And Darkness Prevails
Chapter Twenty-One — Back To Konoha
It was early evening, and people were starting to filter away from the Aburame house. The house wasn't large, with a huge open space for a living room and dining area, connected to bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The main room was large and circular, and the rooms connected small and similarly shaped.
It was shaped like a hive. The family was big on the bug theme.
The shrine to Shino was set up in the living room. Everyone wore black, and everyone set small flowers next to his picture. In fact, it was the only two pictures that they had of him. One was of him in Elementary school, during the class picture. He seemed small and shrunken into the group, especially because Naruto was grinning in the row ahead of him. The other photo was of a very straight-faced Shino next to a grinning Kiba, with a shyly smiling Hinata off to the side and Kurenai standing behind them, smiling happily.
"It is strange… to miss someone you're not even sure you knew so well…" Hinata mumbled to Kiba as she sat her flower down and carefully stroked the image of the four of them.
"Yeah, I know… it's like… he was there all the time, and we like… miss him being there… but if people asked us shit about him, we prolly couldn't answer. Like, no one would know the answers, really."
"I… don't want him to fade away. It doesn't even feel like he died, it just feels like he…"
"Blended in and then left?"
Kiba wrapped an arm around Hinata's shoulders, rubbing the opposite arm. "I know."
Usually Hinata was completely shy about physical affection. She usually pulled away and blushed, or said that this wasn't the place, or brought up the other things that they had to do. But this time, she ever-so-slightly shifted towards Kiba.
"Kankarou from Suna. Here to uh. Visit," Kankarou said to the guards. The guard that seemed to be paying the most attention flipped open a book, held it up to Kankarou's face, squinted to see past the face paint, squinted again to imagine a new set of face paint, and checked his eye color before Kankarou finally said, "Does this help?" and showed off his fangs.
"Okay, Kankarou from Suna… wait." He leaned around the guard rail and stared hard at Shino. "Are you tryin'a be funny? The Aburame family is in mourning, didn't you do enough?" the guy spat in Kankarou's general direction.
"Well, you have balls, and I'm not going to cut them off and shove them down your throat like I should, but he was never dead, so back the fuck up and let us through."
The guy grumbled as he motioned to let them pass through, though they seemed unhappy about it.
As soon as they hit the inside of Konoha, Shino broke into a sprint, pushing his legs as fast as they would carry him. There was no attempt to lose Kankarou, there was no shaking or quick turns or splitting up into clones.
And the reason for the rush was obvious. After all, Shino was a little late to his own funeral.
"Hinata, pleasego home. You do not need to help with the dishes and the clean-up. It is… something to take my mind off of things."
"But Mr. Aburame, you have plenty on your plate as it is. I know you did not… take a break from missions, despite this being a period of grieving for you… and it's really no trouble. Tomorrow is my free day, and staying late makes me feel helpful."
"How do you know that tomorrow I work?" Shibi asked, tucking his hand into his jacket pocket, as if searching for his work schedule or a mission note.
"Because I came into the Hokage's office right after you and asked, Mr. Aburame. Hyuuga do not only use their Byakugan, remember?"
It was strange how over the past months, she and Shino's father had actually become friends. Hinata was close with her father, and he gave off the same serious vibe that made most people feel uncomfortable. While it tended to put her a little on edge, however, Hinata usually felt comforted by it, though she couldn't imagine dating someone as serious.
It would be… extremely awkward, to say the least.
Meanwhile, Kiba was waiting in the main room, sitting down on their couch. He felt awkward helping with housework and even more awkward chatting up any of the Aburame family, but he didn't want to leave Hinata behind.
For one, he wanted to walk her home. For two, he kind of wanted to go out to eat with her before walking her home. For three, he was still trying to get in as much alone time with her so that asking her out wouldn't be so out of the blue.
It was hard.
He didn't even have Akamaru to talk to. Akamaru wasn't allowed in the house. Any house. Well, any house except his own.
And that's why Kiba spent all his time running around in the forest and didn't go to fancy social occasions like this… unless it was a friend's funeral. Then of course, he'd brave the awkwardness.
As he sat there, he suddenly felt something… off. Something that wasn't supposed to be there. A few seconds after that feeling started setting in, Akamaru growled and began barking madly, going completely crazy over someone in the yard. Kiba flung himself forward and went to the front door, Shibi and Hinata not too far behind.
"Akamaru, it's me. Do you not remember? It has been a long time, but perhaps…?" Shino was trying to get close to Akamaru, but every time he took a step forward to have him sniff his hand, Akamaru growled and snapped at him. "Kiba! Why doesn't Akamaru…?"
"I… I… what the fuck, dude? You're alive?"
"It would seem so," Shino muttered. Akamaru snapped again, and Shino jumped back.
"Akamaru, it's cool. Stop it!" Kiba ordered. Akamaru settled back, walking to sit as near Kiba as he could get without sitting on the steps.
"Shino… you're… a vampire?" Hinata asked slowly. She'd used her Byakugan, as soon as she'd gotten to the door… and she knew something was off about the person with him, and the same thing was off about Shino. There were no bugs in his body, and even more bizarre, he was giving off a much different chakra signature. Before, it was nearly identical to his father's.
Now… it was actually identical to the guy he was with.
"Yes. I am a vampire."
There was an awkward silence. Shino hadn't known what to expect before. For some reason, he'd expected his mother to hug him, crying that she was glad he was alive. He'd expected his father to be at least a little happy that he was alive. He expected Hinata would cry, or that Kiba… well. Wouldn't stare at him like a dumbass, but would instead grin like a dumbass.
But none of that was happening.
"You need to leave," his father said, words tingling down Shino's back like ice.
"Look here, we just came because his bugs are dying, okay? He was some sort of fucking depressed over 'em, and we thought you could help. So. What do we do?" Kankarou bit out, striding forward and setting the crate of bugs near his feet.
"Shino is no longer a source of food for them. The real Shino has died, and they are rejecting his current body. The only way to salvage them is to merge them with a pre-existing Aburame colony. It is not possible for a vampire to sustain them."
Shino was speechless. His father… was rejecting him? Why? It couldn't be right. What had he done, in the span of apparently a few hours, to go from a beloved dead son to an alive-but-disowned status?
"But, Father, I—"
"Vampires don't have fathers, aside from those that turn them. Leave Konoha before dusk, or you'll burn in the sun like the monster you are."
"Do you have any idea who I am?" Kankarou suddenly yelled, pointing a finger at him. "I am the ward of the Kazekage, god damn it, and you will show my child some respect!"
"Kankarou. Don't," Shino said, turning away. "We'll leave. Now."
"Shino, no, we came all—"
"They don't want me around anymore, Kankarou. I am a monster, and I will spend the rest of eternity as such. Let's depart."
Hinata pushed past everyone else and grabbed Shino's sleeve. Kankarou sucked in his breath and bit his lip, mostly because he was kind of worried that… well… that Shino would suddenly undergo bloodlust and suck her dry, really.
But apparently that wasn't too much of an issue.
"You're… still Shino. You don't have your bugs, and you're… not technically alive… but you're still the guy who saved us that one time we were in the Mist. And you're still the guy who annoyed Kiba every day. And you're still the one who listened to me talk about my family over lunch, when Kiba wasn't around, and gave me supportive advice. Right?"
Shino wasn't sure what to say.
"Yeah, trust me, he's still that guy," Kankarou said with a sigh.
"Yes. I suppose, other than diet and… apparently… bug hosting… I have not changed."
"Well, that, and you're kinda undead there, buddy," Kiba said, striding forward with Hinata and clapping his hand on his shoulder. "Sorry 'bout Akamaru, by the by, he's had uh. Vampire sensing training. You know, they're kinda hard for people to read, but our dogs can sense 'em? Saved us that one time, when Akamaru sniffed 'em out in the Grass so that Kurenai could y'know."
"Yeah… I remember…" Shino said, smiling softly.
"If… you do not wish to leave tonight, I know a hotel that does not have windows… we could stay there and catch up," Hinata offered.
"That will not be necessary."
Everyone slowly turned to face Shibi.
"I apologize for my rudeness earlier… rather, I apologize for my outburst from a few minutes ago. It is quite… devastating for your son to be dead and to turn up alive as… well… a creature that most hold obvious prejudice over. Please, come inside. There has been enough loss in the family."
Shino's mother let out a gasp and threw her arms around Shibi's neck. Apparently, she hadn't agreed with him at all earlier, and was extremely relieved now. As soon as Shino crossed the threshold, she was showering him with affection.
"Mother, I appreciate the greeting, but it has been… quite lengthy," Shino actually meant that being held closely for so long was making him ravenous, but he wasn't going to say that. Especially not to his own mother.
"Ha! Suddenly, you make so much sense! You're a momma's boy!" Kiba clapped him on the shoulder.
"And your mother would not be happy to see you alive?" Hinata asked, practically rolling her eyes.
"Nah, she'd probably punch me for making her worry. Or in Shino's case, getting picked in the first place. 'Kiba, what the fuck is wrong with you, you couldn't make yourself unappealing for two seconds? You smell like wet dog and they picked you? What the fuck, kid, you're sleeping in the woods for a month for this shit.' Is what she would say."
Shino's mom blinked at Kiba, as if thinking to herself, 'That poor boy.' She released Shino and said, "Well. Uhm. Should I put on tea, or…?"
"We're good," Kankarou said with a nod. "We uh. Only ingest one thing, actually."
"Ah. Well, I can't exactly make a pot of that, so…"
"Have a seat," Shibi cut in, pointing to the couches. Shino pointedly sat down in an armchair, rather than on the couch, so that no one would be too close. Not one of the humans, who he wasn't sure he could keep from biting, and certainly not…
Kankarou sat on the arm of the seat. Right beside him. Almost as if he were about to slide onto his lap and give him a dance.
Shino coughed, but Kankarou didn't pick up the hint.
"So. What happened?" Shibi asked, staring pointedly at Kankarou. "As I have heard, none of the Suna vampires were interested in victims. Why did you chose my son?"
"Well, see, it was either that or kill 'im, 'cause Naruto escaped."
"What?" everyone seemed to scream at once.
"He came back," Kankarou said in exasperation, as if it had been obvious.
"So… is… Shikamaru…?" Hinata asked slowly, almost afraid of the answer.
"Nah. That Naruto kid has good timing."
"Perhaps you should… start at the beginning."
"How far at the beginning?" Kankarou asked, leaning forward and raising an eyebrow.
Shino couldn't help but think how amusingly dramatic some of Kankarou's movements were. The way he held his body, the way his face paint tended to accentuate every facial movement, the way his gloves made you stare at his hands every time he did a hand gesture.
And then he remembered that he was supposed to hate him, and stopped being amused.
"How about from when you chose him as your victim, and then skip ahead to when you decided he should be a vampire?"
"Basically, what the fuck made you choose Shino to start with?"
"Kankarou, as it turns out, is very talkative and wanted a good listener. Being that I am quiet, I was apparently, 'perfect.'"
"'kay… so perfect you decided to turn him?" Kiba demanded.
"Meh, it was a crunch-time call. Naruto escaped 'cause he didn't know the rule was, you know, we had to kill everyone we had from his village. I turned him like, eight hours before I was supposed to kill him. My sister was ready to kill Shikamaru, but then Naruto came back for whatever reason."
"What does that make your relationship with my son?" Shibi asked in the same tone that a father would ask his daughter's first boyfriend.
"Well, for right now, we're each other's eternal food sources," Kankarou said. "And he is my therapist. Ain't nothing else going on."
"Yes, really. If you gotta know, it's because your son won't put out."
This was followed by the most awkward silence in the history of Konoha. If such things were kept on record, that moment would have been written in bright bold red letters.
Shino pushed him off of the chair, shoving him as hard as he could.
"I assure you, it is not likely to happen in this lifetime," Shino bit out.
"Well, that's excellent, because vampires live quite a few lifetimes," Kankarou groaned from the ground. He didn't dodge or move like a vampire, even though he could have caught himself. He just… let himself land on the ground, and picked himself back up. This time, he sat in the empty seat next to Hinata instead of the arm next to Shino.
"Let's… change the subject," Shino's father coughed out. "Your bugs. Shino, I'm sorry, but you sincerely can't sustain your bugs any longer. It seems that vampires have a different sort of chakra, and the chakra itself is too strong for them… so strong in fact, that it feeds off of the bugs instead of allowing the bugs to feed off of it." He glanced over at Kankarou, almost suspiciously, and added, "Almost as if the chakra was sentient."
"Not like I know, one way or the other. Fuck, before all of this, I was just a puppeteer."
"Right," Shino leaned forward. "I understand. Is there any way to save my colony, and perhaps merge it with your own, or have I starved them beyond salvation?"
"Around twenty percent of them are already dead, and around forty percent are unsalvageable, but the remaining forty percent may pull through."
"… I see," Shino said, leaning back in the chair. Kankarou could feel this deep, regretful sadness radiating from Shino. He couldn't 'console' him in the way he wanted to, which would be to force him to endure a hug, so he did the next best thing.
"So, while we're here. Who wants to hear about Shikamaru and Naruto?"
"I… uhm… how is… Naruto doing?"
Kiba visibly tensed when Hinata asked the question. He knew that Hinata was obsessed with him, but even the year and a half of absence seemed to do nothing to deter that whatsoever. The one and a half year that the two of them had spent, inseparable, had done nothing to change Hinata's heart at all.
Naruto was still the one she thought of.
"He's fucking crazy. My bro, Gaara, was the one who picked him. Something about his chakra or somethin', I don't know. But that kid can take a fuckin' beating. Gaara fed on him so much that normal people would have been drained dry, but Naruto pulled through and was joking the next day! He also saved this guy's ass that one time," Kankarou added, gesturing to Shino.
"It is not my fault that you prodded me into saying something regrettable."
"That's unlike you," Shibi said, raising an eyebrow over his dark glasses.
"Yeah, I bring that out in 'im," Kankarou said, a smirk shining brilliantly. "But man, Naruto just like, charged at Gaara when Gaara went all psychotic on him, and totally throttled him. Or well, as much as Gaara ever gets throttled, really. But Naruto—"
"So how's Shikamaru, anyways? We haven't heard shit about him," Kiba said, interrupting the story. Hinata was starting to get that look in her eyes, the look that was completely worshipping over Naruto.
"Oh, yeah. That guy kinda pisses me off a bit. But he got my sister, and she's always been a good caretaker, and she's extremely patient. He still pisses her off from time to time, but he talked her into playing chess and stuff with him every day. When we left, he seemed kinda bitter that Shino was coming here, but…" Kankarou shrugged. "My sister has a crush on him."
"What?" Shino sputtered out, shooting up.
"… are you stupid? Yeah, she has it bad for him. She never spends that much time with any of her victims. And when she picked him? Fuck, I've never seen her pick a guy so quick. Dumbass doesn't know she likes sarcasm, especially in guys. She won't admit it, but she likes 'em ballsy."
"Neji told me… Naruto was also… ballsy?"
"Yeah, yeah he was, but in the stupid kinda way. He was obviously trying to make himself look like a retard so that no one would want to put up with him. There's always one," Kankarou said, rolling his eyes. "And it would have worked, if he hadn't had such a strong chakra signature."
There was a lapse, and finally Kankarou said, "Well, Shino and I should head back soon. We gotta be well on our way before dawn hits, or else y'know, we fry."
"Wait. Uhm, before you leave, is it possible for Shino to visit our teacher? She uhm, had a child since…"
"Boy or girl?" Shino said, leaning forward.
"Boy. He's the spitting image of Asum…" Hinata trailed off.
"It's alright, go ahead and tell him. He can tell Shikamaru, and he needs to know," Kiba said.
"Asuma… the boy's father… died. He was killed by some faction up in the mountains. No one knows what happened."
"Oh," Shino said. "How is… Kurenai?"
"She is well. She's raising the child on her own, and has a sister who helps take care of it. She named the child after the Third, Sarutobi."
"It is a nice thought, Miss Hyuuga, however if I recall correctly, the Hokage has Kurenai scheduled for work tonight," Shibi interrupted.
"'Ay Mr. Aburame, can I talk to you for a minute while Shino says goodbye to his friends and mom?" Kankarou obviously meant that he had no choice in the matter. Shibi nodded and beckoned for Kankarou to follow him to the back room.
"So… what rank are you two?"
"Chunin, both of us," Hinata said, grinning. "Neji is a Jonin, and most everyone else is Chunin. Some people are even starting to specialize in medical and recon and such."
Shino leaned around the chair, checking down the hallway. "How is Shikamaru's team doing? Other than…"
"Chouji lost a lot of weight, and everyone is pretty sure he and Ino are kind of seeing each other. He's been bulking up muscle-wise, and is trying to get as big as his dad without being fat. I think it had something to do with Shikamaru leaving, actually… he's gained so much muscle that he still looks gross like he did before, but apparently it works better with his family's jutsu 'cause the muscle has more energy stored than the fat or some shit," Kiba explained.
"Could you please curse less, you sound just like Kankarou," Shino sighed.
"So… how are you and Kankarou, really?" Hinata asked.
"… I can deal with him, most of the time. He is a bit pushy for… physical interaction, which I am uncomfortable with, but he never pushes me too close to… sexual activity."
"Too much information," Kiba said bluntly.
"No, it's not," Hinata insisted. "Is he nice to you?"
"Yeah, I… suppose? He keeps me well fed and he let me come here. There's just a... it feels like he's hiding something from me. But I had one more thing to ask. How is Shikamaru's family? And for Naruto, how are Sakura and Sasuke? And Kakashi and Iruka?"
"Well, the Nara family is well. But…" Kiba shrugged. "Sasuke left the village. We have information that he joined Orochimaru of the Sound. And Sakura is crazy into her work… she's kind of obsessed about something. She's not right. Kakashi hit a rough patch after Sasuke left, but…"
"Iruka straightened him out, actually," Hinata finished for him. "They're dating, and have been for a while, they've just been hiding it less recently."
"… Iruka is dating Kakashi?" Shino repeated, as if shocked.
"Yeah, they're actually pretty good for each other. Iruka keeps his ass in line, Kakashi keeps him from getting depressed about Naruto bein' gone," Kiba admitted.
"It is good to know that you only have a problem with my sexuality, and are not homophobic, Kiba," Shino said, chuckling under his breath.
"Did you… did you just make a joke?"
"Look, your son might not be able to read you right since you know, he seems to think that your obvious vampire prejudice doesn't extend to him."
"I do not know what you mean," Shibi bit out.
"Are you fuckin' serious? That outburst earlier?"
"Any parent would be upset to see that their child is a vampire."
"No, any parent would be happy to see that their son was alive when they thought that they were dead. Your wife had the appropriate reaction."
"My wife has emotions likened to a normal person. My line was bred to have fewer emotions and be more logical," Shibi paused. "And logically, seeing my son as a vampire is worse than death, since he will be forced to live a life of pain."
"Look, I ain't stupid. There are six villages under the vampires of Suna. Three of them are pro-vampire, two of them are neutral, and one of them has a anti-vampire agenda. I know Konoha don't like us vamps running things, even if we do it fucking fair. If you attempt o contact Shino for any reason, I will have a warrant put out for your head. Got it?"