but I've never actually read one."

I blinked. This result had not occurred to me. I had never thought that I would know something of the world that someone else did not.

The conversation continued after that, stilted on my end, though words flowed from Hinata more and more steadily as she felt more at ease. We soon reached what I thought at first was a clearing. It turned out to be the cleared-out area near a rather large house. Paper lanterns and other lights from the house illuminated the area, as the sun had set and the moon had not yet risen.

"This is my house," Kiba informed us. He paused in his exercises to wave to Akamaru, who yipped a greeting at us from a window, his bandaged front paw clearly visible on the sill. Hinata and I stretched and performed a few katas ourselves, then the three of us gathered to decide upon our training routine for the night. Kiba was in favor of an all-out brawl, which Hinata and I readily agreed to, neither of us having a better idea. We arranged ourselves some distance apart from each other, fell into fighting stances, and began.

The first blow was Kiba's; before either Hinata or I could move, he was on me, throwing punch after punch. I blocked them all, but just barely, and never gained enough of an advantage to return the attack. I was driven farther and farther, until my back was to the wall. There I stayed, defending myself as best I could and waiting for the opportunity to turn the situation to my advantage. It came more quickly than I had expected. After only a few moments, I noticed Hinata sneaking up behind Kiba; he'd forgotten all about her. She smiled at me, then knocked Kiba to the ground with one well-placed kick. Kiba rolled away and jumped to his feet, grinning.

"So that's the way we're gonna play?" he said, already rushing towards us. It became a game after that, Hinata and I and taking turns fending off Kiba's flurried attacks. Hinata was smiling, the first time I'd seen her smile during a fight. Though it wasn't visible to them behind my high collar, I was smiling as well. The way Hinata and I, Kiba and I, Hinata and Kiba moved together, I could see that we would be reading each other's minds in no time. After a time, and through no spoken agreement, it became Kiba and I against Hinata, then the other two against me.

They stood together in front of me, their attacks not simultaneous but complementary, one after another in a primal rhythm that came naturally to us. Though we had been sparring for over an hour, I was energized, thrilled even. My heart was racing with the beauty of three-mind synergy. Hinata came in low with a jab to the solar plexus. I stepped backwards out of her reach, knowing that Kiba would now kick at my face, hoping to get me off-balance. As he did, I grabbed his ankle and threw him over my head. I heard him roll; he'd been prepared, reading my moves as well as I'd read his. Hinata attacked again, this time high, backlighted by the lanterns. I leaned back, knowing Kiba would take the opportunity to attack the back of my head. I whipped back forward, anticipating a complete miss. Instead, I felt his sharp nail catch on something. That something snapped. Thus distracted, I wasn't prepared for Hinata's powerful blow to my chest.

At that moment I flew. I crashed through Kiba, knocking him over, and skidded to a stop several meters away. I lay there for several seconds regaining my breath. Hinata had put quite a bit of chakra into the blow, and my ribs felt sore. I could hear the other two rushing towards me, Hinata first, then Kiba, who paused before reaching me.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, Shino!" Hinata cried. I could imagine her wringing her hands in fright.

"I'm all right," I said, pushing myself up out of the dirt. I brushed at the front of my coat, eyes squeezed shut in irritation. For too short a time I'd achieved the ideal that bees and ants experience every day, and I had been the one to ruin it. "I should have been paying better attention," I continued, opening my eyes.

The world was much more brightly-lit than I was used to. My heart stopped, then pounded again as I realized why: my glasses weren't on. They had fallen off when Hinata attacked me. And I couldn't shut my eyes even as they met Hinata's, even as she gasped and let out a small sound of fright.

We stared at each other for what seemed like ages, until inordinately loud footsteps signaled Kiba's arrival. "Hey Shino," he said, "you dropped your- -oh." His eyes widened as our gazes met. "Oh crap."

I stood slowly, staring in masochistic fascination at their shocked and frozen faces. Removing my glasses from Kiba's limp hand, I fled.

I ran, adrenaline and shock keeping my weariness at bay. I didn't know quite where I was running to; I only knew that I was running away from them. I soon collapsed next to a wall. Leaning against it, I stared at the three-quarter moon and willed my breathing to slow, to stop. Beneath my skin, the insects screamed, scattered, prepared for battle. Nothing I did or said could calm them. I closed my eyes and tuned into my body, felt the tiny rips they created in my flesh whenever they tried to access an area they normally didn't.

After a time, I steadied myself and got to my feet. I was surprised: the papery texture of the wall informed me that I had somehow found my way to my own house. The insects continued to chitter fearfully. It took the sight of my front door to calm them enough to stop moving. They stayed alert, though, my continued distress not letting them rest. I barely remembered to put my glasses back on before letting myself in.

A small portion of my family, including my mother, were gathered in the large common area all our clan shares. My room, fortunately, is on the side closest to the door. I was in no state of mind to converse with anyone, let alone my family, to whom I am only slightly less alien than to others. I slipped along the wall to the hallway leading to the portion of the house shared by the "younger generation" of the Aburame clan: myself, a few scattered cousins. Before I could disappear completely, though, my mother called after me.

"You're late, Shino," she said, not unkindly, as I settled myself in front of her. She is a tall, thin woman, with large dark eyes and a habit of drawing her wrists up to her shoulders when she is relaxed.

"Yes," I answered. "I was training with my teammates." She smiled her approval, and the sight of her teeth stirred the insects up yet again.

"Was it helpful?" she asked.

"...yes," I answered. It was true, in some ways.

"Good," she said. "You may go now."

I rose and exited the main hall, glad to be away from her. Not that I don't love my mother; quite the contrary, and I know the feeling is reciprocated. However, she is from one of the more advanced lines of the clan, more in-tune with the minds of insects than even I. She sometimes reminds me of a praying mantis, and that particular species of insect has been known to eat its own young.

Upon reaching my room, I bundled up the sleeping clothes I had laid out that morning and took them to the bathing room my wing of the house shared. I bathed using a sponge and a bucket, as immersion in water panics the insects. As I did so, I began to shut myself, my emotions down. I had expected them to react the way they did; why, then, was it so difficult to accept?

Once I had finally coaxed the insects to sleep, I dried myself off and dressed, then made my way to the sink. When I was washing my face I accidentally got soap on my glasses; I took them off and washed them, eyes firmly shut against the mirror's stare.

My evening ablutions completed, I again walked to my room and the one task left to me. I sat down at my desk and searched through the drawers for the material I would need and a pair of scissors. After I had found both, I took my glasses off, squinting at the brightness. I let my eyes adjust to the light, then set my glasses down. I picked up the material I had been seeking earlier--black thread, as flexible and strong as spider's silk-- drew out a decent amount from the spool, and cut it. I was about to thread it through the tiny holes drilled into my glasses' eartails when I heard the door open behind me.

I turned around. It was Hajime, my youngest cousin. He squeaked and dropped the book he was carrying. I quickly looked away. Once my glasses were safely back on, I looked back at him. He was staring at the ground, ashamed. I wanted to tell him he shouldn't be. He is only five, after all, and this is only the second time he's seen my peculiar "gift."

"What is it?" I asked instead.

"Brother Shino, will you read to me?" he asked, holding out the book. He still refused to meet my eyes, even with the glasses.

"I'm tired tonight," I said. I almost told him I'd read to him the next night, but didn't have the energy to make promises I might not keep.

"...Oh." He sounded disappointed, but withdrew from my room without another word. I removed my glasses and set them up in their previous position. I quickly threaded the thread through the holes and tied it, then cut off the extra. Once I'd tested the fit--it was stretchy enough to fit over my head, but tight enough that my hair obscured its presence--I put the materials away, turned off the light and laid down on my futon. It was a warm night, so I didn't bother covering myself up. Instead, I looked at the moon through my window, not daring to take my glasses off. I kept them on the whole night.

When dawn broke, I was still awake. I got up and changed my clothes, then climbed out the window and left for the bridge. I didn't bother eating with the rest of my cousins. I couldn't. The insects protested, but I ignored them. My stomach churned, and it intensified when I saw the others waiting for me.

We split up to deliver the papers in less time. Hinata and Kiba took the east side of town, Kurenai and I the west.

"Shino," Kurenai asked me as we delivered the last few, "why were you so insistent that you come with me? Did something happen between you and the others?"

I shook my head, but despite her curious look she didn't pressure me. As I said, she knows when to supervise and when not to. We were done with the deliveries by seven, and met in a small grove just inside of town where our routes converged. The insects felt hostile, especially towards Kiba and Hinata, the source of my agitated state, but I kept them at bay.

"Good job, kids," Kurenai told us. "Now, we've got another mission today, but it's not until two p.m." She took a long look at the three of us and continued. "Until then, get some rest. We'll train tomorrow." With that, she disappeared in a puff of smoke. I felt my insides go cold, knowing instinctively that she was telling us to work out whatever problem that had caused my odd behavior that day. Kiba and Hinata looked at each other and nodded. I backed up as they approached me.

"Hey, Shino," Kiba said. "About the other day."

I turned my back and walked away, as quickly as I could without running. The insects wanted out. My skin tingled with their movements. My heart thumped painfully. I heard a noise, and then Hinata darted in front of me, a determination in her eyes I had never seen before.

"Shino, wait," she said, putting out her hands. I stopped, frozen to the spot as she reached toward my face, toward my eyes. Just as she was about to grip my glasses, I finally recovered my senses and darted backwards, only to be caught in Kiba's strong grip.

I struggled violently, trying to attack, escape, anything, but Kiba is physically almost as strong as Hinata and I combined. The insects wanted to attack him; so great was my panic that I almost allowed them to. Instead, I flung myself to the right and left, trying to break his hold on my arms, kicking at Hinata when she reached out again. It was probably the most animated my teammates had ever seen me. After what seemed like forever but must have only been a few moments, Kiba managed to get my legs out from under me. I fell heavily to the ground under him and continued to struggle for as long as I could. However, my exhaustion, emotional and physical, soon took its toll. The pounding of my heart continued even as weariness took hold of me. I could no longer fight.

Sensing this, Kiba pulled me to my knees, arms still locked around my own. Hinata kneeled in front of me and reached out again. The instant before she lifted my glasses up and off my face, I shut my eyes tightly, the only resistance I could offer.

They were silent. I shook.

"Shino," Hinata said, "please open your eyes." I remained silent.

"We're not gonna hate you or anything," Kiba added.

"Please," Hinata said. "I'm sorry about yesterday, I was just surprised."

I wondered if Kiba could feel the insects skittering frantically beneath the skin of my arms, ready to leap out and attack him the moment I gave my permission. I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself enough to decide what to do.

I think I had already made my decision, though, because my eyes were already open.

They fell silent again. I continued to shake. Then Hinata nodded over my shoulder. Kiba released my arms and crawled in front of me. I steeled myself for the inevitable.

I always wear my sunglasses. This is not because of some sensitivity to light on my part, or even for my own sense of style; rather, I wear them for others' comfort. It is not every day, after all, that someone looks at a human's face and sees an insect's eyes.

My eyes have no pupils, irises, or corneas. They are black as pitch: an insect's eyes, hard and multifaceted. I cannot move them. I have no tear ducts. In my clan, they make me a prime example of our advanced bloodline. In other situations, I am a freak.

A thousand Hinatas and Kibas peered at me curiously, their true forms refracted a thousand times by my compound eyes. I stared back at them, waiting for their judgment.

"...what can you do with them?" Kiba asked suddenly. I blinked.

"I'm... not sure yet," I answered. It occurred to me that I had neither considered the notion nor experimented before. What could I do with this "gift?"

"I-Is it an advanced bloodline, Shino?" Hinata asked. I nodded. She looked at me with sympathy, and I realized that to the unfamiliar, her colorless, pupiless eyes are just as alien as mine.

"I bet you can climb up walls," Kiba mused. "You know, like a spider. Or can you fly?" I shook my head. "Can you sting people with your ass?"

"Kiba!" Hinata cried, but she was laughing as she said it. Though they couldn't see it behind my collar, nor hear it above Kiba's continued ranting, so was I. I felt the synergy again; the three of us became companions in that moment, not mere teammates. I took my glasses back from Hinata, but didn't put them on for the time being. The world was brighter without them, and I wanted to enjoy the day.

~*~ The End ~*~

Author's notes: I got this idea when a friend (the wonderful Hyacynth, who beta'd this for me) and I were discussing the genin, and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why Shino always wears sunglasses. Additional thanks for this go to Moonsheen, whose work, "Breakout," while not directly inspiring this, did make me think about Shino a little harder, thus giving me the proper mindset to write this.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!