Here it is--the final chapter of When You Say You Love Me!
Chapter Fifteen—...How I Love You?
When the two shinobi rounded the final corner before the gate of Konoha, Shino stiffened and Ino knew immediately that they were about to have a trial by fire. She looked ahead and there, just beyond the gate, she could make out Aburame Shibi along with someone else from his clan. Her hand slid into her companion's, though she wasn't certain if it was for her comfort or his. As they drew closer, she saw Shibi's head lower to their joined hands. Behind those dark sunglasses, she was sure he was scowling at them. Fluffy hummed out a comforting note just before they reached the gate. Without letting go of Ino's hand, Shino bowed to the head of his clan.
"Otou-san," he said quietly.
Shibi inclined his head, then fixed his gaze on Ino.
"You have a report to turn into the Hokage, do you not, Yamanaka-san?" he said.
His tone was polite, but the meaning was clear: 'You have no place here. Leave.' Ino met her companion's golden gaze, her own sky blue eyes narrowed. Ino was not a person who allowed herself to be dismissed by anyone. Shino bent his head to her ear.
"Go, I will speak with him," he whispered.
She darted a glance at Shibi and the Aburame who stood behind him, then defiantly laid a kiss on Shino's cheek. She grinned at his blush and left for the Hokage Tower. Shino watched her go before turning back to his father. He opened his mouth to speak, but Shibi cut him off.
"Michiko just returned from her own mission. I want you to escort her home, Shino," the Aburame head stated.
Shino restrained a frown, glancing at the woman who stood behind his father. Shibi wasn't even being subtle about this. It would be wisest to humor him in this, then bring up Ino after he had had a chance to cool down.
"Yes, Otou-san," he said.
He headed for the Aburame clan compound and Michiko fell in beside him. After they had traveled in silence for a few minutes, the woman spoke up.
"You don't have to do this, Shino-sama," she whispered.
Shino looked down at her, surprised by her form of address for him. After a moment, he relaxed. His distant cousin reminded him in a way of Hinata as she used to be—painfully shy and quiet. Because she was two years his junior, he had never had much interaction with her before this.
"I don't mind, Michiko-chan," he responded, trying to put her at ease.
It seemed to work, for she gave him a small smile. Her next question caught him completely off-guard.
"You are in love with Ino-san?" she asked. At his raised eyebrow, she blushed and quickly added, "Forgive me if I was too forward, Shino-sama."
"I don't mind," the older bug-user repeated, "I suppose it is obvious, at any rate. Yes, I am in love with her."
Michiko nodded and, though her eyes were hidden, he had the sudden sense that she was fighting back tears. He stopped and, laying a hand on her shoulder, forced her to stop as well. He exerted a bit of pressure to turn her toward him.
"What is it?" his voice was low and coaxing.
She shook her head, but her voice trembled, "N-nothing, Shino-sama."
Ignoring the curious glances they were receiving, Shino raised his hand and pulled off her sunglasses. Her eyes were the palest gold he had ever seen, nearly silver, and shining with restrained tears.
"What is it?" he repeated.
Her lips pressed together as she fought the tears his kindness was drawing from her. She ducked her head so that her long, dark hair hid her face from him. He frowned.
"Michiko," he urged.
Her frame convulsed with a stifled sob just before she fled from him. Shino could have easily caught the eighteen-year old, but instead he trailed behind her. When she entered her home, he sent a single kikai after her. Through the bug, he heard her shakily call out a greeting.
"Michiko, did you meet Shino-san?" a male voice, her father if he recalled correctly.
"Y-yes," the girl's answer was reluctant, tinged with…fear?
The voices lowered and his kikai crept closer to hear.
"He's in love with someone else, Otou-san," Michiko whispered.
"Why should that make a difference?" her father's tone was laden with scorn for his only child, "Would that I had had a son. You are worthless, girl."
"I'm sorry," she said.
Her quiet acceptance of her father's criticism made Shino's fists clench. Then, suddenly, there was the sound of flesh hitting flesh and the girl's gasp of pain. Shino threw open the door and stormed into the house, his kikai buzzing in echo of his anger. He found Michiko sprawled on the floor, a bright red handprint marring her pale cheek. Her father loomed over her, his expression of rage changing first to shock, then welcome.
"Shino-san, we were not expecting you," he said.
The clan heir ignored him, instead bending and helping his cousin to her feet. Only once she was on her feet and behind him did he deign her father with a glance.
"Michiko-chan is coming with me. I don't ever want to hear that you have even spoken to her again," he said coldly.
With that, he pulled her out of the house with him. When he glanced over at her, he found silent tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I'm s-sorry for bothering you, Shino-sama," she said through her tears.
His anger evaporated. He stopped and forced her to meet his gaze.
"No, I am the one who is sorry. My father or I should have realized what that man was doing to you," he said.
When she only looked at him blankly, he inwardly cursed her father. It was clear that he had destroyed whatever sense of self-worth she might have once had.
"Come on, Mi-chan," he said.
After he had gotten her settled into a spare room at his house, he came into the kitchen to find his father waiting for him.
"Her father was abusing her," Shino said by way of explanation. He waited a moment to let that sink in, then continued, "I am in love with Ino and I intend to marry her-"
"I forbid it," Shibi interjected.
"-with or without your blessing, though I would prefer with," his son finished calmly.
Shibi's kikai droned as the older man struggled to control his anger. He laid his palms flat on the table, exhaling a deliberate breath. When he spoke, his buzzing kikai underscored his quiet words.
"You gave me your word, Shino, that you would marry within the clan," he said.
"But his kikai chose me. Isn't that right, Fluffy?" Ino's voice had them both jumping. She smiled as she explained, "I invited myself in."
She went to Shino and slid her hand into his so that they faced his father as a united front. Shibi's golden eyes narrowed on the kikai which sat on the blonde's shoulder. Some of his anger seemed to deflate at the sight, but he wasn't ready to give in yet.
"Your word," he repeated heavily.
"I am willing to join your clan, if that is what I must do to marry your son," she stated
Shibi watched her for a moment, as though gauging her sincerity.
"That can only be done at infancy," he said at last. Then, his grave expression cracked into a slight smile, "Who am I to argue with the kikai's choice?"
Ino let out a scream of mingled excitement and triumph, while father and son exchanged sober glances. The blonde suddenly grabbed Shino's collar and hauled him down to kiss him senseless. From the doorway of her room, Michiko watched with sad, pale gold eyes.
'What would it be like to be loved like that?' she couldn't help but wonder.
When Ino finally released Shino, his head was spinning. She managed to bring him back to earth with four simple words: "Now for my father."
"Tadaima!" Ino announced as she and Shino stepped through the door of her home.
Yamanaka Inoichi was quick to greet them, effortlessly lifting his only child into the air and spinning her like she was still a little girl. He set her down, his blue gaze turning to Shino, who was hesitantly hanging back by the door.
"Your new boy-toy?" he asked his daughter. His eyes suddenly narrowed, "Wait, you're the Aburame kid."
"Daddy, this Shino," Ino said.
Shino took a deep breath as he stepped forward and bowed.
"Inoichi-san, I would like to speak with you, privately," he said.
The blond man suddenly gained an unholy gleam in his blue eyes. Ino bit her lip worriedly, recognizing her father's look. As Inoichi beckoned the nervous Aburame ahead of him, she caught her father's arm.
"Don't hurt him, Daddy. I love him," she whispered.
He patted her hand as he detached it from his muscular arm. However, he made no promises as the door to his office shut behind the two men. As darkness fell, Ino was joined in her vigil by her mother, who had just finished closing the flower shop.
"They've been in there a long time," the young woman said.
Yume patted her daughter's hand the same way her husband had earlier. She smiled in reassurance.
"As long as things stay quiet, your man is probably all right," she said.
Ino was quiet, knowing her mother—as a civilian—wouldn't understand. Her father could do things to people's minds without harming them physically. Just as she was thinking this, the door opened and her father came out alone. He nodded in satisfaction.
"I have given him my blessing," he stated.
Ino peered past him and saw Shino swaying on his feet.
"What did you do to him?" she exclaimed as she pushed past her father, catching Shino just before he collapsed.
"'M all right," the bug user managed.
Supporting him in her arms, Ino turned to glare at her father. Inoichi held up his hands as though to protect himself from his daughter's wrath. His smug expression was fading under her stare.
"He agreed to it!" the blond protested.
"You probably didn't give him a choice," Ino growled back.
Her gaze dropped to Shino as he gathered himself and stood. His warm, golden eyes caught hers and her anger evaporated.
"It's all right, Ino. It was worth it…you are worth it," he said softly.
They were both quiet for a moment, lost in a surge of emotion. Then, for the first time, Shino admitted his feelings.
"I love you," he stated.
Ino threw hers arms around him. Her voice was muffled against his shoulder, but he heard the words clearly anyway.
"I love you too," she said.
So, I would really, really like to know what you thought of Aburame Michiko, because I am considering either using her in the sequel to Miru Hoshi, or maybe giving her a short story of her own. Let me know if you like her, dislike her, don't really care one way or the other. Any opinion is welcomed! Also, feel free to leave me a review letting me know what you thought of this chapter/story. Thanks!
Diablo's Heir: Yes, so long as Ita-kun cooperates with me, he too will find love. n.n
Akai-sora: No bugs inside the body for Ino. No need to be creeped out.
P'tfami: In answer to your question, YES! I have quite a few stories in the works. The next one that is going to be posted is Nagareboshi, which is the sequel to Miru Hoshi. It will follow Itachi for the most part, with appearances by the characters from Miru Hoshi and this story. Also in the works is a medieval AU starring Sasuke and Hinata (with some NaruHina just to make things confusing!). I'm really looking forward to this one. And simmering on the back burner is a what-if story, where Itachi takes Sasuke with him when he joins Akatsuki. So yes, there are definitely more stories in the works.
Thanks to 21me21, Altais, SamllButPowerful, TwistedPenguin, Bookworm007, SMSI, ..., yourtypicalpsycho, and Thegoldenlock for reviewing! Also, thanks to Zetnnik for your late review of chapter 13. I'd been missing you!