The Aburame clan was not famous for their conversational skills. Rather, they were infamous for the insects that so often spoke for them.

This being so, Shino was not a very social person. Actually, he had thousands of companions in the form of kikai, but those really didn't count. And he had his father. That brought the count to a grand total of one living being that Shino had even the tiniest hint of a relationship with. At first, Shino had tried to be friendly to the kids at the Academy, offering quietly to conversations, but he was pushed aside in the brashness of kindergarten and soon learned that being a recluse was much easier than being a social butterfly. And since butterflies weren't good for anything anyway, he simply stopped speaking. Learned to accept the solitude and came to be fond of it. And that's how it went for the Aburame clan.

And then, three people dared to break his solitude. He remembered it all quite clearly: Kureani picking nervously at her dress and trying to hide her anxiety from her team. She had been a fresh jounin –the paint still wet her shield, as his father would quote from some person that had died hundreds of years ago and the words were the only thing that remained.

"I'll start with myself," Kureani declared. Shino suspected that she was trying to make up for first-day jitters with a strong voice. "My name is Yuhi Kureani. I enjoy mystery novels and developing new illusionary techniques. I dislike slackers and suck-ups and if you try it with me, expect sore muscles at night. I'm not married nor have a boyfriend so please don't ask." Shino shifted slightly in his place, noting Kiba's slight twitch. A grin? Maybe. "Something you may want to know about how I'm gong to teach you is that this cell will not be based your individual skills. We will focus on teamwork. Extensively. You're going to be in these cells for a long time and nothing is going to change that. Get used to it." She paused, smiling sweetly as the threesome- or foursome, depending if you counted Akamaru- dissolved his tidbit of information. Teams. Shino hated teams. "Now who'd like to go next?"

Kiba didn't raise his hand but simply started into to his monologue. If either he or Hinata had the slightest wish to speak, they would have been utterly trampled. Shino frowned a bit under his collar, disliking Kiba already.

"I'm Inuzuka Kiba," he said, "and this is Akamaru. Akamaru is not a stupid dog and if you call him that you're dead." Charming. "I like chicken tempura and beating the tar out of people. I hate smart alecks and people with cats. My strength is being able to knock out a guy with one punch." He stressed the point by throwing a punch in the air. Akamaru barked. "And Akamaru says hi."

"…" Kureani seemed at a loss for words. She coughed slightly. "Right." She gestured to Hinata, who blushed at the motion. "And you are…"

"M-my name is H-Hyuuga Hinata," the girl stuttered, wringing her hands. "I-I enjoy the o-outdoors and I d-don't like…" A pause, as if she was about to say something, thought better of it, then stopped. "…I don't l-like r-rude people." Another pause. Shino sighed inwardly at her inability to simply get to point. "M-my s-strength is m-my family b-bloodline ability." She didn't go into detail but simply stopped at that, burrowing into her coat and the heat from her tomato-red face radiating from her cheeks.

Kureani nodded, speaking softly as if the Hyuuga was a porcelain doll- not too far off the mark. "And…" A prompt. Shino had no option but to take it.

"I am Aburame Shino," he said quietly in his distinctive tenor. "I enjoy collecting bugs and I hate loud people." He saw Kiba flinch out of the corner of his eye, picking up on the slight hint. "My strength is the Kikai bugs that infest my body and obey my will." He always hated to see people's expressions, the unique mixture of fear and disgust that always came, the expression he'd learned to accept and not try to steer around or sugar-coat.

"Dude, so you can like, control bugs?" Kiba asked. Shino turned and looked at him through mirrored lenses, studying his face for any trace of mockery or disparagement. None was there, just simple curiosity. Shino coughed slightly and nodded in the affirmative. "Cool."

That was probably the first time in the history of forever that anyone had used the words 'control bugs' and 'cool' in the same sentence.

The first mission they had was the outcome of a deranged filing incident. The team had mistakenly been given a B-rank mission and a foursome of Mist ninjas had nearly decapitated Akamaru and put a kunai in Hinata's arm. Kiba was in a rage the entire night and threw a rock at Shino when he had told him, annoyed, that it was 'just a dog'. The kikai weren't quite fast enough and the projectile hit square on, breaking the stem of his glasses and sending them spiraling to the floor.

Shino had been very angry. But then again, so had Kiba. When Hinata and Kureani had come back from the foraging trip, they had found both boys locked in mortal combat, Shino's eyes shut tight and Akamaru barking non-stop. It had taken a full two months for the physical and emotional wounds to heal. Shino never again insulted Akamaru and Kiba had never again touched the sunglasses. It was unspoken.

The first time that Hinata had shown up with a large, spreading bruise on her cheek, Kureani nearly blew a gasket. Kiba did. It was all Hinata could do to stop them from breaking and entering the Hyuuga compound and beating the crap out of her father. Shino remembered the expression on her face as clear as if a snapshot had been taken and stored in his brain: porcelain features streaked with tearstains and her face red as if she had held her breath for too long. He remembered her, pleading in a rasped whisper, not to disturb her father. Bad things would happen, she insisted.

Fortunately, they hadn't broken in. After Hinata had left training for the day, Shino tailed her home and ordered a swarm of bees into Hiashi's sprawling quarters. The rest took care of itself. Hinata had always suspected Shino; Kiba and Kureani knew it for a fact. But nothing was proved so nothing was mentioned. But he always noticed how after that incident, she stuttered a bit less and smiled a bit more. And so it became an unspoken.

Shino had always been one to learn by observation, and so he did. He saw how, when Akamaru was miffed with his owner, he'd bark a little softer and dig his claws into Kiba's scalp a little deeper than necessary, or, in severe cases, choose a perch on he or Hinata. Jealously was Kiba's vice and Akamaru knew that full well.

He noticed how Kureani always tried to stand a little taller when she was around the jounins, and how it took her a millisecond longer to answer a question when she was around Asuma. He saw her habits, likes, and dislikes far past anything in the shallow introduction that they had all awkwardly given that first day. He noticed that after she had been forced to kill an enemy ninja, Kureani would always flinch at the last strike, furrow her brow and close her eyes. Inside he knew that she berated herself for an imaginary flaw that kept her from the respect other jounins got. And Shino knew how hard she tried to protect the village with everything she had.

He noticed that Kiba would always put on a tough-guy face around his family, especially his sister. He saw the haste in which he'd pick up any spare change on the street and drop it casually, almost unnoticed, in a glass jar by the door of their small compound that was always near empty. Shino had once caught him playing with a chew toy, to Kiba's eternal embarrassment. And Shino had never forgotten the first and only time he had heard Kiba cry. It had been after a festival, the father and son affair. His kikai had directed him to someone's backyard, where Kiba was hunched over sobbing lightly, trying to hold it back because men didn't cry. In his right hand, he had been clutching a necklace with a dog fang on it as if his life depended on it. In kanji so worn that Shino had hardly been able to make it out, it read, "Dad".

Shino had not judged Kiba as harshly after that.

And though he didn't like to admit it, he probably noticed Hinata the most. He saw quite clearly her will, so strong that Shino knew that nothing on earth was capable of bending or breaking it. At dawn, he knew that she would go out, her sandals soaked in the early-morning dew, and sit on the tree stump silently, meditating until the rest of the team showed up with bento boxes filled with cold breakfast because they didn't eat alone anymore. He saw the grace in her movements, how her attacks were executed—no, that was too strong of a word. How they were presented in a fluid sequence, flowing like water across the expanse of time, all attacks guided and precise without a drop of sweat wasted on any unnecessary energy unlike Kiba's flurried punches and kicks.

Just because Aburame Shino wore sunglasses didn't mean he was blind.