"NO!" Shino gasped, his mouth slightly falling open as his breath caught in his throat. He could feel his blood grow cold as it ran through his veins. His heart began to beat faster, each pulsation deafening to his ear.
There has to be some mistake!
"It's not true!" Shino rasped, his voice nearly cracking.
His son squirmed in his arms, the infant's eyes wide with curiosity at the new world around him. Shibi quickly laid a trembling hand on his son's shoulder, recognizing the tortured look that he had worn at one time in his life, as well.
"Shino, it is as I have said. Neither took to the other--"
Shino's face was pale, his hands shaking as he cradled the boy's head against his chest. The unruly mop of dark hair was all Sakura could see of the infant. Shino said nothing, as if refusing to believe his father's words. He took a wavering step toward the door to that room. The two guards tensed, as if in preparation for Shino's strike.
What fools to think about attacking when he has a child in his arms! Sakura fumed, feeling her anger grow. She instinctively cracked her knuckles, her hands balling into fists.
She, too, was refusing to believe what the elder Aburame was sharing with his son. She wanted to see the girl, to see if it were indeed as dire as Shibi was making it sound. Was the procedure really that threatening that it could steal an innocent infant's life?
Shibi's lips parted, quivering slightly. Another tear slid down his already stained face. "They did everything they could. She just couldn't survive the transfusion--"
"I'm a medic!" Sakura's words left her mouth before she had even realized she had spoken them. "I should be the judge of that!"
Shino's jaw set his hands held the tiny package in his arms. "I agree," he murmured hoarsely.
Shibi raised an eyebrow, his body slumping in frustration. Couldn't they see that he wanted this to be a horrible lie as well? He had seen her breathing stop, her heartbeat diminish, her cries fade. He watched his own flesh and blood give up on life before his eyes, while the larva writhed beneath her skin. He didn't disagree with Sakura's outburst or his son's reasoning, but it was sacred territory—and there was a fine line to tread between tradition and contemporary notions. Though, it wasn't beneath him to quash that line when it was necessary...
"You know very well that you cannot go in there--" Shibi began to protest, though his demeanor was weak. His change in manner of argument was not missed by Sakura.
"Get out of my way, Father." Shino's voice had regained some of its former composure. "I do not wish to fight with you. It is my daughter. I need to see her."
"But it is sacred grounds. Tradition!" Shibi argued, his voice booming, though his body still slack with the loss of his first granddaughter. He did not wish to come to physical blows with his own son. Nor did he want to prevent Sakura's chance to examine the girl.
"I will not repeat myself," Shino replied defiantly. He stepped past his father, casting a sideways glance at Sakura. "You may come with me as well; I want your professional opinion, Sakura."
"Right!" Sakura nodded, clearly understanding that Shibi's last stand was more for show than anything.
Shibi watched Shino walk past him; he would not fault his son, but he needed to provide a believable opposition so that he could argue his son's case at a later date. The clan elders would not take lightly to what Shino was about to do—especially not when bringing an outsider into the room--even if she were a medical professional.
"Aburame-sama!" boomed one of the two guards, "We will not let you pass this point. Please stand back."
"I hate repeating myself," Shino replied stiffly, nodding his head slightly. He pulled his son closer, bracing for a possible attack. "You would not think of injuring the new heir, would you?" his voice was devoid of affect as he glared at the two guards.
They glanced at one another in a moment of hesitation before the second decided it was his turn to speak: "We will not take mercy--"
He never had the chance to complete his statement as Sakura's chakra-infused fist connected with his jaw. The first Aburame guard prepared to strike, but Sakura had the advantage. Not only was she boiling over with the thought that they would actually harm an infant, but she was deemed as being a 'non-threat'. She was easily cast aside as being the least dangerous. That was their first mistake, and the one that Shino was counting on.
Sakura stealthily pulled a senbon from her pack, quickly tossing it through the air with a flick of her wrist. Within seconds of sinking into the guard's skin, he was paralyzed and sprawled on the floor. She quickly followed with a Paralysis Jutsu on the one with the fractured jaw. That would buy them some time.
Sakura stood, casting a nervous glance at Shino. She was hoping this was what he had intended, or she had gravely overdone it. She was relieved when the bug-nin nodded slightly as he looked down on their victims, his son in his arms.
"The door", he whispered, indicating with his head. "I would prefer that you do it." He glanced at the important bundle in his arms.
"Right," Sakura replied confidently.
Withtwo rapid punches, she had managed to crumble the doors before them. Shino took advantage of the clearance, immediately running ahead. Sakura looked around, flexing her hands in satisfaction from the much needed release. She hadn't realized how much she missed the actions of the battlefield.
She quickly reached the wide, square table that was positioned in the middle of the room. She could see the bloody needles and devices scattered about, her stomach turning with the thoughts of what occurred behind these doors. It looked more like torture than a way of passing on a clan trait.
She found Shino standing at the table, staring down at the still body of his daughter. She looked peaceful, though it did not relieve him of any of his former grief. He reached out with shaky fingers to touch her tiny hand. The miniature fingers did not curl around his fingertips as they had done on their way to this dreaded place.
"Too late," he murmured sadly.
His son was squirming in his arms, as if he wanted to see what was happening. Shino carefully laid the boy down on the table--next to his twin sister. His outstretched fingers reached for his daughter. If she were indeed past saving, he wanted to hold her.
One last time.
Sakura's glowing fingers swooped in and prodded the child. She could feel weak muscle contractions beneath the skin—a sign that the baby was trying to pull air into her lungs. The faint flutter of a heartbeat was all Sakura had to work with. The child's lips and fingernails were blue from lack of oxygen. The infant was alive, but barely. Even if Sakura could perform a miracle, there was no telling what kind of damage had already been done.
She grunted, quickly trying to instill some of her own life force into the tiny child. Each time she released a pulse of chakra, it was quickly consumed, as if it were never there to begin with. Where was the energy going? Were the infused kikkai larva consuming the energy in order to stay alive?
Sakura's eyes wandered over the table. In the dim light, she could see the littered syringes with their large, hollowed needles. So this was how it was done? They injected directly into the child and crossed their fingers? So barbaric! she inwardly fumed. Shino's voice interrupted her malicious thoughts.
"Is there....anything that can be done.." His voice cracked with the emotion flowing through him. He knew, from the look on Sakura's face, that there was not, but he couldn't help but hold out some hope that even Sakura could perform miracles.
He had already begun thinking about how Tenten would react. She wouldn't be able to take it. Especially not after their argument, weeks prior....
"I've...I'm not familiar with any of this, Shino," Sakura began, her own voice failing her. She felt the hot tears flood her eyes. "I wish--" she shook her head. Was there anything she could do other than watch the life slowly fade from the newborn.
"I see," Shino replied, as he rubbed his thumb over his daughter's lifeless, cold fingers. He leaned down to kiss the infant's forehead, his own tears silently dripping onto her skin. He did his best to hold back the sobs that were forcefully making their way to the surface.
"She...looks...so peaceful," he murmured as fresh tears replaced the old ones.
The infant boy began to squirm, as if understanding the brevity of the situation. Sakura silently wondered if his kikkai were reacting to his father's or dying sister's. She watched as his tiny hands reaching for nothing in particular, grabbing and releasing the air around him.
Shino slumped over, laying his head on his arm as he succumbed to his grief. With his other fist he punched the tabletop. "Dammit!" he groaned.
His voice became louder with each proclamation. Over and over he yelled, while Sakura watched helplessly. She knew that it would break Tenten's heart to hear what had occurred. She faintly recalled their conversation, weeks ago. She knew that it was what Shino was thinking about as he repeatedly slammed his fist into the table.
The tears fell afresh as Sakura watched the tiny boy grab onto something. It was his sister's lifeless hand. His fingers curled around hers as the dead weight fell into his palm. Sakura knew it was an infantile reflex, nothing more. But, she couldn't hold back the sobs as the baby began to wail, as if he were announcing his own sorrows. It looked as if he were mourning the loss of his sister—with whom he had shared a womb these past nine months. It was a separation that occurred too soon.
"I'm so sorry, Shino," Sakura sniffed, her body beginning to heave with emotion. Helping with the twins' delivery gave her a sense of closeness with the two infants. She, too, felt as if she had lost someone dear to her.
Shino's body shook with silent sobs as his face remained hidden in the crook of his arm. Sakura watched with muted sadness as the infant boy wailed with each heave of his father's back—his tiny fingers tugging his sister's hand.
Something about the movement looked suspicious to Sakura. She leaned down in order to look more closely.
Then she gasped.
The girl's fingers were grasping his—her brother's!
"Shino!" Sakura cried, her eyes wide with astonishment. He didn't raise his head, as he tried to calm himself. "Shino, dammit, look!"
The Aburame heir raised his head slowly, looking to where Sakura was pointing. His eyes widened with surprise, as his breath sharply stopped in his throat. "S-She--"
The tiny wail that joined the boy's confirmed their theory. Sakura's fingers glowed as she examined the girl. Heart rate is slightly irregular, but her breathing and reflexes are fine!
"How? How, Sakura?" Shino laughed, though it was a mixture of disbelief and uncertainty. He wanted to take her in his arms, but knew that Sakura hadn't finished her examination. Sakura's eyes narrowed as she evaluated the revived infant. She wasn't entirely sure, but--
"Shino, what kikaichu are injected into the infants?"
"I'm not sure I understand the question, Sakura." His answer was soft as he reached out and stroked the girl's head, as if to ensure that his eyes were not deceiving him. Her eyelids fluttered open as she mewed softly.
"Where do they get them? The ones the elders inject?" she rephrased her original question. It was just a theory, but perhaps--
"Me," he quickly explained, "The parents, I should say. Why? I believe it's because the child is already of my genetic makeup, so it would only make sense that my bugs would be expected to take with that of someone with half of my genes."
It made sense to her, so perhaps her theory was plausible. Sakura nodded, "Any chance those healing kikkai that you had used on Neji were injected?"
"It is possible," he replied cocking his head so he could study her expression. "You think that those kikkai are responsible...for this?"
"I think," Sakura replied, "that he helped her. It started after he grabbed her hand in his."
Sakura lifted the infant girl into the air, handing her to Shino. He cradled her in his arms, studying her as if he never wanted to forget her face. He stroked her head with careful fingers. Her hair was a light brown, almost blonde, as it curled on her head. Her eyes were hazel, much unlike any of the Aburame eyes Sakura had seen.
"Perhaps she was meant to take after Tenten?" Shino murmured, as he rocked his daughter.
Did that mean she was not compatible with the kikkai? Sakura wondered. "But she does have insects within her, no?"
Shino nodded briefly, "I can feel them. Hear them, even. But they are not yet distinguishable entities. Perhaps they will never grow from larva, in which case her body will rid itself of them—as if they never existed."
It was difficult to explain, and Sakura knew it wasn't entirely relevant. Both infants were alive, and that was what was most important.
"It was a miracle," Sakura murmured. "He was meant to save his sister."
Shino lifted his son into the crook of his other arm, looking from one to the other. Dark liquid eyes met hazel ones as they blinked at one another in curiosity. Sakura knew it was too early to begin guessing at their hair color—as they would soon lose what sparse locks they did have. But, it was obvious they were twins.
"They are two pieces of the same whole," Shino smirked slightly. "I wonder how they will be as they grow older?"
"Don't rush it," Sakura giggled softly as she heard the muffled footsteps from behind her. Neither looked up, both knowing that Shibi had seen the entire interaction. Sakura imagined the smile on the older man's face.
"I intend to enjoy every moment of it, from now until the day I die. And I will do so with Tenten by my side," Shino murmured as he studied the two newborns that were comfortably cradled in his arms.
"From a medical standpoint, I do not know what happened. But," Sakura met Shino's inquiring gaze, "I doubt that there will be residual injury from the ritual."
Shino nodded, smiling at the two Aburame additions. Sakura smiled as well, knowing that the bug-nin had no idea what toddler-hood would be like.
"Besides," she continued, "I think you have more important things to worry about at the moment."
Shino looked past her, out the destroyed door. Shibi was watching from the doorway, his arms folded over his chest. He nodded at his son, though Sakura had no clue as to the silent exchange that was occurring between father and son. She could sense the two guards stirring as the effects of her mild paralysis was wearing off. She momentarily toyed with asking Shino how he planned to tell Tenten about this. She couldn't deny that she wouldn't blame him if he never told his wife about what had occurred during the infusion.
"Things?" Shino repeated, a smile tugging at his lips. "I think I will be forgiven this trespass."
Sakura shook her head."I meant," she raised her eyebrows expectantly, "Not only do you have to greet your visitors, but you two still have to pick out names."
Tenten and Shino stared down at their sleeping infants from the nursery doorway. Their quickened breaths were the only relief Tenten had had in the past few hours. Between feedings and changings, she rarely had a moment's rest, though she wouldn't trade it in for anything. Well, maybe that wasn't entirely true.
Shibi had offered to bring in outside help, but Tenten was adamant about taking on the motherly duties on her own. At the moment, however, she sorely wished she had taken him up on that offer. She relaxed into Shino's arm as is wrapped around her waist. The moments they had spent together as husband and wife were scarce, and she was looking forward to tonight's celebrations.
Tenten knew Shino was doing the best he could to help her, but he still lacked in certain areas—mainly diaper changing. In all other areas, however, Tenten was sure he won Father of the Year. Shibi was the attentive grandfather Tenten had expected him to be, spoiling his grandchildren in ways that no two three-month-olds should be spoiled. The babies were growing at an exponential rate, eating more and more each day. Their daughter's golden curls had fallen out, now replaced by a deep chestnut mop, just like her brother's own unruly head of hair. The only real difference between the two was their eyes. Their son had his father's eyes, while their daughter donned a lighter version of her mother's. Tenten had asked Ibiki about her parents' eye colors, surprised to find out that her mother had green eyes. It was the perfect explanation for their daughter's hazel set.
"Do you think...it's alright to leave them?" Tenten asked, tears suddenly filling her eyes as she began to doubt leaving them in another's care. It was the first time she would be separated from them since their births. Shino studied her for some time, choosing his words wisely.
"What? You think me to be incompetent?" Shibi interrupted, as he quietly passed by. He had obviously been listening to her one-sided conversation.
"You're not technically watching them!" Tenten snapped.
Shino smiled as Shibi chuckled slightly. He was amused by the playful and straightforward manner in which his father and wife interacted. It created a sense of light-heartedness in the household—something that he had never experienced. Shino was sure that having two grandchildren around didn't hurt, either.
"I'm hurt, dear daughter," Shibi feigned upset. "I took a lot of care to choose the perfect babysitter. Please do not be burdened by my choice."
"Pain in the ass!" Tenten grumbled under her breath as Shibi continued down the hall.
"You two should go and enjoy the wedding. I'll meet you there." The elder Aburame waved his hand dismissively in the air.
Tenten nodded slowly, remembering that they had a legit reason to leave the twins in someone else's care. Today was Naruto and Sakura's much-anticipated wedding. Those two were the one couple everyone had long ago predicted, and they were finally getting married. Tenten smiled, knowing full well that Ino had planned the entire thing. She fondly recalled having to stop a kunoichi brawl on more than one occasion during these past few months.
"Something on your mind?" Shino wondered, his eyes still on the two sleeping babes.
"Huh? Oh, I'm just thinking about how we came to all of this," Tenten waved as she adjusted the clip in her hair. She promised Shino she would leave it down, though she compromised by clipping part of it back from her face.
"This?" he murmured, his finger tracing the pattern on her kimono.
"You. Me. Family," she continued as she cast one last glance into the nursery.
She softly slid the door shut behind her. Shino escorted her down the hall, a faint smile on his face. Months ago, she wouldn't have been saying this--not once she found out what really happened with their daughter. He had actually thought that he could keep that part from his wife. How wrong he had been! The courier had mistakenly delivered the message to Tenten, which left him with a lot of explaining to do. Tenten had practically stabbed him with a kunai after Shino explained the charges against both him and Sakura. Both exonerated, thanks to the good graces of the clan heir—who happened to be a certain Aburame Shibi. Despite the good news, it had been weeks before Tenten would even speak to him again.
Shino was silent for some time as he pondered Tenten's comment. They silently continued down the hall, following the familiar walk from his house to the gate of the compound. It wasn't until they had exited his family's property that he spoke.
"I do not know how it happened, Tenten," his mouth twitched as he fought the smile that was forcing its way onto his face. "But, I do not think that it's prudent to dwell on the circumstances. Because, however it occurred, I had never imagined this life as a possibility for myself. I could not be a happier man...no, a happier husband and father."
His eyes studied her reaction as she watched the clouds sweep through the sky. His words made fresh tears come to her eyes, which she furiously blinked away. Tenten couldn't deny his logic or argue with his explanation—it was from his heart. It was honest. She, instead, chose to say nothing as she smiled through her tears, reaching out and lacing her fingers in his as they enjoyed the comfortable silence together.
How had one fateful mission ever brought this much happiness into their lives? From one shared moment came a series of life-changing events--none of which either had ever expected.
Tenten smiled to herself as they walked hand-in-hand.
Even the most inconceivable dreams can become a reality.
And, my Tenten/Shino journey has come to an end. I purposely chose to not name the babies--I felt I couldn't do them justice. I hope you understand! I want to thank each and every reader and reviewer from the bottom-most portion of my heart. It couldn't be done without your support! Most of all, I want to thank my reviewers. Your kind words and praise has been the driving force for the entire story, I truly mean that. I especially want to thank those who followed me from 'Unwritten' :) I know this isn't the most popular of pairings, so thank you all for having such an open mind. It gives me hope for the human race ;)
With this final chapter, please let me know what you think--even if you haven't reviewed before. I like to know if I perhaps converted a few over to this pairing ;)
Anyhow, I hope to hear from you all again in one of my other fics (perhaps Neji/Ten, etc). I'm off to work on my Kushina/Minato fic, head on over if you're bored!
~Again, thank you! Hope you enjoyed the story--I enjoyed writing it!~