It was eight o'clock on a training day, and the three genin stood dutifully in the clearing. Kurenai, their jounin trainer, wasn't coming up the path. Hinata moved in the crisp air, feet squelching through the dewy grass that was going to turn to mud before the moisture dried up, and stood at the very edge of the path they had all met up on. She could see for half a mile from this vantage point.
"Well, Hinata?" Kiba prompted, Akamaru snapping his jaws at passing dragonflies from the ground by his master's feet. His jacket was pulled tight, fending off the cold that had woken him up from a nice marrow-filled dream. "Is she coming any time soon?"
The girl turned and shook her head. "She said that yesterday was Asuma's birthday."
"So you think that she was partying with the other jounin last night? Is she crazy? She's the one that told us to be here!" Kiba huffed and grumbled to himself for a few minutes, stamping his feet to bring back circulation. "Dammit, what are we supposed to do, stand here and die?"
Both of them turned to Shino, the third member of the group and accepted leader. Behind the dark sunglasses he wore, he glanced between the two and eventually said, "We shall spar."
Kiba whooped with joy and slapped his thigh, order enough for Akamaru to pay attention. "Alright, where are we going to do this? Are the trees out-of-bounds this time? Hey, this'll be great, we're going to get muddy and gross!"
Hinata, craning her neck in case Kurenai was coming, said, "I don't think it's wise to use up all of our chakras before we know what Teacher will have us do."
Akamaru, apparently hearing this, gave his friend and master a beseeching look. Kiba waved him off to chase the dragonflies flitting to and fro from puddle to puddle. If he couldn't use jutsus, he wasn't going to rely on Akamaru. "So, Shino, let's only use martial arts for this round, what do you say? And no pulling punches."
Shino only moved into the center, spreading his legs to sink into a crouch and holding his arms in front of his abdomen as a guard and shoulder as an attack. Kiba bounced to mirror him, and they squared off for a moment.
Hinata, accustomed to this, called it. "No blood, okay? Begin." She decided that Kurenai was not going to expedite her journey to her students based on the girl's waiting and headed toward her teammate's somewhat blurred forms.
Kiba's jaw was tightly shut, teeth grinding in concentration. His body reacted reflexively almost before his mind could track the sequence of movements. He punched at Shino, to be avoided. He blocked a kick to his own head, holding the leg at shoulder level and aiming his foot at Shino's other knee. Shino used his captured leg as a fulcrom and jumped up, managing to stand on Kiba's shoulders for a split second and flipping down behind him. Kiba had turned around by then and had a roundhouse kick in motion.
Hinata, knowing she was not strong enough to fight like this with either of them, focused on following the boys without her clan's blood trait. She also kept an eye on Akamaru, arguably the team's mascot.
Fifteen minutes later, Kiba's heavy jacket was on the grass and his breath was shown as coming hard and fast as it hung in the air. Now that same cold felt good against sweating skin. Shino, however, was still decked out in his full gear, and showing no signs of fatigue besides his own heavy breathing. Just when both the combatants felt they would have to slow down soon, they stopped dead in their tracks, fists nearly touching.
Kiba yelped, as did a distant Akamaru, broad hands clamped over his ears and body twisting in every possible direction. Shino grunted and fell to his knees, kikai bugs swarming from his neck up his head, the only visible part of him. His skin was virtually black with them.
Hinata heard a satisfied chuckle and turned to see her teacher lowering a tiny silver tube. Her pupil-less eyes were still wide with shock at the boys' behavior. Kurenai didn't answer the implied question and walked to stand beside her only female student.
As the tube had been released, both boys had calmed down some, though Kiba didn't remove his hands and Shino focused solely on marshalling the kikai back under his skin.
"Hello, my beloved guinea pigs," Kurenai said happily. "I see you decided not to wait up."
"What the hell was that?" Kiba shouted, fingers scratching at his ringing ears. He nudged Shino's shoulder as the silent boy took his feet again, asking, "You heard it, right? That's why your bugs freaked out?"
Shino shook his head no. "The kikai were upset by high-frequency vibrations."
"He means a very high note," Kurenai explained. "I looked it up. Bugs don't hear, they sense vibrations in the air with their antennae. I wanted to test this out." She held the tube out for all to see, and Hinata, the closest, was the first to recognize it.
"A dog whistle?"
"Too right you are, sweets. It's a dog whistle, and you're all going to be training with it." The woman pressed the whistle into Hinata's palm and closed the fingers around it. "Boys, you and Akamaru will be able to control your reactions to it. Hinata, you will be blowing it for roughly five minutes."
"Consecutively? I need to breathe, Teacher…" Hinata's voice showed her doubt.
"That's only to start out. Listen carefully, now, alright? You will use your chakra to move air from you nose, to your lungs, to your mouth, and out through the whistle." They all stared at her a moment. "You may now congratulate me on my brilliant training idea."
Kiba raised his hand. Before she could say anything, he asked, "Teacher, why are you wearing the same dress as yesterday? It's got a stain from the raspberries from the gardening mission we did."
She hid a smile. "I…wasn't at home, if you must know."
The genin smirked as Akamaru returned from the other side of the field, still whimpering. Kiba raised his eyebrows, and stage whispered, "Nice going, Asuma."
Kurenai rolled her eyes, shared a look with Hinata about boys in general, and they both started giggling. In turn, the boys locked eyes as best they could and Kiba just shrugged.
Minutes later, all three genin were cross-legged on the muddy ground, uncomfortably soggy already. Hinata focused her chakra on the air outside her body and tried to breathe using that pressure, instead of the changed air pressure caused by her diaphragm muscle. "I think I'm ready to try it," she said at length. Kurenai, standing closein case something went wrong, nodded her permission.
Hinata put the whistle to her lips and remained motionless as she manipulated the air around her. The air went into her lungs, and back up out her mouth, which was hard to maintain; airflow was two-way in her trachea and bronchi. The separation was an odd sensation, and she could only sustain it for ten seconds before she started coughing fitfully.
Still, those ten seconds gave Shino and Kiba enough time to feel the sound's effects. Kiba's hands bunched into fists at his side to stop them from covering his ears, and his teeth ground together. On the other hand, Shino seemed to be in an almost meditative state, conversing with his kikai about the importance of recognizing the raised vibrations and resisting them.
Hinata was able to keep the balance for five minutes by lunchtime, and it was about that same time that the boys were fed up with the cruel and unusual punishment. They ran for it.
Shino heard something moving behind him, and sent roughly one hundred kikai bugs to scout it out. Kiba was coming up, and trying to be stealthy about it. Shino allowed him to come up close, wondering what his teammate thought he was doing. Kiba pounced on him, arms around his waist, legs around his knees, making him overbalance. They ended up in a tangle on the floor, Shino on the bottom with an insistent tree root in the small of his back.
Kiba jumped up, celebrating by shouting, "I snuck up on the Arubame Shino! It's a miracle!"
Shino stood more gracefully, flicking wet leaves from the front of his glasses. "I knew you were coming."
"Aw, you did not! Why'd you let me glomp you, then?"
"I didn't expect you to do so." Shino puzzled over the meaning of 'glomp' for a moment before discarding it as unknown slang. He assumed that it referred to the tackle-hug.
Kiba sighed heavily and sank down into the bushes. "Whatever, bug freak. Is ol' Teach still around, looking for us?"
"She just found you," Kurenai huffed, drawing them both out into the training clearing by the ear. She was considerably gentler with Shino because she knew he wouldn't struggle, but Kiba was all but gnawing on her wrist. "I swear, even genin have no business being that loud when they're trying to hide."
Shino's brows came together in what Kiba assumed was a recriminating glare directed at him. He shrugged and said, "'T 'as my fau't." His words were muffled by Kurenai's wrist, as he bit it as a last resort to get her to let go. It wasn't working, so he gave up and simply followed. "I glomped him."
"Really? Well…" Kurenai looked from Kiba's smug strut to Shino's eyes from the side. The Aburame met her gaze with the smallest shake of his head. He didn't want her to say it? She would have to find something else, then. "I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kiba asked, not understanding. At that moment, Hinata recognized Kurenai's nod and gathered her chakra for the technique she had mastered as her teammates had been on the lamb.
Shivers ran up Shino's spine, and one or two kikai scurried across his face, but that was all. Kiba, once again, yelped in surprise and pain as one of his most sensitive senses was assaulted, showing almost zero improvement.
Kurenai watched the both of them and nodded, affirming her own suspicions on their progress. "You'll both be training more," she scolded, letting Shino go, as well. "Shino, though, will have the pleasure of practicing the breathing technique and controlling his kikai at once, since he'll be blowing the whistle. Hinata, you've mastered your assignment. Let's meet up with Iruka and Naruto at Ichiraku's."
The jounin had said the magic word; 'Naruto.' Hinata was suddenly walking down the path to the village with as much speed and composure as she could manage, with a quick afterthought of a goodbye for her tormented teammates. Kurenai started to run after her, laughing a warning about a test the next day.
The boys stood a dozen meters apart, muddy, tired, and dreading the long afternoon they undoubtedly faced. After a moment frozen like that, Shino looked behind him and took one step to the right. Kiba wondered why he had - until the whistle embedded itself in his forehead. Shino had stepped out of the way.
On the whistle was tied a note: Heya, Kiba, you should take a lesson from Shino and dodge next time. I figured you guys might need this for the training. Don't let Shino read the note, though. Act like it says something outrageous, like HE LIKES YOU or something. Love and kisses for not you, Kurenai :D
Kiba read it though again, not getting the joke, but he went along with it anyway. Shino was watching him with blatant (for him) curiosity; he was still looking in Kiba's direction. The dog boy might have shrugged, but he was actually interested in trying this out.
His eyes widened, and darted from the curling paper to Shino and back again. He swallowed, almost laughing at the confusion (and was that concern?) on Shino's face. He stuffed the note into his pocket and stuttered a few times, trying to get into it a bit.
How would he react if he found out Shino liked him? Probably squeal and start planning a wedding. But that would be weird, since it was only pretend. So he should pretend that he didn't like the bug freak back, right? That way, Shino wouldn't be all freaked out when he told Kiba that he didn't actually like him.
Shino took a step closer, and stopped. "Kiba, are you ill?"
Kiba shook his head no, and mumbled to the ground, "The note was from Teach. It said something…shocking."
Shino was now, officially, worried.
"She wrote that you…" Kiba trailed off once, and Shino stopped breathing. "That you…" The second time, Shino had to hold himself steady to keep from hyperventilating. "…That you like me."
By the time the last word was out of Kiba's mouth, the Aburame had taken off running and, seconds later, was halfway to the two women. He landed on Kurenai, but she had had a kunai knife in each hand and had turned to face him. His knees pressed into the bottom of her ribcage, but her blades pressed into his jugular vein and carotid artery on both sides of his neck.
"You just need to calm down," she said slowly, as Hinata was fretting over who to pull away from whom. "You don't know the full story."
"You told him!" Shino hissed, kikai bugs creeping across his teacher's shoulders near his hands.
"I told him to act as though I told him," she corrected.
Shino hesitated. "What?" He allowed Hinata to persuade him to his feet as he continued to stare down at Kurenai. "What does that mean?"
Standing and pocketing her weapons, Kurenai repeated the note verbatim and raised her eyebrows at the 'HE LIKES YOU' part. At the end, she shrugged. "I had to do something."
"Everything could have continued in the same fashion had you done nothing!"
"My point exactly." They faced each other, neither blinking. This would likely come to blows, and Shino was trying to think up a battle strategy against a jounin that wouldn't involve his own gore spread in entertaining patterns around him.
Shino turned his head slightly. "Hinata." The girl startled slightly, thinking herself forgotten. "Is it so obvious?"
She blushed, and nodded. "Enough that I'm not surprised. But you never know; Kiba's more than a little dense…" She took a deep breath and looked straight at him, saying more firmly, "And I know that he likes you back."
The jounin snorted, "If he doesn't get it this time, there's always tomorrow."
Shino stalked away, still retaining the elegance that had been bred into him. Hinata watched him go, almost laughing. "I wonder if the subliminal message in your note was too subtle."
"For Kiba? Probably was."
Shino walked back into the clearing, wondering at the obvious absence of his teammate. He heard the bushes rustling behind him and nearly sighed. So predictable! This time, though, he wouldn't let the Inuzuka - what was it? - 'glomp' him. He would stop Kiba before it became a habit.
As if on cue, Kiba launched himself out of the forest, aiming for Shino's back. The Aburame turned, hands up to hold him back, and caught him. The only problem was, Kiba's force was such that he was only slowed down, and he ran into Shino's chest instead, strong hands around his waist.
"Shino?" he squeaked, worried. "Are you alright?"
"I'm still standing." Shino's hands didn't move away. "I wanted to say, about the note that Kurenai gave you…"
Kiba shook his head, smiling. "It's fine, I know you don't really like me. Just don't say it yourself, or else it'll hurt worse."
"What?" Shino looked down at him curiously. He was no fool, and he could hear as well as anyone. "Do you like me, Kiba?"
"Um, of course not…" Kiba stepped away quickly, looking everywhere but at Shino.
He was a bad liar. Shino looked at him for a moment, and held out his hand. "Give me the whistle." When he had it, he said, "Focus your mind on me, and ignore your hearing completely."
Kiba blinked, and nodded slowly. When Shino used his chakra for a prolonged note, both of them locked eyes, neither so much as twitching. "Wow," the Inuzuka whispered, "it worked!"
"Naturally. It was my method before, as well." Shino turned on his heel and began walking down the road, waiting for the footsteps. They came quickly, but before Kiba 'glomped' him Shino held out his hand as an alternative. He smiled as Kiba paused and eventually interlaced their fingers, so that they were walking side by side.
"So…you like me?" Kiba said after a moment.
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No! I…uh… I like you, too."
"I had no idea."
Ignoring him, Kiba took out the whistle and inspected it. "This wasn't so bad, after all. Maybe Teach did it on purpose, even."
"Do you think?" Shino rolled his eyes, earning himself a punch on the arm.
They walked back to the village, trading insults…with much affection. And perhaps kissing.