Author's Pre-ramble: OK…as you can see, despite fears to the contrary, I am not dead! Life has just been kicking my ass. I've had to move for the 2nd time in 3 months and work has been kicking my ass. There are rumors that work will get better, and my current living situation is more permanent than my last one.

And a big thank you to my readers and reviewers, new and old, who kept me writing: Gothic-Fire-Wolf, ephona, FeatherGirl13, Saherah, Aralain, Kitty234, Cessations, SPDVengence, jajalang, DaydreamerMagby, xKokurox, BishiHunter123, Skarlet Rayne, simiashslittledemon, KiRa-NaRa, JasmineRiddleXAngelOfDarkness, tasuki001, SabakuNoGaara426, KerriKisses, stormofrage, Burgundy Wings, egyptian lullaby, Ghost Girl Sora, Sumikoa, Shenlong7, Asa Hoshi, prettygirlxuglythoughts, NicolettaStarr, HelKatz, LittleTidbits, soccergrl15, Philyra, DustBunnyQueen, JustWriter2, Sanity Overload, Miyuuki Aburame, Gaara's Pyro RACCOON, Sin Saiori, Dark-Essence94, HelKat, AgaruTomo, twiggy-shino, Myuuki Aburame, akire26, Little Evil Witch, XxShinoxX, Djinn Kai, Midnight Wolfy, Hiei81, Jonnoda, Dragon of Twilight (And to those of you who have set me on fav authors or fav stories lists…I love you, just as much!)

Title: Reading Totems

By: GrizzlyTeddyBear

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, and this makes me sad. I do own Paige Stone, my OC! All information regarding animal totems was taken from the books Dancing The Wheel by Sun Bear and Animal Speak by Ted Andrews.

Main Pairings: ShinoxOC, NaruxHina, SasuxSaku

Rating: M for mentioned adult themes

Warning: AU, Post-series start time. Rookie 9 is 23-24 years old. Fic mentions pagan religions, if you can't handle it, don't read! Also is OC-centric. Hold your pants, all will be revealed as the story progresses. I like to take my time.

Chapter Summary: Home sweet home. The return to Konoha and a new fuzzy friend for Paige.

Chapter 31

Paige awoke suddenly, blinked her world into focus, and wondered at the ability to sit up without excruciating pain. Looking around her, she noticed she was once more in the forest of her visions. Only this time, she was most definitely not alone. Surrounding her was a white buffalo, and golden eagle, a coyote, and a grizzly bear. Her breath quickened as she addressed whom she had an audience with, "Waboose, Spirit Keeper of the North; Wabun, Spirit Keeper of the East; Shawnodese, Spirit Keeper of the South; and Mudjakeewis, Spirit Keeper of the West…Greetings Thunder Beings, how may I serve you?"

For the first time in her life, Waboose addressed her, "Your duties to Wakan Tanka on this plane are completed. We offer you a chance to go back to the life you once knew."

"Go back?" she nearly squeaked. Her mind was in turmoil. Yes, she had been taken from her old life rather abruptly and thrown into a political and spiritual mess she had managed to live through, but go back? Yes, she had enjoyed her work and her studies. But leave the life she built for herself here? Leave Konoha…and Shino?

Shawnodese approached her, "Do you wish it?"

"I…don't know," she answered truthfully. The flapping of wings redirected her attention.

"You have interfered enough, Coyote. She needs no more confusion from thoughts of love," reprimanded Wabun.

A laughing bark was the reply. "The Reader needed to be complete in order to serve best, you agreed. I did no harm in showing her love was possible with the beetle."

"Shino? You really did send me Shino?" asked Paige.

"It was necessary, Paige," answered the voice of Mudjakeewis, causing her attention to shift again. "You already had great gifts spiritually, but your heart needed healing. You needed balance."

"Then my feelings for Shino are…" she never got a chance to finish the sentence before Wabun interrupted her.

"Genuine. You have no need to doubt them."

"I showed you a possibility of love. I can only encourage what was already a possibility," explained Shawnodese.

"I…need to think," she stated. Paige's mind was still awhirl. At her core she was logical and rational, but logic was failing her at the moment. Returning to her old life would probably mean the lessening of her abilities and no more threats on her life from ninja. Staying in Konoha meant she would be able to be with people who accepted her…and loved her. On the other hand, she would probably face more threats like Masa. Threats she had many to protect her from. Shino. All of her reasoning returned to Shino. He accepted her as she was, loved her as she was, would protect her… Paige decided there was no real decision to make after all. Taking the time to look each Spirit Keeper, she gave her answer, "I want to stay. I will continue to serve Wakan Tanka and the people of Konoha."

"Very well," replied Mudjakeewis. "It will be as you wish. You may return."

Waboose addressed her once more. "A gift will be given upon your return."


Something cold and wet was nuzzling her hand. A sharp stabbing pain returned along with consciousness. Paige groaned slightly and opened her eyes. Turning her head, she spotted a small brown pug…wearing a Konoha hite-ate.

"You're awake," stated the dog.

She blinked. "And apparently hallucinating," she responded.

"Kakashi is following my scent. Help is on the way."

"You're one of Alpha's dogs?" she queried.

The pug nodded. "I'm Pakkun. And your friend decided I wasn't fit for lunch."

"He was willing to listen to an old bear while you were visiting the Spirit Keepers," interrupted Matohota.

"More like he demanded I explain myself since he was no longer special with the ability to speak," sulked Pakkun.

Paige tried to crane her neck to look at the grizzly bear, but he was out of her line of sight. Instead her gaze fell upon Sumaru. "How is he?"

"Resting," replied her totem. "He was awake a few hours ago and asking the same question of you."

"Hours?" she wondered.

"Do you vouch for him?" Pakkun asked, interrupting her inner thoughts.

"He saved my life. He was acting under duress when he was following Hoshiro. I will vouch for him," she declared.

A breeze stirred the braches of the trees.

Paige felt wolf at the same time Matohota and Pakkun came to attention and looked in the same direction.

"Yo!" It was Kakashi, slouched against a tree with his hands casually stuffed into his pockets. "I see you've made new friends," he stated, taking in the scene of Pakkun, a grizzly bear, a raven, and a suspected kidnapper all near her. The Konoha shinobi's shoulders slumped. "I don't get to kill anyone," he deadpanned.

She gave into a laugh which turned into a fit of coughing. Raising her uninjured hand to her mouth, Paige came away with blood…quite a bit of blood. "Damn," she whispered hoarsely, holding up the hand for Kakashi to see.

Faster than she could process he was at her side, assessing her condition with more gentleness she would have originally given him credit for. He turned to Pakkun. "Go back to the village. Alert Tsunade and Sakura…" He turned his attention to Paige. "I'm sure you already know how bad it is.

Nodding, she croaked out, "Buffalo…women…," before coughing up more blood. Waboose said she had a gift for her. Paige was hoping it was a really good repair-job.

Beetle.

The totem of the Aburame clan leader made Paige give what was probably a bloody smile.

Kakashi's and Pakkun's attention turned at the same moment.

Aburame Shibi walked into her field of vision. "Paige," he stated in greeting. "Scarab found me."

She attempted to ask where Shino was, but all that came out was a wheeze that ended in another cough. Paige tried to look around for the Aburame she wanted to see more than any other person in the world. She needed to confirm with her own eyes that he truly was alive, to dispel any lingering doubt.

Shibi crouched next to her and gently touched her arm. "Messengers have been sent to find Shino. He elected to stay in Suna and had been attempting to track you." He turned his attention to Kakashi. "Her chakra levels are erratic. We need to move her to the hospital now." Carefully, Shibi cradled Paige against his chest and motioned for Kakashi to see to Sumaru.

Self-fulfilling prophecy should have been an official medical phenomenon. No sooner had the words left the mouth of the Aburame, then Paige's field of vision—already restricted by the fact that she could no longer sit up without excruciating pain—narrowed even further. Reaching out in panic, she felt fur…the reassuring presence of Matohota.

"Trust this beetle to carry you. Kagi Taka and I must leave this plane, but will always be with you."

Paige nodded meekly in acquiescence and watched the figures of her totems fade from the ability of the human eye to see. Grizzly Bear and Raven nudged her abilities comfortingly before Shibi and Kakashi started to run with their burdens towards Konoha and its hospital.

The next span of time passed in a series of disjointed blurs to Paige Stone. She was aware of the warm and steady sensation of Shibi carrying her towards their destination. She was aware of the swift passage of trees, the alternating light and shade of the canopy of leaves and branches. She was aware of a glimpse of red kanji on the opened gates of Konoha. What should have been the din of the hospital was more of a series of disorganized murmurs. Paige was aware of being laid on a stretcher and wheeled through a series of corridors. The fluorescent lighting passed in streaks of brightness while the blurry faces of friends presented themselves, blocking the brightness, and then departed.

"Paige!"

Someone one was shouting her name. Squinting, she tried to bring the face into focus. Tsunade. It was Tsunade.

"Paige, you have internal bleeding, broken ribs, several fractures in your arm, a broken femur, and fractures to your jaw and skull. We need to sedate you to keep you from moving while we work."

As it had done so often in the past several hours, Paige's world slowly faded to black, but this time, she had the knowledge of being safe.


It was the sensation of wearing one of those annoying hospital gowns that came back first. The signature draft one got while wearing one was unforgettable. Second was the antiseptic smell of hospital. Next was hearing—the soft steady breathing and the turning of the pages of someone close by. Gently reaching out, Paige sensed beetle. Opening her eyes slowly, the fuzzy form of Shibi slowly came into focus. The yawn that followed brought back the sense of taste…the taste of sweaty gym socks…

The closing of a book brought her attention back to the Aburame. He gestured toward a pitcher of water and an empty glass with a straw.

Slowly ungluing her tongue from the roof of her mouth, Paige gave a small nod of her head and mouthed, 'please.'

Calmly Shibi assisted her in arranging her bed and pillows so she could sit up. He then held the glass for her while she drank her fill of the water he had poured for her. "I have to tell them you are awake," he stated while putting the glass down.

"I'd like a few minutes before you do that," she requested. Paige was not looking forward to telling everyone what had happened. "Where's Shino?" She wanted his comforting presence when she did telling what happened.

"He arrived last night after turning most of Suna upside down looking for you. Hinata and Sakura convinced him to go home and sleep after traveling for 4 days straight from where he had tracked you. Shino didn't want to leave your side."

Paige smiled at the thought. "How's Sumaru?"

"His injuries were not as severe as yours. He has recovered and is entering into negotiations with Tsunade to uproot the rest of those loyal to Hoshiro."

Nodding she began to wring her hands in nervousness, but something was in the way. Encircling her left ring finger was a ring. But what a ring it was! It was an amber stone, a little smaller than the piece she had given Shino so it would fit comfortably on her hand. Her breath quickened slightly as she brought her hand closer to gaze at the stone. "Is this… Am I… Did he…"

Shibi gave an Aburame smirk, "Call me Tousan."

"Ok…" As Paige was contemplating her newly engaged status, the door to her room opened to reveal Hinata.

"Paige, it's so good to see you awake. You've been unconscious for 5 days."

Smiling back at the medic she replied, "I guess you have to tell everyone else that I'm awake."

"Are you ready? Tsunade-sama and Ibiki-sensei want to debrief you." Hinata looked apologetic at the mention of Ibiki's involvement.

Giving an exasperated sigh, Paige answered, "I guess I'd rather get this over with than have it hanging over me."

Leaning against her hospital bed, Hinata gave her a brief hug. "Everyone was worried about you."

"It's definitely good to be back," she replied when she was released.

Hinata gave a smile as she closed the door to the room and went to get Paige's next audience.

She went back to wringing her hands as soon as the door closed. "I don't want to do this alone." She was wishing Shino was with her, but she didn't want to wake him up. He probably needed a lot of convincing to go home and sleep. "Are you allowed to stay when Tsunade and Ibiki arrive?" she asked the Aburame.

Shibi walked to the window to her room and opened it slightly. "I'll see what I can do."

Paige nodded and tried not to think about having to tell Tsunade and Ibiki what happened. She wasn't too successful. Battling her own thoughts, she didn't hear the door open. It was Shibi's movement to stand and give a bow that alerted her to the presence of newcomers. "Hokage-sama, Ibiki-san, I ask that you let Paige have someone present during the debriefing," requested Shibi.

"Are you volunteering, Shibi?" inquired Tsunade as she and Ibiki faced the Aburame clan leader. Taking in who had entered the room, she was somewhat relieved to see Sumaru was with them. Maybe she wouldn't have to go into too much detail if he told them what had happened already.

Beetle.

Paige Stone felt her heart skip a beat, and her head pivoted towards the window.

"I volunteer." It was Shino—alive, whole, and perched on the ledge of her window, carrying her medicine wheel bag with a rather large lump in it.

She held out her left hand to him and gave him a small tearful smile.

Shino landed softly on the floor and walked towards Paige. Taking her hand in his own, he sat lightly on the edge of her bed and drew her into a fierce embrace.

She basked in the ability to be close to him again. Her grip tightened as she thought about Masa's genjutsu and whimpered slightly.

"Paige?" He drew back slightly and wiped the tears that had formed without her permission.

Looking down at their joined hands, she spoke, "I should start at the beginning." Looking up, she addressed Tsunade and Ibiki. "I'd like Tousan to stay. Family needs to know this too."

After a shared raised eyebrow with Ibiki, Tsunade nodded.

Shino shifted next to her, and she obligingly moved over to make room for him to sit more fully on the hospital bed. Playing with her new ring, she began to tremble at the task in front of her. Taking a deep breath and giving the hand that held hers a slight squeeze, she called upon her totem to give her courage once more. "How far back do you want me to start?"

"Start with why you felt the need to jump out a 10 meter high window during the Chunin Exams," replied Tsunade.

She had the sense to look slightly ashamed. "It was the only way out of the bathroom. Shino was going to have Masa to deal with, and I knew I didn't want to be captured by him…"

Paige Stone launched into the story of her capture, kidnapping, and torture. When she arrived at the part about Masa's genjutsu, she turned to Shino next to her and started openly crying. "I thought you were dead. That was the only time I thought about telling him everything I knew. Nothing mattered if you were dead." She felt herself being pulled against his chest.

"Shh…" After taking off his jacket and wrapping her tightly, Shino tucked her head under his chin and murmured soothing words to her as he rocked her slightly.

Absently she could here Sumaru take up some of the story—of his killing of Hoshiro and the flight from Masa. "…she said he was a friend and grizzly bear walked up to us and started talking."

Grizzly bear.

Paige smiled at the comforting feelings from both Shino and her totem.

Ibiki moved from his position against the wall and drew everyone's attention by doing so. "You can manifest them fully."

She nodded into Shino's chest and retreated further into his jacket, unwilling to see if there were any disapproving looks directed at her. "Matohota gave us his help, bought us time to get closer to Konoha by staying behind to hold off Masa as long as he could."

Sumaru picked up the topic of their flight from Masa again. "I woke up, he was dead, and there was a raven sitting next to Paige."

"How did you kill him?"

All eyes were on her again. Straightening herself slightly, she held the gaze of Ibiki who had asked the question. "I crossed him over using my Kagi Taka—my raven totem—and the ravens of his dead. Matohota held him off until I could call the Kagi Taka. It didn't…sound like a pleasant way to go…"

Something passed behind Ibiki's eyes that almost looked like approval.

"I blacked out shortly after. When I came to again, Pakkun was there. After that Kakashi arrived and then Tousan. The rest is kinda blurry until waking up just now."

Tsunade gave Paige a half smile. "I realize you've been through a lot. Your protection of Konoha's secrets goes beyond your pledge to help Konoha." Her smile slid into a smirk. "And the two of you have managed to make a huge political mess by leaving a hidden village without a Kage."

Paige blinked and turned to Sumaru. "You mean you didn't tell them?"

He looked down at the floor.

"Tell us what?" demanded Tsunade.

"Matohota named him the next Hoshikage," explained Paige. She turned to Sumaru, "You promised your mother. And without Masa and the rest of Hoshiro's followers, you probably are the strongest ninja in Bear Country."

"The elders of the village must vote on it first," commented the Hoshi shinobi.

"I see we have more to negotiate," retorted Tsunade dryly. Turning her attention to Paige, she addressed the question that had been pushed to the back of her mind. "You're probably wondering about your physical condition."

She nodded in response.

"Everything's fixed."

Paige blinked, "Fixed?"

Tsunade waved away any further questions. "You shouldn't have survived with the amount of internal bleeding you ended up with, but it seems you have friends in high places."

"You said everything," stated Shino, intruding on the spinning questions in her mind.

Tsunade gave a wink at the couple on the hospital bed. "Yes I did." She went about herding the men out of the room. "Those two have some catching up to do gentleman." She turned back to Paige, "But no sex until you've completed your month of physical therapy."

Turning a bright shade of red, Paige Stone nodded while hiding her face in her hands.

Shino tightened his grip on her once more.

This time she gave in, attempting to mold her body against his in response to the embrace. "I missed you." She began to sniffle, trying to fight back the tears that had threatened to burst through before the debriefing began.

"I am here now. You don't have to fight anymore," he responded. "I love you."

Three simple words. But they held such power. All of the carefully erected emotional barriers that Paige had constructed in order to survive her time with Masa and the flight home came crashing down with three simple words. She started to cry, but crying wasn't enough. It soon turned into sobbing.

Shifting slightly, the newly engaged shinobi attempted to calm her and get her attention. "Paige…"

Slowly, the sobbing decreased. Sniffling and wiping at her tears, she looked up at him. But what she encountered wasn't Shino's face.

It was a teddy bear. It was about 15 centimeters tall in a sitting position. It was brown with big black eyes and a black nose. But it was what was on the nose that made Paige laugh. There was a large, fuzzy, yellow and black honeybee perched in perfect position to stare into the bear's eyes.

"You once said if you had your old collection of teddy bears you wouldn't ever have to leave the house," smirked Shino.

"We'll have to negotiate that," retorted Paige with a smirk of her own. "I think I can still be useful. I could help out at the hospital's psychiatric ward. I have all of my training as an inpatient therapist still." She chewed on her lower lip while she thought out loud. "And Ibiki seems to appreciate my methods of information gathering. I could be of use still."

"I want you safe," stated Shino.

"I'll do my best?" she offered. "Nowhere that I go will be completely safe for me."

His grip tightened on her. "True."

Paige sighed, "They offered me a chance to go back to my old life. I wanted to stay here with you. All of the risks…I think it's worth it. I know it's worth it."

He lightly kissed her forehead. "You should get more rest."

"I was sleeping for 5 days!" she protested.

"A coma is not the same as real sleep," Shino responded.

"You need rest too," she replied.

He gave her a soft smile. Shino proceeded to rearrange them on the narrow hospital bed so they two of them lay comfortably. "Yes I do."

She snuggled into his protective embrace. "I love you," she sighed sleepily.

Shino kissed her forehead softly again. "Love you too."

Soon the two were fast asleep.

THE END


Author's Post-ramble: Epilogue to come.