Disclaimer: "Naruto" and all related characters and settings are not mine. I make no money off this story. Masashi Kishimoto doesn't even know who I am.
Author's note: In this fic I'll use the western naming convention: Shino Aburame, Hinata Hyuuga, etc. I've always enjoyed unconventional combinations (like writing a Naruto story that does not actually star Naruto). This story starts out mainly serious, but ends with a bit of humor.
Shino Aburame ran swiftly back to Team 8's camp, carrying a precious cargo in his arms: his teammate, Hinata Hyuuga. She was bleeding from the front of her left shoulder, a wound created by the kunai of a missing-nin that Team 8 had been sent to track down. A scratch on the metal plate of the forehead protector she wore around her neck told him that the wound could have been far worse, but the kikai – the swarm of Destruction Beetles who were his clan birthright and his closest companions – he had investigating the damage told him a grimmer story.
He skidded to a halt just inside the clearing, checking for any further intruders. Sensing none, he continued into the tent to tend to his fallen comrade.
His other teammates, Kiba Inuzuka and his nin-dog, Akamaru, had hared off in pursuit of the culprit, telling Shino that he would know that they'd caught the missing-nin by Akamaru's howl of victory. Shino, who had sent a small portion of his swarm in pursuit as well, had replied simply that Kiba would know of his success by the distant screams of pain.
He was willing to concede that his statement had been a bit theatrical, in retrospect. Right now he had other concerns.
He laid Hinata on a sleeping mat in the tent and unzipped her bloody jacket, revealing her mesh undershirt and the bandages she wore to bind her chest, both also stained with blood. Shino leaned forward to sniff at the wound, a slow, delicate inhalation that told him just as much about the wound as the snuffling of a hound. The bittersweet odor confirmed the kikai's diagnosis: the kunai that had been used to stab Hinata had been poisoned, and it was a toxin that he knew.
The kikai, he knew, were not the only species of insect native to Fire Country that were capable of destroying chakra. To the west, one found the Medusa Fly, whose venom caused muscle rigidity and paralysis while it drained its prey of life energy and bodily fluids, leaving behind desiccated corpses like grotesque statues that crumbled at a touch. To the south, one found the Whiplash Centipede, who lays its eggs under the skin of sleeping victims. The larvae, once hatched, grow fat on chakra before chewing their way free of their nursery – a process that is enough to kill most people and has the potential to cripple trained shinobi.
This toxin, however, came from a northern species, the Silvery Moonwing Moth, whose bite is ordinarily not lethal to humans, but whose toxin can be gathered and rendered into a deadly surprise to coat the knife blades of those who can afford the expensive toxin. He would have to work quickly if his kikai were to neutralize the poison in time. He extended a hand over Hinata, and the remainder of the swarm flowed out like a living fluid, thrumming in a businesslike fashion as they made their way under her jacket to draw out the toxin from every pore and destroy it. As they worked, he closed his eyes behind his dark glasses, listening to the messages they passed along to him in the strange, alien language of the insects.
The female's pulse is steady.
Good, he replied.
Two chakra points in her shoulder and upper arm are weakened, but intact.
Bolster them, if you can, he instructed.
The wound is clean, with minimum tissue damage. The blade was sharp.
Any signs of infection? he asked.
None. The toxin is tasty. Yum yum.
Shino allowed himself a small smile behind the collar of his jacket. I'm glad you enjoy it. Eat all of it.
We are. The last of the toxin is gone. She sleeps now.
Keep me informed.
Shino opened his eyes and glanced at Hinata. He was concerned for her, as he would be for any teammate – she reminded him of a butterfly, outwardly fragile but beautiful, but inwardly as strong as any of the other ninja of Konoha. He sat her up briefly, pulling her jacket off, followed by her undershirt, to keep them out of the way while he washed and sutured the wound. The bindings he kept in place; there was no reason to remove them, after all. The kikai shuffled out of his way as he worked, discreetly offering no commentary. They were not prone to juvenile ribbing in any case, a trait for which he was glad as he bandaged her shoulder. He worked quickly, and in little time at all her shoulder was bound in linen bandages. He was observing his handiwork (and, to be sure, absolutely not admiring the kunoichi beneath it), when he was alerted by his kikai.
Shino glanced over as the out-of-breath dog-ninja thundered into the clearing with all the subtlety of a grizzly bear with intestinal issues. He pulled a blanket over Hinata, as much for his own sake as for hers, and left the tent, aware of the sense of discouragement he felt from Kiba. Akamaru was having a sneezing fit, and Kiba's eyes looked red and irritated.
"He dropped a camphor-bomb," Kiba growled in annoyance, "Fouled up our tracking. We lost him."
There was a distant scream, shrill and blood-curdling, a sound of despair, fear, and indescribable agony rolled into a single ragged high E.
"I didn't," Shino said, a bit unnecessarily.
"How's Hina-chan?" Kiba asked.
"She sleeps. Her wound was poisoned, but it has been cleaned. She will recover, with some weakness. I will watch over her tonight. You guard the perimeter." He turned back to the tent. "We will return to Konoha in the morning, so that our teammate can get more detailed medical attention."
He went back into the tent, impassively weathering Kiba's annoyance. The dog-nin, as Shino was well aware, occasionally resented Shino's take-charge attitude, but the bug-nin knew that some things were too important to argue over – ensuring the safety of a team member was one of these. He knelt beside her sleeping form, nibbling on some rations from his pack. Kiba, he knew, carried no food with him, preferring to hunt for his dinner.
Kiba poked his head into the tent, glancing at Shino, then at Hinata. He narrowed his eyes protectively when he saw her mostly bare shoulders above the blanket, and the thin, living lace of kikai on every visible part of her. Shino paused in the middle of biting into a rice-ball, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Was that necessary?" Kiba asked.
"Stitching and bandaging the wound?" Shino returned, swallowing the mouthful of rice, "Absolutely. It would not have healed properly otherwise. The scar tissue alone would have hindered the movement in that shoulder." To his relief, Kiba decided to drop the issue.
"I'm gonna go catch some dinner. Want any?"
Shino held up his own box of foods to indicate that there was no need. Kiba vanished again, off on the hunt. Of course, Shino knew full well what the real issue was – Kiba had a protective streak towards Hinata, and likely wanted to be the one to deliver his vengeance on the murderous missing-nin. Shino felt a bit of amusement that Kiba thought her state of dress was anything other than necessity, or that the kikai could be used as a tool for molestation. Quite a bit would be lost in translation, for one thing.
Kiba wishes to mate with Hinata, said the swarm.
I am aware of that, he replied. He knew that a number of Konoha ninja were taken by her delicate beauty, whether or not they cared that she was the heir to a noble house. She had dated a number of his classmates, including Shikamaru (dissolved by mutual agreement, though the details were not known to him), Rock Lee (who had frightened her a bit), and Naruto (whose heart, she had realized with some sadness, beat most strongly for Sakura).
We think you wish to mate with her also, the swarm added.
What makes you say that?
Your pheromones. They paint a clear picture for us. He would have sworn that the swarm sounded almost amused.
He reached out and coaxed away a beetle from Hinata's face, where it had been making her nose twitch. It was impossible to argue with beetles. Fortunately, they tended not to be blabbermouths. They would keep his secret. He lightly caressed a strand of her raven hair, feeling how silky it was under his fingers. He was the creepy bug-nin. She would never go for someone like him. But he could still be a loyal teammate.
She might, the swarm said.
He paused, the chopsticks halfway to his mouth with the last morsel of food. No, she wouldn't, he replied.
You never know. Females can be mysterious.
You got that right, he said, shoving the last bite of food into his mouth.
He put away the empty ration box and closed his eyes, allowing himself to get some sleep.
She wakes, the swarm informed him.
He opened his eyes, hearing her stir. It was still dark within the tent, indicating that the sun had not yet risen.
"Don't move," he said to her, extending a hand. The kikai crawled and flew back under his sleeve. The sensation of many tiny crawling legs caused her eyes to snap open in a state of momentary panic. She glanced around until she saw him, just as the last of the beetles vanished under his clothing. "How are you feeling?"
"W-what happened?" she asked. As usual, her voice was barely above a whisper.
"You were injured. The missing-nin had a poisoned blade, and wounded you in the shoulder. I took you back to camp and treated your wound, while Kiba hunted down your attacker. The toxin is gone. You may still be weak, but you will recover fully in time."
He had a moment of silent terror when she tried to sit up, but she realized in time and clutched at the blanket, her eyes wide, as the blush rose in her cheeks. Technically, she was still covered anyway, thanks to the chest-bindings, but…
He averted his gaze, thrusting her jacket and undershirt at her before retreating from the tent. At least she didn't scream.
He saw that it was only barely nighttime by the loosest definition of such, as it was starting to be overtaken by a bare border of pale predawn at the eastern horizon. Shino sighed, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. Kiba, he was pleased to note, was still asleep in his own tent. The campfire had burned down to embers. He crouched in front of it meditatively.
It was not long before he heard footsteps behind him. They were light and tentative, and paused a few feet behind him. The swarm thrummed encouragingly inside him. Great, he thought. Four million beetles were trying to give him romantic advice. They shouldn't even know anything about mammalian mating practices.
"Um… Sh-Shino-kun?" he heard Hinata say behind him. He glanced over his shoulder. She'd managed to pull on her undershirt just fine, but her jacket had defied her, owing much to the limited mobility in her left shoulder. The jacket was closed, and her right arm was in its sleeve, but the left sleeve hung empty.
"Yes?" he asked.
"I w-won't bother you if y-you'd r-rather be a-alone," she managed to stutter, "But c-could you help me with m-my jacket?" Her silver gaze (the color of the wings of the Moonwing Moth, he noticed with a bit of amused irony) was firmly set on her fingers, which clutched her jacket closed. "I just d-don't want to wake Kiba-kun."
He considered his options for a moment, and finally came to a decision. He straightened up. "I'll help."
She gave him a smile, small and shy, and he noticed that the pinkness had not entirely left her otherwise pale cheeks. He filed this bit of trivia away for later retrieval as she turned and went back into the tent.
She had lit a lantern, which filled the tent with a warm glow. Standing behind her, he took hold of the collar of her jacket. She tensed briefly before allowing him to slip it off her again. Resisting the urge to spend too much time looking at her pale shoulders and back, he held the jacket low so she could slip her injured arm into its corresponding sleeve. He pulled the jacket gently up, careful not to pull her stitches. To her credit, she only made a small noise to indicate that the motion bothered her. Once it was back up on her shoulders, he swept her long hair aside out of the collar, giving himself another, almost sinful glimpse at her pale neck. He put his hands firmly in his jacket pockets.
"Thank you," she said, zipping up the jacket. He nodded silently and turned to leave. Her voice stopped him. "Shino-kun?"
"You did a good job on my shoulder. You would make a good medic-nin." He waited for the qualification, if you weren't so creepy, but it didn't come. Instead, she said, "What's that humming noise?"
Damn. Damn damn damn. "It's me. Rather… it's the swarm." He hesitated. "They… like you." Shut up shut up all of you shut up I'm not going to go there not going to go there I can't go there she's my teammate I'm not going to go th—
His thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. He turned back.
"I like it," Hinata said, "It must be… soothing. Um… can I…?"
She took a step towards him. He stood there, frozen and awkward. He couldn't very well say no. Not to her. He was thankful for the deep shadows of his hood, because the heat rose in his cheeks as she leaned close, favoring her shoulder, pressing her ear to his chest, and listening to the low hum of the swarm. She only came up to his collarbone.
Thanks a pantload, you guys, he told them.
You're welcome, the swarm replied, without a trace of irony.
He glanced down, and saw a smile spread across Hinata's face. In truth, the bulk of the swarm was centered more towards his abdomen, but he wasn't going to bring that up right now. Instead, he watched her from behind his dark glasses, the barrier between himself and the outside world. Impulsively, he reached up and stroked her hair. She glanced up at him, surprised by the gesture, but then she stood on tiptoe, pulling down his collar so she could kiss him on the cheek.
He stood there for a few moments, a bit stupidly, reaching up to touch the cheek that she'd kissed. She didn't think he was creepy. She thought of him as a friend… possibly more.
It was getting to be too much.
"We have a long journey ahead of us when the sun comes up," he said quietly, "I'll leave you so you can get some rest." The swarm's humming hit a note that sounded distinctly disappointed.
He turned to go.
"C-could you stay?"
He considered this.
Of course you can, the swarm pointed out.
Enough with the commentary!
Sorry. They didn't sound particularly sorry.
"I'll say," he said aloud, "To make sure the wound is healing properly."
He turned back, and resumed his place on the tent floor next to the sleeping mat, sitting on his heels.
She extinguished the lantern, and then in the dark gave him a light peck on the lips. By the time he recovered, she had settled in on the sleeping mat.
Maybe she'd like some flowers when we get back to the village. Human females enjoy flowers.
He gritted his teeth. SHUT. UP.