Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize from "Naruto" or "Inuyasha".
Shino and his team purveyed the wreckage of the shrine grounds in hope. Shino, though stoic and covered by his collar and sunglasses, felt a little twinge in his heart.
It was so easy to assume the havoc of Konoha was limited to Konohagakure. But Pein and his cohorts had wreaked havoc in a path towards the shinobi center—and the Higure shrine was nothing of its former glory.
The Aburame could remember, blurrily, a festival held here to celebrate the spring. He had been enamoured with the colors and stories and life.
Now not even the Torii were standing.
Kiba and Akamaru let out almost identical sighing groans before picking their way into the rubble.
Hinata, biting her lip and blinking watery eyes, tried to stiffen her shoulders before she activated her bloodline.
Shino tilted his chin up and released a few kikai to search for any survivors or information.
Higure shrine, being so close to Konohagakure, was somewhat of an outpost. While no active ninja lived there, it was not uncommon for retired veterans with physical limitations to join their clan. Because of this close ties had always been maintained between the city and the shrine.
The inhabitants of the shrine were helpful, and always managed to aid Konohagakure with trade or information. Shino had even heard a rumour, once—from a disputable source—that the priestesses in the shrine regularly used their powers (holy powers being a deviation of shinobi chakra usage) to extend their shrine's protection to the ninja city.
Shino turned on the spot, his shaded eyes traversing the remains of houses and buildings that were now no higher than him. A lonely tree stood as the remaining towering testament to the spiritual place, holy paper marking it as sacred.
Hinata let in a shocked gasp beside him, her eyes widening as she stumbled. "Shino-kun! There's someone buried!"
Kiba and Akamaru snapped up from where they had been moving rubble, and Shino felt a shiver run down his spine.
Hinata, not so long ago, had been a body amongst rubble.
He shook the thought off and sent his kikai with a female to the area Hinata indicated. Focusing on that one area, he felt his chakra in his kikai weave around support beams and fallen walls. Finally, almost at the ground, breath disturbed their wings.
The female alit on the survivor and stayed as a marker, releasing a particular chemical. The other kikai set about marking the path they had taken, a few of the adapted ones starting to nibble at wood.
Shino stalked carefully over the rubble, Hinata directing him over unstable wreckage. Kiba and Akamaru, warily following him, started removing rubble under her direction. When they had finally cleared a more stable area, Hinata joined them and they worked to uncover the first survivor.
After fifteen minutes of digging with no break, Hinata's voice came out wobbly—"Do you think she's okay? She hasn't moved at all."
"We'll get to her," Kiba insisted before Shino could say anything. The Inuzuka was sure and firm in his statement, and he hadn't lied.
Shino nodded his head and kept at the work.
It was dirty, dusty and dry from plaster and wood. Shino's remaining kikai were particularly upset about a few splinters and scrapes he had received, but he ignored their incessant murmur and tried to remain calm.
It wouldn't do for them to get too excited.
"We're almost there," Hinata whispered a few minutes later, tremulous hope in her voice.
"Hello?" Kiba shouted down through the twisted rubble, Hinata startled at him but then peered into the dusty darkness.
Shino kept on digging.
Hinata whimpered when no answer came, and went back to digging with tears in her eyes.
Kiba growled and Akamaru paced.
"Hello?" came a cracked whisper, a soft scared voice from the darkness.
Hinata cried out and leaned forward, "We're going to get you out! It'll be okay!" And she dug with renewed fervour.
"What's your name?" Kiba called; a maniacal grin on his face as he used his claws to get a better hold on a large piece of railing and break it out of the way.
"Kagome," came the muffled response.
"I'm Kiba, you got yourself a team of ninja from Konohagakure to your rescue, prepare yourself to see some sunshine!"
A sobbed laugh was his response.
Shino allowed himself a little smile behind his jacket. It wasn't often that ninja got to see positive results from their work, more often causing death and destruction. He would enjoy this.
Finally, when Kiba and Hinata jointly pulled aside a sheet of carved wood, Shino was able to reach into the darkness and grab a small hand. Swallowing, because the hand grabbed back and that was almost beautiful in this wreckage, Shino carefully pulled and drew forth a scrapped and bruised and alive human being.
Hinata choked out a laughing sob and smiled brightly.
Kiba whooped and Akamaru barked happily.
The stranger coughed dryly, and Shino offered her his canteen as he carefully settled her on top of what had recently been her coffin. She carefully sipped it, and turned huge blue eyes up to him on a dirty face.
Tenderly, Shino wiped her cheeks free of muddy tear trails, his fingers brushing aside her matted hair.
She was shivering and shaking, and leaning very heavily into his warmth. Hinata carefully checked her over for serious injuries, but only cited slight shock and dehydration with a cut on the calf that would heal up just fine.
Still, when the stranger tried to stand she crumbled into Shino and he had to practically carry her out of the wreckage.
Kiba and Hinata, emboldened, returned to the search of the wreckage.
With a survivor, they now had proof the Pein's last recompense worked beyond the city's borders, but any other survivors in the wreckage were in danger of dying if they remained trapped.
"Kagome," Shino spoke lowly as he stopped on the dusty grass.
Those eyes turned up to him again, and her teeth were chattering and she was shivering so much.
Shino clenched his jaw and took off his coat, swiftly wrapping it around her so that it swallowed her up. She squirmed slightly until her arms were in the sleeves, leaning heavily on him to maintain her balance. He adjusted until they were both comfortable; he with his arms around her waist and she leaning into his chest with her palms over his heart.
"Kagome," he started again, "How many others should we be looking for?"
She nodded her head, "There should only be a few," was her whisper, "the rest should have made it to the caves.
He tightened his hold briefly in joyous shock.
"You didn't make it."
She shrugged at his statement, "I was praying—the graves aren't anywhere near the safe routes."
Shino closed his eyes against the irony—she had been blessing the very deceased ancestors she might have met. It had been days since the attack, but Tsunade had only just now been able to send ninja to her allies in case of such a situation as this. Kagome had been stuck under wood and stone for so long alone…
"Thank you," she whispered and then a tremble shook her whole frame.
He tightened his arms around her. A few kikai crawled over his bare arm, their wings fluttering in the dusty wind.
"Oh," she whispered before shifting, "she must be yours then." And she offered up the female kikai that had marked her for Shino to find.
Shino blinked and took his helper back, watching the lethargic beetle closely. When she reabsorbed as part of the swarm he turned startled eyes to the strange woman cuddling into him.
During the beetle's stint with Kagome the priestess had fed her chakra…and Shino boggled at the sated beetle creating a buzz in the returning swarm.
The few curious ones that had traversed his arm settled on her hand where it rested on his chest.
She blinked, and smiled. "You have very pretty friends."
Shino blinked and looked away.
Hinata and Kiba were just retrieving two more people who'd been buried under the rubble—they were alive and very cranky, but grateful enough that they didn't give his teammates too much of a hassle.
Kagome turned her head against his chest and looked as well.
When his teammates had safely helped the two down to secure ground, Kagome sighed and straightened her shoulders. Carefully, she tightened his jacket around her before pausing—rather sheepishly, and with a faint blush, she carefully removed herself from his coat and then approached her clansmen.
Shino blinked and held his jacket, watching the female greet her family as he chased around the odd thought—he wanted to see her in more of his clothes. Shino blinked rapidly and rejoined his teammates where Hinata was directing them for more digging.
Kagome and the two others joined them, though Kagome was extra careful whenever she had to step over rubble. Shino thought she half feared becoming trapped again.
They worked a long time and finally managed to clear away the entrance to a tunnel as the sun was setting. The noise of a few stones settling was eerie in the silence, echoing down the cave system.
Then there were human calls from within the darkness, and the rest of the Higurashi clan emerged. Shino glanced at Kagome from the side of his glasses.
There were a few tears, and some frightened children had to be calmed down, but the clan efficiently set up a makeshift camp right next to the cave entrance—just in case. They'd had no warning about Pein's attack, and were lucky enough that the caves were close for most of them. They didn't think they'd be so lucky again, and were paranoid.
But they were also grateful—they fed the shinobi team to the best of their ability (even Kiba sated himself). The children and younglings were whisked off to bed with a few matrons, and everyone else settled in around the fire for the night.
Hinata was exhausted, and Kiba was guarding her at rest where they had set up their own camp. Shino therefore was the only one privileged to sit on the outskirts of the clan meeting, a few of his beetles blending in with Kagome's hair in the firelight.
After the generalities of their conversation a lull of security came over the group.
Then Kagome took in a deep breath. "I will go to Konohagakure," she said firmly.
The elders blinked and sat up straighter around the fire. "Kagome-san, the clan must rebuild."
Kagome stuck her chin out and looked at him evenly. "Konohagakure must too. I will be more of an asset there."
One of the younger clan members huffed and crossed her arms. "No one has died; the medic-nin can take care of whatever remaining injuries there are. Tsunade-sama is there. They have strong shinobi to rebuild, we are basically a civilian clan. You are remiss to leave."
"While no one has perished, there are greater numbers in Konoha that will need my skills; we also have enough healers here."
An elder chopped his hand through the air. "Kagome-sama has always made her own path, this will be no different."
Another elder nodded and spoke in a gravelly voice, "My independent butterfly, you have a wandering spirit, but a gentle heart. If you feel you must, we will miss you."
Kagome softened, "I will be near, and we will be safe. Our clan is small and it won't take long to rebuild suitable shelter and defences, and the barriers can be back up over our properties with the power of three trainees."
An elder laughed, "And you, our strongest priestess, will be in the perfect place to extend the barriers once again to Konohagakure?"
Kagome grinned. "They are allies."
And so Kagome trekked with them back to Konohagakure with the news. The outlying villages had similarly been revived by Pein's final power surge, but the few unfortunates in no position to awake and remain living did need their attention. Warriors would have to be sent out to check the closest areas.
A few of Shino's beetles were always flying about the priestess, tasting her power and daring a few times to play over her hair.
Hinata and Kagome became fast friends, and Kiba was pleased with the girl who treated his secret crush so well. They made it to Konoha in good time, and parted ways once Kagome had checked in with the Hokage and the hospital.
Days later, where Shino had only seen Kagome randomly in the streets as she ran errands or in the hospital as she dropped off medicines, and even seen her once or twice with Hinata, Shino started to notice something strange.
Shino was a prodigy in his clan. He had superb and finite control over himself and therefore his swarms—he was the youngest ever to operate with three queens. He trained every chance he could, meditating and engaging his swarms so they recognized him as the ultimate King.
It was an unnatural thing, for swarms to have a King, so this was necessary.
And because Shino was always so in tune and focused on his swarms he noted the differences immediately.
The three queens were hardly as aggressive, not even with each other in such a confined territory.
While the Aburame contract with the other plane meant that the bugs weren't necessarily inside their bodies, the binding contract with the swarms meant that they all stayed near the seals that held the binds to their Aburames. The seals were built into the blood, the intimidating illusion of a living human hive, without the need for entry or exit wounds and the biological complications that would arise from housing so many insects in a confined space. The swarms had to stay close and communicate with their bonded; they had to communicate with each other.
This was unnatural for them.
So Shino took note that the queens were not fighting each other despite their forced camaraderie. And then he took note that the soldiers weren't vying for the queens' attention, they weren't showcasing for the right to mate.
And then Shino meditated.
It was startling to find a foreign energy amongst his beetles, the shiny spark of it unmistakable.
The priestess Kagome, in feeding his swarm, had become their ultimate Queen.
This was unexpected...and complicated.
The beetles would start to object to his right to rule if he didn't have Kagome by his side. If she was the ultimate Queen then he, as the ultimate King, needed to be a proper mate and stand by her. Swarms were matriarchal after all.
Kagome had the ultimate power.
Shino closed his eyes and rested his hand over them, meditating and thinking while his mind settled into the patterns of his swarms.
The next few days became something like a game. Aburame Shino followed, found and observed Kagome Higurashi. Though the swarms were resolute in their choice, and as beetles they would never change their mind (beetles were, surprisingly the most philosophical and deep thinkers of the insect realm, and therefore never made a decision lightly) Shino wanted to form his own opinion.
His logic was trained so that he could understand the swarms, and he understood their decision was not made frivolously, but as a human he wanted to know why.
True to her word Kagome was helping out at the hospital, caring for the little hurts while the tradesmen rebuilt the city and fortified the walls. She was also somewhat performing the role of den mother while the parents were out securing resources and checking the surrounding villages. (While Pein had revived everyone who had died in the invasion, the mass destruction was still hard to recover from.) She baked and cooked and corralled the rascals in the event tent someone had set up as a rally point.
While she was emotional, most of the time she didn't let it get to her or affect her actions. When it did get to her, when she flushed and got angry or embarrassed, whatever reaction she had would immediately be followed by her going to cool off alone and then coming back with an appropriate course given the circumstances.
That was how she had dealt with Naruto and Sakura while they were getting in the way during an argument.
She was independent, having arranged her own accommodations while staying to help and refusing to kowtow to anyone's decision if she felt it wasn't reasonable (Ebisu and her still didn't quite see eye to eye). Kagome was also efficient, doing everything precisely and with no wasted energy—it made her strangely graceful.
While Shino spent his time observing, his swarm sporadically sent out scouts to engage the priestess. Kagome always welcomed them, sometimes even wearing two or three particularly vibrant beetles as a hair ornament.
While doing this they absorbed more of her energy, memorizing it so they could respond swiftly should she need them.
Shino sighed, and, not even seven days since he had first noticed the change in his swarms, meditated to council with his queens.
They were ecstatic.
The evening after his meditation, he met up with Kagome as she shopped the recovered street vendors. He came up aside her just as she was accepting the slice of a fruit to taste. In his usual quiet way he observed as she tested the meat of the fruit, pursing her lips around it as the flavour and texture were examined.
Kagome Higurashi was also very attractive. She was small, her frame fine but strong. Her skin was pale and smooth, and her curves were bountiful. Her eyes were a stunning blue, jewel-like, and her hair shone like the healthy shells of his most prized breeders. She was a fitting Queen, regal and composed and perfect.
She smiled at the vendor, buying two of the large fruits and placing them in her basket. When she turned her eyes and that smile to him, greeting him calmly, Shino ducked his head and took the moment of greeting to gather his wits.
"Kagome-san," he started.
"Please, it's Kagome. You saved my life, the least you can do is forgo the formalities." She hesitated, "If that's alright, Shino-kun?"
Shino blinked but smiled, his hidden expression pleasant as he regarded the Queen. "It is fine, Kagome-chan."
His swarm became very active, scenting the pheromones in the air and the nearness of their Queen. Three soldiers appeared and flitted about her temple before gathering some of her hair away from her face, forming a small cluster-like barrette.
The vendor coughed and inched away subtly.
Kagome blinked at him, but cleared her expression and hooked her hand in the crook of Shino's elbow. Shino, pleased—and his swarm rapturous —guided her down the street. She walked along gracefully, nodding at the few people she knew, and Shino tilted his chin up just the slightest.
She was walking with him, and she was perfect.
"Kagome-chan," he started again, "I was wondering if you would allow me to court you."
She sucked in a sharp breath and stopped, spinning her weight on one foot so she could look up at him. Her throat moved in a swallow, and she blinked her vibrant eyes. Then she turned and resumed their walk without any other sign.
A few more stalls past before she opened her mouth and admitted: "I have not been courted before."
Shino cleared his throat, the shock of that when she was so perfect strangling some words in his throat. "Then allow me the honour of being your first contender."
"There was one other who seemed interested, but he never entered the formal courting." Her eyes glanced up at him through dark thick lashes, "As a ninja, are you sure you want to make the commitment of a courting? Life is short, and this means you are my courted for the rest of it."
Most ninja never formally courted, using arranged marriages or more permissive civilian traditions.
But the Aburame were traditional, and most of the larger noble clans were.
And Kagome..."I am certain. Because I would favour you as my Queen."
She blushed, letting out a breathy pleased laugh as she squeezed closer to his arm. "Then I would be honoured."
Shino smiled, leaning down to press his forehead to hers while relieving her of the basket.
They finished their stroll through the market, Shino taking the time to fully let the swarms scent and mark her while she asked him questions and finished her shopping. Quite a few of his colleagues spotted them on this walk, taking in the normally stoic Aburame's contact with the little female and her delightful blush at his attentiveness.
It wasn't anything crude or obvious, but the rumor of their relationship was in every ear before he dropped her off for the night at the room she had secured. While he handed over her basket she caught his wrist, and, with a grin, she stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. Shino blinked.
"Until next time," she said softly with an impish grin.
He bent over to bow, looking up at her over the rim of his lenses. "Until tomorrow," he corrected her with his own grin.
She gasped in delight and bit her lip with a grin. "Thank you for escorting me today, it was enjoyable. I look forward to tomorrow, perhaps lunch as well?"
The swarms lurched against the bonding, and Shino blinked and glanced into her hair where the three soldiers were quite content to remain. Just as content as he had been while in her company—he couldn't begrudge them that. "We look forward to it," he said softly and bowed again before taking his leave.
The remaining swarm fluttered jealously, but he reminded them they'd see the Queen tomorrow and they would start a rotation on which soldiers got the privilege of staying with her.
Until Kagome and Shino were married—then the King would be by her side. Shino was quite looking forward to it.