Yeah, so I've always been interested in Shino...he's one of those characters that kinda drops off into the background, which is disappointing, because I love him. I think he's so awesome! So, I decided to write a little something about him, get into his head, you know. :grins:

Chapter 1: Changes

"How are you feeling?" Hinata asked in a concerned voice. She had recovered from her wounds, procured in her fight with Neji, only a few days before Shino was admitted to the hospital, and she insisted on seeing him as soon as she was able to walk again. Her relationship with Shino was unusual since the dark-haired boy did not speak very often, but she was quite fond of him despite that. Shino was always sensible when he did decide to voice his opinions and she liked that aspect of his personality. Hinata was not much of a talker herself, anyway.

"Pounded," Shino replied to her query, a hint of a smile on his face. He stretched a bit to ease his cramped muscles. He knew that he'd been asleep for some time, but for how long he was not sure. However, that did not matter right now. He was surprised to see Hinata at his bedside, figuring that it would have taken her much longer to heal. "What about you? Are you supposed to be moving around so soon?"

Hinata played with the ties of the hood on her jacket. "Well, I suppose I could have stayed in bed a few extra days, but I wanted to be here when you woke up." She blushed. "It's always nice to have people who care about you around in times like this."

Shino blinked. "Oh," he said dumbly, and wanted to kick himself. "I mean, thank you. I do appreciate it; I just don't want you to overexert yourself." His brown eyes, no longer concealed by the dark sunglasses he normally wore, met with Hinata's. "We—I was worried about you."

Hinata felt her cheeks burn. She clasped her hands and began tapping her pointer fingers together, a nervous habit she picked up somewhere along the line. Whenever Shino and Hinata did end up talking, it was always about something relating to a mission, never anything personal. This was the first time that Shino openly shared what he was feeling, and it was concern over her well-being. She had not been expecting that.

"I'm fine, really I am. The doctors say I've made a full recovery." Hinata smiled, and got to her feet. "Are you hungry? I'll go find you something, if you'd like."

"Now that you mention it, I am hungry," Shino said, and his stomach let out a growl of confirmation. Hinata laughed. She was halfway to the door when she backtracked to give Shino a light kiss on his cheek.

"I was worried about you, too." She said quietly, and left.

Shino watched Hinata's retreating back, more emotions than he was accustomed to swimming about inside of him. He had always cared about Hinata as a teammate and a friend, even if he did not show it all that often, and he was glad that she had been the one staying with him while he slept. He knew that his father would be coming soon, once he heard that Shino had regained consciousness, but he hoped that he would have a bit more time alone with Hinata to talk. When he was around Kiba, Shino automatically clammed up unless he had a pressing need to say something important, but he found that he actually enjoyed chatting when it was just Hinata. She was an intelligent girl, and she did not gossip as most of the other females of his acquaintance did. Gossip annoyed him. Shino snorted.

"Maybe that's why I get irritated whenever Kiba opens his mouth," he said to himself, grinning. "He's so full of hot air I'm surprised he doesn't float away."

"What?" Hinata had returned, carrying a bowl of noodles in one hand and some hot tea in the other.

Oh, that was swift, Aburame. Make her think you're a loony, why don't you? Shino turned red. "Er...nothing."

Hinata raised an eyebrow, though she did not prod. Instead, she sat herself next to Shino on the bed and put the tea on a small table near it. "Do you have enough energy to handle this, or do you need me to help?" Hinata asked, in reference to the noodles. Shino's eyes widened a bit, but he realized upon seeing the wicked grin on Hinata's face that she was teasing him.

"I'm not senile yet," Shino replied, mock indignant, and proceeded to wolf down the contents of the bowl in record time. He didn't care about being reserved at this point, and he didn't get the impression that Hinata minded. After he'd finished, Shino sank back against the pillows and sighed in contentment. "That was good."

"I'd certainly hope so, the way you inhaled," Hinata chided. "You're going to get a stomachache."

"You sound like my mother," Shino retorted, grinning. He put his hands behind his head. "So, have you got any idea what's been going on out there? Have Kiba and the others returned yet?"

A frown creased Hinata's forehead. She'd been filled in on the details of the rescue team that included Kiba and Naruto a bit after she woke. "As far as I know, they're still trying to track Sasuke down." She bit her lip. The thought of her teammate and the boy she admired risking their lives worried her sick. Shino sensed her fear.

"They can take care of themselves," he said, his eyes catching Hinata's again. "Everything will work out in the end, trust me."

The strange thing was, Hinata did trust him, and hearing those words come from him gave her assurance. She nodded. "You're right. I just need to have faith."

After that, the conversation moved on to other, less important things, basically to mask the fact that they were enjoying each other's company too much to give Hinata reason to leave. Shino was a bit startled at how easy it was to open up to the soft-spoken girl sitting with him and he was actually disappointed when his father entered the room. Hinata, smiling, whispered, "I'll visit again soon," in Shino's ear, bowed to Shino's father, and then took her leave. For whatever reason, her words continued to play through his head long after she'd gone, and while he tried to give his father his full attention, that task proved to be more than a little difficult.

Of all the times to start being interested in girls, this is the worst, Shino scolded himself while his father talked. You've known Hinata for years, and she's never bothered you like this before! Are you going to get all bent out of shape because what she did was nice? You're acting like a little kid! Snap out of it! Of course, it was much easier to tell himself these things than to do them, particularly when his hormones, which he had ignored up to this point, were clamoring to be acknowledged. Besides, Hinata has always admired Naruto, you know that. What chance does a weirdo who shares a body with bugs have over him? Naruto is everything you aren't, baka, so you may as well save yourself the humiliation and keep thoughts like this in your head, where they belong. Shino chewed on the inside of his cheek. The realization that, even if he wanted it, he would never stand a chance with Hinata made him feel worse, rather than better. Once his mind strayed to that line of thinking, more similar thoughts intruded, thoughts about spending his future alone, with only his bugs for company, and that was not comforting in the slightest.

Enough. Now you're just feeling sorry for yourself, and that won't do. Whatever the future has in store for you, you're just going to have to suck it up and accept it. You've gone all your life without close companions. Why should your future be any different?

The years since that day passed in a whirlwind of activity. After the final battle for Konoha was won, the villagers began the task of rebuilding their homes, their lives, and their spirits. Many brave ninja had perished to protect the land that was so dear to them, leaving their mourning families to pick up the pieces as best they could. Shino's father and mother had been among the fallen, and he endured a dark period of grief that abated slowly as he immersed himself in work. Shino's elder brother Jiro, who, unlike his younger sibling, had an outspoken sense of humor, made the tiring job of erecting new buildings in the town an amusing endeavor by making up outrageous stories on the spot and telling them with exuberant flourishes of voice. Shino, along with the rest of the laborers, could not help but laugh at his brother's antics, and was grateful to have him there. Though there would always be a hollow in his heart from his loss, Shino was able to move forward and grow, attaining the rank of Jounin by his eighteenth year.

There was one thing that had not changed, though, despite all the efforts he made to be emotionless. His feelings for Hinata had taken on a life of their own, and he was powerless to stop them from overtaking his every thought, his every dream. While every person who lived through the Sorrowful Years was changed forever, Hinata had undergone the most drastic transformation. The timid little girl was replaced by a capable warrior, one who, in her free time, taught village girls hand to hand combat. Her body and mind were now those of a woman, and her sharp wit was on the path to becoming legendary. The lavender hair that once was as short as a boy's now reached mid-back, framing a face that plenty of young men sighed over. Hinata was in no hurry to settle down, however, and she enjoyed the freedom that accompanied her unattached status. Upon Naruto's return, she had discovered that there was no love between them save that of friendship, and while that knowledge had stung at first, Hinata was happy to finally have that chapter of her life resolved.

What Hinata did not know was that there were two young men in particular who vied for her heart, the two people who were the closest to her. In truth, neither Kiba nor Shino was aware that they shared affections for the same person, or that they had become, in a sense, rivals. Normally, Kiba did not hesitate to say whatever was on his mind, but he was more reserved when it came to what he felt for Hinata, and Shino never spoke a word of his own feelings to anyone, not even his brother. If he believed that he did not stand a chance with the old Hinata, the new Hinata was even further out of his league. And so he continued to watch her from afar as she made a name for herself, resigned to the fact that someone else would sweep her away. Of course, he never imagined that it would be Kiba who did the sweeping.

"What do you think of Hinata?" Kiba asked one blustery day after he and Shino returned to Konoha from a mission they had been assigned to complete together. Shino raised an eyebrow. Oh good lord. I'm not that obvious, am I? When Shino still made no move to speak, Kiba elaborated. "I'm really proud of her, you know? I mean, she went from this meek little thing to a...a powerhouse. I really like that. And...listen, I need your advice. I do value your opinion, Shino, even though I acted like I didn't when we were kids. You just...intimidated me, and I hated it."

Both of Shino's eyebrows shot up. That was unexpected. "I had no idea," he said honestly, and grinned. "Well, out with it, then. What's on your mind?"

Kiba took a deep breath. "Do you think that Hinata would go for me, now that she isn't hung up on Naruto anymore, or am I just fooling myself? I care about her a lot," he added, mistaking the shocked look on Shino's face for something else. "I'd never do anything to hurt her, ever. You believe me, don't you?"

"Yeah...yeah...I know..." Shino mumbled, barely aware of what he was saying. There was a painful pressure in his chest, as if his heart were being squeezed by an invisible fist. It was not a pleasant experience. Kiba...of all had to be you...

"Are you okay?" Kiba asked, puzzled. "Shino? What's wrong?" The sound of Kiba's voice brought Shino back to the present, and he forced himself to appear as if nothing about this situation affected him at all.

"Hinata's a good girl," he said calmly. "She doesn't have a bad bone in her body. If you care about her, tell her. She's not the type to laugh in your face." Shino looked down. "I'm sure she'd be flattered."

Kiba smiled, relieved. "You really think so?"

No! No you don't! Tell him to back off, because she's not his to take! She's yours! "Yeah, I really do." What are you doing? Coward! Challenge him! "Good luck," Shino said, and clapped Kiba on the shoulder. "I'm going to head home. I'm bushed."

"See ya, man, and thanks," Kiba replied, still smiling. He did not suspect a thing, but then again, Kiba never was very observant. Shino turned at the last minute to see Kiba walking with a bounce to his step, and he had the overwhelming urge to throw things. When he reached his house, he bypassed the kitchen where his brother was fixing dinner and went to his room, flinging himself upon his bed and staring angrily at the ceiling. Jiro heard him come in, and he could tell that something had happened, so he poked his head in through Shino's doorway.

"Do you want to talk?"

"No," Shino snapped.

"I'll take that as a yes," Jiro replied and came into the room, sitting in the chair near Shino's desk. He grinned. "You would have said nothing if you wanted me to go away."

Realizing his folly, Shino let out a string of expletives, cursing his brother for knowing him too well. Jiro merely laughed, and Shino glared at him. "Oh fine, you win. Do you remember Hinata, the girl on my team?"

Jiro nodded. "She's from the Hyuuga clan, right?"

"Yeah. Well—"

"Let me guess," Jiro interrupted. "You found out that someone besides yourself is interested in her, but you couldn't tell the other guy to buzz off because he's your friend, am I right?"

"Yeah—Wait! How did you know that I'm interested in her? I never told anyone!" Shino burst out.

"I've seen the way you behave around her, little bro, and being your brother, I could tell that she means more to you than you were letting on." Jiro said, and Shino glared at him again. "So, is the lucky guy who is going to steal your girl Kiba, by any chance?"

The urge to throw things shifted to an urge to throw things at Jiro. "Why don't you tell me, since you know everything?" Shino muttered, but after he'd had time to think of how childish he was being, he laughed in spite of himself. "Sorry. I'm just really irritated at myself because I couldn't say anything. It's not like it matters, though. Hinata wouldn't want to be with me, anyway."

"Did she say that to you?"


"Well, what gave you that idea, then? Is it because you think she'd be repulsed by you?"

That hit the nail right on the head. "A guy with bugs running around inside of him isn't all that attractive."

Jiro stood and patted Shino on the head as if he were a dog. "She knows about our clan, Shino. You were on the same team for a long time, and if she wasn't disgusted by you then, she wouldn't be now." He headed for the door, pausing to say over his shoulder, "It's up to you to do something, kid. You could sit around and nurse your broken heart while wallowing in self pity, but that isn't any fun, now is it?" With that, Jiro winked and headed back downstairs to finish making dinner, leaving Shino with quite a bit to think about.

Uh-oh! Triangle action:grins: I'm so bad. I swore I would never travel down the triangle road, but...oh well. Just click that little button and tell me what you think! You know you want to!