Hyuuga Hinata embraced her knees together under her chin as her teammate Inuzuka Kiba leaned closer over the fireplace, the light coming from the flame making him look scarier and ominous to her eyes.

On the other hand, Aburame Shino resisted the urge to yawn. He had heard this same old tale over and over from Kiba, but the girl was yet to hear these ghost stories that Kiba prided himself on so much.

"…and since it was raining very hard, the teacher asked if she can get herself locked inside the academy since she couldn't possibly travel back to her house with this kind of weather. The shinobis guarding the school agreed, and so they locked her inside one of the classrooms." Kiba patted Akamaru briefly, and then went on with his narration. "Now the teacher was particularly nervous, since she had heard a lot of creepy stories about this room. They said that ghosts appear in this very same hallway, guarding it. She somehow fell asleep, only to be waken some hours later, by something she couldn't explain."

Hinata gulped inwardly. Shino cleared his throat. "Kiba, we ought to rest already. We still have training tomorrow."

"Aaw, just let me finish the last part!" protested the dog lover. Without waiting for his reply, the boy went on with his narration. "So uh…where was I…oh yeah! So the teacher woke up. She looked around the room, but there was nothing extra ordinary around it. She looked towards the hallway, and frightened by the idea of going out to the hallway, she decided to just take a peek outside through the keyhole of the doorknob." Kiba made a motion of bending down, as if peeking through something. "However, all she saw was red."

"The next day, the shinobi guards let her out. She asked the guards whether those ghost stories about the haunted hallway were real. One of the guards nodded. 'Yes Sensei! In fact, one of the most often-seen here is a ghost lady with big, RED eyes!'."

Hinata unconsciously stepped back, face pale.

"I think we've heard enough," said Shino immediately.

Kiba chuckled. "OK, time to hit the sacks. Everyone, good night!" He dove into his sleeping bag, and then glanced at Hinata, who was weakly getting into her own too. "Hey, Hinata? Are you OK?"

She blinked, and then forced a nonchalant smile. "A-Ah…y-yes! I-I feel great! Good! Wonderful!" she blabbed, blushing.

The two males looked at each other, and then shrugged.

"Goodnight, Hinata!" bade Kiba, and then shut his eyes upon hearing her soft greeting response.

She turned to Shino. "Good night, Shino-kun."

"Hinata."

"E-Eh?" She turned to him, surprised. It wasn't everyday that he would try to extend their usual obligatory greetings.

He was looking down at his own sleeping bag, and had she not heard him call her name, she would have doubted if he was really talking to her.

A few seconds had passed before he spoke again. "If you don't…if you don't feel good, call me." He finally looked up at her, although whatever expression lay on his face was kept hidden by his shades and coat. "For any reason at all."

She paused, and then smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Shino-kun."

--------------------------------------

She knew she had fallen fast asleep already, judging by how groggy she felt when she opened her eyes sleepily. She couldn't understand why she was awakened at first, but when she felt some dryness on her throat, it finally hit her: she wanted a glass of water. Back in her house, she would always get herself water before she goes to sleep, and even now that she was in the middle of the woods with her teammates, the habit still persists.

Her eyes went to her teammates. Kiba and Akamaru were fast asleep—and she was not surprised. The whole afternoon, the two had pushed themselves to the limit, training very hard. Fatigue may have caught up with them at last.

Her eyes went to Shino's bed next.

It was empty.

A ghost may have taken him!

The instant she heard herself say those words, she mentally kicked herself. The possibility of that was highly improbable. Ghosts or not ghosts, it would take some amazing skills to be able to abduct Aburame Shino that easily.

But then, where could he be?

She grimaced. Despite her grown age of twelve years and a half, she was still stiff scared of the dark, and she was hoping that Shino was there to help her to the river. She didn't have the heart to wake Kiba up when he was just starting to enjoy his rest, and the prospect of venturing out on her own was not exactly a very agreeable idea for her.

She tucked her knees, deliberating on her situation. Finally, understanding that her thirst was much harder to deal with than her scaredy-cat attitude, she took a fallen stick on the ground. She pondered on using the stick as a torch or a means of protection—she wasn't sure if she could use her Byakugan properly when she panics; at least with the fallen branch, she could easily throw it at her enemy and then run. In the end, she decided on using it as a protection.

So under the guidance of the full moon, she walked towards the river, trembling slightly with fear.

"There are no ghosts, there are no ghosts, THERE ARE NO GHOSTS…" she murmured like a mantra. She wanted to shut her eyes too, but that wouldn't be too practical, considering the number of trees and scattered traps around her.

"If Naruto-kun was here…" She tried to imagine her beloved, but every time, her mind gets distracted by weird sounds coming from the darkness, the noises of the crickets, and even her own footsteps. Great, if even her Naruto-kun couldn't help her out in this situation, what would she do now? It was too late to go back now, she knew, and she could not forgive herself if she lets her cowardice get the best of her.

She took a breath and calmed herself.

Yes, visualize the sound of the river. Imagine that it was just some steps away from her already. After she gets her fix, she would go back to her sleeping bag, proud that she was able to overcome her fear all by herself.

However, before she could even do so, something grabbed her. By impulse, she opened her mouth to scream, but she had already slammed on something. Reacting automatically, she shoved the branch she was holding on her unseen enemy's stomach.

"Byakugan!" With all her might, she shoved her fist forward, but her hand was caught cleanly. She felt it force her hand down, and then it spoke.

"Hey…it's ok."

Her eyes widened. Flustered, she stepped back, never mind if her right hand was still held imprisoned by it. Or rather, him. "S-Shino-kun?" she asked uncertainly. For all she knew, it could be just a red-eyed white lady using the voice of her teammate.

The clouds overhead gave way to the moon some more, allowing it to shine through. And indeed, it was Shino in the flesh.

"So that's how powerful a Byakugan is," he said musingly. "My bugs barely stopped your attack."

"G-Gomen nasai!" she cried panickedly. "I-I thought…I-I…" Relief finally flooded into her, and she absent-mindedly leaned down on his shoulder, sighing.

"Calm down. No damage done." There was a hint of amusement in his usually stoic voice, something he shows only privately. This snapped her out of her daze. Hurriedly, she withdrew herself from him. Her eyes went to her hand he was still holding and which he seemingly had no plan of letting go. This too she pulled away with much embarrassment.

"A-Anou…w-where have you been, Shino-kun?" she asked, still flustered. "W-When I woke up, you weren't there."

"Call of nature," shrugged her teammate. "And when I came back, you weren't there either."

"Call of thirst," she said meekly. "I was heading for the river…"

"The river's not that way," he said wanly. "You were heading for one of those clumsily-laid traps that Kiba set up for me." He gestured to the hole she was about to step on had he not pulled her back. Shino continued. "I doubt if it's deep enough to pose serious threat to my life, but knowing how ill Kiba feels about me, he would have added some nasty surprises of his own."

She involuntarily shivered and stepped back, laughing uncomfortably. She dared not ask what her teammate's insights about those 'nasty surprises' were.

"Let's go. This is the way to the river," he said, turning his back on her.

"A-Aah…Shino-kun…"

He faced her briefly.

"H-How did you…" She blushed. "A-Ah…I know you shouldn't answer this but…"

"Yes?"

"H-How did you know where I am?" she asked curiously.

He paused, and then replied slowly. "I can sense…I can sense things that are familiar to my heart."

She blinked.

"N-Never mind." He pushed the bridge of his shades up, suddenly self-conscious. He started to walk again, and this time, Hinata joined him, walking side by side with him.

"Your aura tells of less fear now," he remarked, almost in a conversational tone.

To this, she smiled brightly. "I'm with Shino-kun. What should I fear then?"

He looked away quickly. "I'm…not sure Kiba would appreciate the hero worship, Hinata."

She laughed softly and placed her hands at her back, humming. She couldn't explain how easily he could chase her fears away even in his silence, but right now, she could only thank him for being there.

For walking with her in the dark, making sure she was not alone.

…………………………………….

Ghost Stories and Walks in the Dark

ShinoHina Fluff Request for Blackkath (my sister), and yes, for myself too. (hehe)