A/N: I quickly finished this chapter. Shino's head is a very interesting place as it seems he has very tight control over his thoughts. I love stirring him up around Ino. Enjoy!

Chapter Two: Shino and the Training

"You definitely reek of flowers, Shino." Kiba's nostrils flared and there was a tell-tale smirk revealing twin fangs. "You been rollin' around in a posy patch somewhere?"

Shino, deep in the recesses of his jacket, did not immediately respond. To deny would reward Kiba. To tell the truth would also reward him. So his only option lay in the grey area between honesty and outright falsehood. "I've taken some hours at the Yamanaka greenhouse. Our family has a vested interest in collaborating with them."

Hinata smiled up at him. "Oh, because of your kikaichu?"

"Yes. That is correct," he responded. His shaded goggles hid his stare at Kiba. Everything hinged on his reaction. "I spent some time this afternoon familiarizing myself with their set-up."

It was Akamaru who indirectly spared him from further scrutiny. He padded up with an enormous stick clenched in his maw, proffering it to his master. Kiba's attention abated as he heaved the stick, which sailed, end over end, into the distance. With a thunderous bark, Akamaru bounded after it. His teammates distracted, Shino revisited his successful interaction with Ino.

She had seemed wary at first, but then she'd shone with warmth and hospitality. And when she'd spared the beetle's life, almost without thinking, Shino had promised that he'd double his efforts win her over. He knew he had to proceed with caution. Any misstep would destroy what little rapport he'd established so far. They were too distant, professional comrades at most, and Shino feared that distance.

He was to blame for it, anyway. He'd harbored this…confusion, this yen, for longer than he'd like to admit. Because he hadn't understood it for what it was, he'd allowed the separation, encouraged it. May he be in time to change her mind about him.

"Shino? You comin' or what?" called Kiba. "Your jonin exam is next week. You can't be gatherin' wool."

Shino hid an inner sigh. "I am not a wool-gatherer. Shall we run our routine paces?"

"Nah. All that's boring. Let's do the awesome stuff," said impatient Kiba. "Besides if we always start off easy, won't that mess you up on your exam? Hinata, you okay with that?"

Hinata pushed her hair behind her ears. "If Shino is fine with it, then I am as well."

"Then let us begin."

The trio, who had trained together since they were twelve, had survived the destruction of their village, had fought back-to-back through a war, knew to a tee each weakness and strength the other possessed. Shino stood back, poised, as was Kiba and Akamaru and Hinata, who took up her Gentle Fist stance, Byakugan activated. It would be Kiba who would attack first, as reliable as the sun at dawn. Perhaps it would be wise to initiate the attack and put both off their guards.

The insects inside him chattered. His chakra fed them, strengthened them, and his power coursed into a billion tiny bodies. He fanned their preparation. They crowded out into his skin, onto his clothes and filled the air with a great, black cloud. The cloud hovered overhead, swirling and humming, and as Shino orchestrated two smaller detachments to burrow into the ground to lay a trap, he flung the entire host at Kiba and Akamaru.

Kiba and Akamaru dodged the insectile wall, sprinting into the trees to evade, and simultaneously, Hinata leapt into the foray, eyes ablaze as engorged veins pumped chakra into them. He kept his balance, twisted from side to side, and hopped around. Her ability allowed her to cut down huge swaths of his insects, so to preserve them, he kept them out of her reach. That meant he had to occupy her attention.

Throughout Hinata's rapid melee attacks, the enormous lion's heads burning blue on her fists because one sideswipe from that would flatten him, he expected Kiba and Akamaru to pounce.

They did not disappoint. However, he did not expect their ferocity. They had transformed and joined together into a triple-headed Cerberus beast on steroids that Shino had seen before, but had not expected Kiba to use so early in the sparring. When his insects screamed their warning, he shot forward and missed, by a slim margin, the fang attack Kiba had perfected.

Perched on a tree branch, Shino felt in Kiba's wake the amped chakra that electrified the air. At least the attack had a longish turn-around. Kiba, or the monster he'd transformed into, stopped spinning, clawing long furrows into helpless soil and taking much vegetation along with it. He had to orient himself, recalibrate his senses, and initiate a second attack. The time this took benefited Shino, but it was then that he realized he'd lost track of Hinata.

Fatal error. The sizeable tree exploded, shards of bark flicking him, as her punch flung him backwards into foliage. Pain sizzled to the deepest corners in his body, and he'd taken more damage than he thought missed him. They had gotten him off balance, but he had the advantage of the trap. He had to lead them into it or he would lose this match.

Hinata's fists soared at him, and he ducked while molding his chakra into a body double. Kiba wouldn't fall for it, but Hinata might. His insects swarmed together, thickened the air into a miasma of writhing, and he slipped the body double into his place. Thousands of his insects cooked from Hinata's heated chakra and littered the forest floor. Shino slipped away as he suppressed his chakra so that Hinata could not differentiate his chakra system from his body double.

And even before he registered the earthquake at his feet, he leapt to avoid the epicenter. A massive beast punctured the earth's crust, splattering dirt clods in 360 degrees. He hadn't been quick enough. A backlash caught him, just an edge, but it was quite enough to crash him several meters into the unforgiving dirt. Heart throbbing in his throat, pain an electric fire in his chest and limbs, Shino struggled to stand.

Kiba's attack had put him in exactly the position necessary to spring his trap and win the game. With the patience for which he was renowned, Shino stood his ground. His systems overloaded with chakra, the swirl of it around him, the power surged into his insects as he dipped deep into his well. Hinata and Kiba closed in.

A dart of motion in his peripheral snagged his attention. He glanced, nothing more, but that was all it took. His brain captured the image of silky blonde hair trailing in the breeze, of a violet outfit and slim, pale legs. Afterwards, darkness.

At first, in the dark, he was comfortable. He noticed the edges of light brightening his vision, and with the light, came immediate and breathtaking agony. Before he had a chance to scream as the agony ripped into his nerves, coolness filled his body. He'd been healed enough to understand this coolness as a healer's chakra inside him.

Shino awoke, then, and Ino's beautiful, anxious face hovered over him. She was everything he could see, and he wanted that to be the case forever.

"Ino, how is he?"

"Does he need the hospital? Ino? Will he survive?"

"He's okay, guys! He's okay," Ino said, cutting off Kiba and Hinata. "Here, lie still for a minute, Shino."

She propped his head onto her lap. Shino's stomach knotted up, and he had trouble breathing. His head was in Ino's lap. Was that his nerves buzzing, or his kikaichu? To the side, Kiba and Hinata knelt. Worry was a thundercloud across on their brows. Shino spared them a second's glance because he was so near Ino he could watch her breathe, smell the flowers on her, see the gradual darkening from sky blue to ocean blue in her eyes.

"So what exactly were you three up to that caused this?" Her tone was cross.

"Heh," Kiba said, and to his credit, scratched his temple in embarrassment, "didn't you know? Shino's up for jonin in a coupla weeks."

Hinata nodded. "Yes. He asked us to help him train for it. We decided to do our very best techniques for practice."

"Ah. Well, looks like mission accomplished. I don't think he'll need the hospital, but a check-up from a doctor couldn't hurt, just in case. Shino, how do you feel?"

He had to do something instead of stare up at her, dumb and deaf. "Ino. I'm…fine. But what are you doing here?"

The sun set with golden glory, its final rays giving a gilt sheen to her skin and hair. "I closed the shop a little earlier than usual to get your keys cut. I came to give them to you."


She smiled at him and helped him sit up. "There we go. Any dizziness? Or nausea?"

"No." Her hands distracted him and he really wished Kiba and Hinata weren't there witnessing this quite intimate exchange. "I can stand."

But when he climbed to his feet, his head betrayed him. The ground swooped up and tilted, so that he wobbled. Ino gripped his arm to steady him. "Whoa. Okay. Lie back down." He obeyed her. She spread her hands on his chest, her features serious. "Let me see. You could have a concussion."

Once again her chakra sifted into his tissue, mixed with his chakra system to lick into his deepest, darkest parts. He stared at her face, fortunate to have shades blocking his gaze. The gentleness, warmth, and intensity of her chakra inside him stirred his feelings for her, like a tide roaring from the bluest depths of an ocean. His lovely insects quivered under his skin, perturbed with the touch of this new emotion. For no reason, embarrassment lifted a hot wave in his cheeks. Nerves knotted in his stomach. Nerves, and that yen he always had when in her presence.

"Hm. There doesn't seem to be any brain damage. It does look like you're overheated some. Get some rest and drink lots of water. Try and stay cool for a day or two. If you continue to have dizziness or nausea, go to the hospital," she said. "That's all I can do for you."

For a second time, she helped him stand, but this time, she made sure Kiba propped him up. He immediately felt her absence, a massive distance, and was irritated that Kiba gripped him for dear life. Whatever Ino had done, he felt fine and had no dizziness. Regardless, the whole way home, Kiba and Hinata fussed over him, right up to his door. In his shadowed living room, he slumped to the couch. Ino's voice lingered in his mind, light, tinkling, pleasing.

Then he realized she'd forgotten to give him the keys.

A/N: Lame plot device, sorry! Let me know thoughts & comments. Lite edits & revisions 07/16/15. Thanks, Ioga.

06/02/18: Light editing & revisions