The mission had succeeded. They had prevented the Snow Country's documents from falling into the wrong hands as they escorted the dignitary from one end of the Snow Country to the waiting ship, but it had not been easy. They'd been forced onto the water as frozen slabs drifted on the current. It had been the only way to get to the client that had become separated from them.

Shino's bugs were just a bit more sluggish in such cold weather, but he was fast and smart. Hinata had held her own, deflecting ice arrows and enormous snowballs, and many other types of flying frozen water. Kiba and Akamaru had been busy in the ice cove as they used their Gatsuuga to pin down the enemies hidden in the cliffs. They had defeated the enemies in sight and had just let their guard down for a moment when a hidden enemy in the freezing water pulled Hinata under. A few simple jyuuken had immobilized him, but not before Hinata was completely drenched.

The client had made it safely to the ship, so their job was done. Hinata was really wishing it had been part of their mission to accompany the client the whole way—just so they wouldn't have to camp in the snow again.

Hinata sneezed as they made their way to a secluded spot. It was almost dusk and the tall snow-covered pine trees swayed gently. Shino selected a camping area that was largely blocked from the wind and quickly put up their tent. Kiba and Hinata gathered firewood and tried to build a fire.

The sad little fire spluttered and was unfortunately put out by a flurry of snow. Hinata suddenly removed her jacket, tossed the cold and stiff garment onto a rock, and fled into the tent. When Shino and Kiba followed her in, she was already wrapped in one of their extra blankets.

Wordlessly, the boys got into their own bedding. It had been a long day. Twenty minutes of rustling and shifting later, Hinata made an unhappy noise.

"Hinata?" Kiba whispered from across the tent. "What's wrong?"

Shino also turned to look at her.

"It's j-j-just really c-c-cold," Hinata moaned.

"Would you like another blanket?" Shino asked solicitously.

"It doesn't s-seem to be h-helping…I g-g-guess I have no ch-ch-choice but to…" Hinata sighed miserably in the gathering darkness. Her teeth chattered as she struggled with something or other. It sounded as if she were fighting with the blanket.

"Hinata!" Shino started. "Did you not change into something dry after getting wet?"

"There was n-nothing d-dry to ch-ch-change into," she explained miserably. "Everything got w-w-wet, even my b-bedding. I even had to b-borrow this blanket from K-K-Ki-Kiba-kun. I th-thought my c-c-cl-clothes were d-dry enough, but I th-think they just f-f-froze stiff. Th-They th-thawed a bit, but I think it's m-m-m-made the b-b-bl-blanket wet."

Kiba and Shino were used to Hinata's stuttering, but this chattering was much different.

"Hinata, you should have said something! Shino or I would have let you borrow something dry! You can't keep stuff like that to yourself. You've got to tell us if something's wrong," Kiba scolded, though it was entirely out of concern. Even Akamaru garbled a little worried noise.

"G-G-Gomen, K-K-Kiba-kun."

"Hinata, come here," Shino commanded. He got out from underneath his bedding and moved it closer to Hinata.

"B-B-But, Sh-Shino-kun, what will you s-s-sleep on?"

"I'll be fine," he insisted, "I am this team's leader, so do as I say."

When Hinata scrambled away from the blanket, Shino realized what the earlier rustling had signified. His teammate had forsaken her wet clothing, opting to keep only her panties so that a minimal amount of ice would be trapped against her body. She held an arm over her chest and practically fell under the covers. Shino blushed in the dark and looked away, though it was really too late for that.

The Aburame clan usually wore long-sleeved, high collared coats to prevent people from seeing the kikai bugs as they left their host's bodies. They also rarely wore shirts underneath because it could restrict the movement of the bugs to have too many layers to move between. In this extremely cold weather, Shino had opted to wear a very thick coat, just as his teammates had donned thicker jackets than normal.

One of these jackets lay stretched out on the far side of Hinata, along with a bunched up bundle of her other wet things.

A few minutes later Hinata was still shivering. Without hesitating, Shino removed his jacket and placed it over the top of the blanket. He put his sunglasses away and moved to find his emergency shirt from his bag when Kiba said in a worried tone, "She's probably too cold to generate enough of her own body heat to make the blankets effective…"

Shino stilled completely, in his head going through possible solutions to this predicament. There weren't many options.

Hinata's brain had stopped thinking clearly. She needed something desperately and was no longer capable of finding it. The corner of the blanket lifted and something warm broke through the fuzzy haze clouding her mind.

As soon as Shino got close to Hinata, the small girl practically climbed onto him, her body craving his body's heat. He shifted carefully and managed to lie down with Hinata's frozen figure clinging to him. He pulled the covers around the both of them and slid his arms around her back. The incessant shivering became a frantic rubbing as Hinata burrowed her face into the crook of his neck.

Shino's eyes widened in shock, though he bravely did not pull away or shout, when Hinata's cold feet tucked themselves against his calves. Quietly he directed a careful amount of chakra into his hands and brought her knee up higher so that he could reach down to her foot and direct heat into is so that she wouldn't get frostbite. Shino purposefully filled his mind with thoughts of frostbite to prevent his brain from drifting back to the topic of Hinata's bare breasts pressed against his chest.

When he finished with her hands, Hinata sighed and snuggled closer. Shino directed his chakra-warmed hands over her back and sides and over the backs of her thighs.

Kiba, who was conveniently (and purposefully) lying on his side facing away from his teammates, reached over, picked up a curiously confused Akamaru by the scruff of his neck, and turned him around before settling him under the blankets.

"Even your ears are frozen," Shino whispered. He exhaled gently against the side of Hinata's head, letting his lips brush against her small lobes. He ran warm chakra through her hair and against her scalp.

"Arigatoo, Shino-kun," Hinata murmured sleepily, her mind completely drugged by the freezing followed by the heat. "You're always so good to me, even when I'm extremely inconvenient to you…"

"You're never inconvenient, Hinata. Taking care of each other is part of teamwork," Shino said quietly, but Hinata was long gone.

Kiba, who had been listening to the quiet rustling and murmuring with interest, rolled his eyes at Shino's stiffness and formality and let himself drift off to sleep.

An hour later, Shino thought it would really be best if he got out and let Hinata sleep by herself. But it was so comfortable and…nice…being close to her. A few minutes later he was also drifting off to dreamland.

OOOOO

The next morning Hinata awoke slightly confused but strangely comfortable. There was an overwhelming feeling of safety, as though nothing bad could touch her as long as she remained in this warm cocoon. Her cheek was pressed against something firm and warm and…moving. Up and down, up and down. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. There was warmth everywhere below her, and it wasn't exactly flat. Hinata was vaguely reminded of sleeping on a tree limb in the sunshine. Her left hand was pressed against a similar warmth to that under her cheek. There was a more subtle movement under her hand, a shifting. Hinata dreamily followed the path of the movement with her fingers.

Shino awoke to the feeling of Hinata's gentle fingers tracing the movement of his kikai bugs under his skin. Over his stomach, over his ribs, over his pectoral muscles, and eventually resting against his shoulder

Some amount of time later, Hinata's brain fully woke up and comprehended her situation—that she'd actually been sleeping on top of her teammate. She raised her head slowly and her eyes met Shino's careful expression.

"Sh-Shino-kun…G-gomen-nasai!" Hinata blushed pink.

She shifted shyly and happened to glance down at the strange feel of something smooth against her body, her chest and stomach, to be specific. Then she really, really understood her situation—she'd been sleeping on top of her teammate while not wearing any clothes! Hinata's shy pink blush went to steaming red in seconds. Out of extreme embarrassment she did the only thing that came naturally to her. She hid her face in Shino's chest.

Then her mind processed something more and her head snapped up in wonder. Shino wasn't wearing his sunglasses! Her eyes met his a second time. They were dark, almost black, and they looked concerned and…something else. Having never seen his eyes before, period, it was difficult to say what that something else might have been.

"Shino-kun, you're not wearing your glasses!" Hinata squeaked.

It was then that Hinata learned one of the reasons why Shino always wore sunglasses. He had very expressive eyes. Those dark orbs went from caution to surprise to amusement in seconds.

"It was too dark to find anything last night," he said with a much huskier voice than he would have liked.

"You have nice eyes," she replied in a mesmerized way.

Shino smiled shyly. "Thank you, Hinata."

Hinata cocked her head to one side. Then her hands slid down his shoulders and into the space between his arms and his sides. She lifted herself and Shino repressed a sigh that she was getting up to resume their normal daily life. But she stopped and stared with interest down at his body.

Shino blushed visibly from his hairline to his waistband. He would never have imagined that Hinata would look at anyone like that, let alone him.

"Are you a dream?" she asked.

Shino froze. Hinata thinks she's dreaming. Perhaps that would be best. She would surely be mortified if she found out this was all real. That would be problematic for our team dynamics. So Shino decided to say nothing on the subject.

Hinata grinned in reply and bent down slowly. "If this is a dream, then I suppose it would be okay…"

Shino's eyes widened in shock as Hinata's lips came closer and closer until they pressed against his softly.

The petite girl curled against him and traced his stomach muscles with her fingertips, occasionally moving away to follow the vibration of the bugs under his skin.

She giggled suddenly and propped herself up on her forearms. She'd been letting her hair grow out; it tumbled forward onto Shino's chest as Hinata bent to kiss his forehead, between his eyes, the tip of his nose, his lips, and the tip of his chin.

She trailed kisses down along his throat. One between his collarbones. A trail down his sternum. Shino shivered and felt the blood rush below his abdomen.

Hinata gave a little smile and rubbed against him gently; her cheeks flushed prettily.

"H-H-Hinata…"

"I never thought I'd hear you stutter, Shino-kun," she admitted quietly as she pressed herself against him again.

"Uh...um…ah…" Shino trailed off, his eyes filled with nervous uncertainty and tightly restrained hunger. He gasped audibly as Hinata firmly pressed against him and gave his throat a sensual little lick.

"H-Hinata…!"

"What was that, Shino-kun?" Hinata murmured against his skin.

"H-Hinata…" he whispered more quietly.

"Hmm?" she hummed affectionately. "What is it?"

"Hinata!" called a very different voice from outside of the tent.

"K-Kiba-kun?"

For the past several hours Kiba had been carefully rehearsing how he would play down the whole incident in order to make sure Hinata didn't feel too embarrassed. He'd decided to go with the worried older brother approach.

"Hinata, here are your clothes. I'm still working on drying your jacket. Next time you've got to tell Shino and me earlier if something's wrong," he lectured from right outside of the closed tent flap. He slid the clothing through the opening and left it where he thought the foot of the blankets would be. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, "It's a good thing Shino knew what to do. If Shino hadn't taken care of you last night, you'd definitely have hypothermia by now. Hinata? Are you in there?"

"H-Hai, K-Kiba-kun."

"Eh? Are you still frozen through? I thought Shino took care of that?"

"D-Daijoobu."

"Okay. Well, I think Akamaru ran off with your bra, so I'm gonna go figure out where he went."

Crap, Kiba thought to himself. I just really embarrassed her, didn't I? How come Shino isn't saying anything? Maybe they don't want me to know he's there…. Quick! Make it seem like you think Shino's outside!

"Hinata, if Shino comes back before I do, let him know where I went, okay?" Yeah! Good thinking, Kiba!

"O-O-Okay, Kiba-kun."

Meanwhile, within the tent, Hinata had scrambled off of Shino and wrapped herself in the blanket as he pulled on his jacket and replaced his sunglasses. As Kiba had spoken about the events of the past night, memories had slotted into place in Hinata's mind.

"Sh-Shino-kun, I'm-I'm so s-s-sorry," she said in the tiniest whisper.

"Hinata," he replied softly, facing away from her so as not to stare. "It's…alright. Really."

"B-But you t-took such good c-c-care of me and I…"

Hinata sounds so miserable, Shino noted to himself. She must be regretting her actions. At least she didn't call me Naruto when she thought she was dreaming. That would have been really annoying.

"I'll leave so you can get dressed," he said quickly. Then he slipped out of the tent flap while keeping his eyes away from her.

OOOOO

The team made their way home in uncomfortable silence. Kiba glanced back and forth between his teammates. Shino was walking briskly forward, determined not to make eye-contact (or what passed for eye-contact with Shino) with Kiba. He didn't want the curious boy to ask him any private questions. Hinata was so ashamed of herself that she was several yards behind. Kiba trotted back and forth between the two as he attempted to start up a conversation. Their team had never been so out of sync.

OOOOO

"Is there anything else you would like to report?" Tsunade asked, glancing between the three unhappy looking teammates. To be honest, Shino looked much as he always did because you couldn't see most of his face. But Hinata looked like she was about to start crying. And Kiba looked bummed, too.

"No," Shino replied.

"Alright, enjoy the weekend." Tsunade looked worriedly at the members of Team 8, but she decided to say no more on the subject.

OOOOO

It was the first time Tenten had ever been invited into the Hyuuga compound. Neji was matter-of-factly giving her a little tour. She'd already met his uncle and youngest cousin.

"And this is-" Neji was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.

Hinata crept in, looking as if she'd rather be under a rock.

"Hinata-sama…" Neji trailed off.

The younger girl looked up and quietly greeted her cousin and his teammate.

"Neji, you may ask…Hinata, when did you get back?" her father asked as he rounded the corner.

"Just now," Hinata informed him with a little voice.

"Ah." Hiashi looked at her shrewdly and then sighed. "Another failed mission, I suppose?"

"No. The mission was a success. We even got a recommendation for it because it was listed as a C rank but it was more of a B or A rank."

"Oh. That's good," Hiashi replied blankly.

"Hinata, are you okay?" Tenten asked solicitously.

"I'm fine," Hinata answered, though she didn't look up. "I'm going to go and unpack."

Then she was heading deeper into the house.

OOOOO

"Shino!" BAM! Kiba slammed his hands down on the table Shino was sitting at. Luckily, Shino's cup of tea was in his hands and his food hadn't arrived yet.

"Can I help you, Kiba?"

"What the hell happened between you and Hinata?!"

Shino said nothing.

"Well?!" Kiba demanded.

"Nothing."

Kiba's eyes narrowed. "Teammates tell each other things, Shino. That's what you always say."

"I…have nothing to tell you, Kiba."

Kiba growled and stomped off.

OOOOO

"Okay, Akamaru. You know what to do," Kiba whispered.

Akamaru nodded and trotted off to the forlorn figure sitting on a log on the other side of the clearing.

Hinata looked up when she heard Akamaru's little snuffly inquiry. She smiled sadly and held up her arms. When Akamaru was curled in them she brought her face down to the puppy's and rested her forehead against his soft fur.

"Hinata," Kiba spoke quietly.

She didn't jump as he'd expected. Then again, Kiba was never very far from Akamaru.

"Hi, Kiba-kun."

Kiba sat quietly and patiently for several minutes. Then several more. Those minutes eventually turned into half an hour.

"Kiba-kun…" Hinata broke off tearfully.

Kiba started. When had she started crying? He moved closer and put an affectionate arm around her shoulders.

"Kiba-kun, I've done something horrible. I'm such a terrible person. A terrible t-teammate." Quiet tears rolled down Hinata's cheeks. Her eyes were shut tight.

Kiba took her hand and waited patiently. He was beginning to suspect what had happened. Shino must have confessed. I mean, the setup was so perfect. It must have been impossible for him to resist. But Hinata likes Naruto. She tried to let him down gently, but Shino clammed up like he usually does. And Hinata's so nice and she worries so much that she feels like she let him down. She blames herself.

"It's all my fault," Hinata whispered. "Shino-kun must be so angry with me…"

"Hinata…I don't think he's angry. I think he's probably just a little disappointed. I mean, when you really admire someone and you build up a lot of hope around that admiration…what I mean is that, well, when you find out the truth, sometimes it hurts," he finished, thinking he had summed up the situation pretty well.

Kiba turned, expecting a thoughtful Hinata to be pondering his profoundly insightful words. Instead her eyes were filled to the brim with alligator tears as she bravely tried to stop crying. Her lips quivered dangerously. It was no good. The new tears splashed onto her cheeks and onto the ground.

"That's even worse…"Hinata sobbed. "He had high hopes for me, high expectations. Sh-Shino-kun was always the one to believe in me, and I f-failed him, just like I fail my father every day."

"Hinata…" Kiba looked around worriedly, but there was no box of tissues in sight.

"How could I fail him like that?"

"Hinata! It's not your fault! Your feelings are your feelings and he has to respect that," Kiba exclaimed.

"B-but I should have been more…. I should have d-done it differently."

"No, Hinata. Don't second guess yourself. It's better to be direct about such things, even if it's a bit painful."

Hinata looked down at her tightly clasped hands.

"B-but, Sh-Shino-kun probably thinks I'm a s-s-s-trollop and a t-t-tart."

"I don't think he thinks that at all, Hinata," Kiba reassured her gently with an amused shake of his head. "What makes you think such a silly thing?"

Hinata blushed and shook her head.

Kiba, convinced that he had figured things out, nodded resolutely and determined that he would find Shino and talk some sense into him. It was the only way.

OOOOO

Two hours later, Kiba still hadn't found Shino. He was beginning to regret leaving Akamaru behind to cheer up Hinata. Finally, he went home to think about what he should say if he ever found the bug boy.

"Kiba. Kiba? Kiba. Kiba! KIBA!"

"Eh?" Kiba looked up just as his sister's veterinarian bag hit him in the face. "OW! What was that for?!"

"That was for ignoring your neesan!"

"Oh, sorry Hana-neesan, I was just worrying about something."

His sister's stern expression softened immediately. "Worrying? That's not really like you. Is something wrong?"

"I'm…you see there's this boy…I mean this girl…um…" Kiba floundered for a bit. "I…have a friend. One of them really likes this girl, but she likes someone else. Anyway, this…friend…confessed to the girl and…some stuff happened, but now they're not talking."

"So, you're trying to figure out how to patch things up between this girl and your friend?"

"Exactly!" Kiba beamed. "So, do you have any suggestions?"

"He should give her time. And space. But he should still support her as a friend. Basically he should treat her the same way as he did before, and be sensitive to her wishes," she nodded wisely.

"I see. That's really good advice, neesan. Maybe you should consider being a psychologist."

Hana laughed. "No thanks. I much prefer animal psychology. As I was trying to tell you earlier, I'm going to be working late this evening, so you're on your own for dinner."

"Ah, okay, neesan."

"And Kiba?"

"Nani?"

"Tell your friend not to give up entirely. Sometimes girls…change their minds. Especially if a guy is patient."

"Okay! I'll definitely tell him that." Kiba flashed her one of his big boyish grins and his sister couldn't help reaching out to ruffle his hair, hood and all. After all, that's who he picked up the habit from.

OOOOO

"Shino." Kiba called as he caught up to his teammate. They were in a quiet alley near the latter's home.

"Yes, Kiba?" Shino did not turn around.

"I know you like Hinata," Kiba said quietly.

"…"

"Aren't you going to say anything?"

"…What is there to say?"

"Look, you have to just…be patient, you know?" Kiba pleaded.

"I usually am," answered Shino in a slightly amused tone of voice.

"But…I mean, don't give up, but be patient. And you've got to support her. And you've also got to respect how she feels, but you've got to make sure to give her time and space and-"

"Kiba," Shino interrupted calmly.

"Yeah?"

"I will."

"Oh. Um. That's good then."

"Was there anything else you wished to speak to me about?"

"Uh, no. That was it."

"Alright. I will see you tomorrow at practice, Kiba."

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Hey Kiba!" hissed several female voices as Kiba continued on his way home.

"Huh?"

"In here!"

Kiba stared blankly at the talking stand of flowers.

"Hurry up and get in here!" Several pairs of hands grabbed fistfuls of his jacket and hauled him into the closed flower shop.

"What's going on?" he asked suspiciously.

Three determined kunoichi had him cornered against a work table.

"Spill."

"Huh…?"

"Tell us what's going on with Hinata?" Tenten elaborated.

"Wha-?"

"Something's wrong with her. She's been walking around looking like her best friend died," Sakura explained.

"And she was really off during medical training today," Ino added.

"Oh…um…why didn't you just ask her yourself?"

"Because it would've made her cry, and we wouldn't have been able to get any information from her," Ino sighed. "If you tell us now, then when we do talk to her we'll know how to handle things."

"So?" Tenten prompted.

"Um…"

"Kiba, we are not taking 'no' for an answer." Sakura glared at his uncertain figure.

Kiba wilted under their combined forces and explained the situation to the best of his ability.

"I see. So that's how it is," Tenten remarked quietly.

"I never thought Shino would ever actually like someone," Ino mused.

"Why not?!" Kiba huffed. He jumped up looking offended on behalf of his friend.

"Well, he's closed off, emotionally stunted, and dresses so that you can barely see any part of him." As she spoke Ino ticked off her points on her fingers.

"Well…what does that matter?!"

"Hey, hey, you two!" Tenten waved her arms to calm them down. "This is about Hinata, remember?"

"Right." Kiba took a calming breath and sat back down on his stool.

"Actually…I'm kind of surprised," Sakura admitted.

"Surprised? Why?" Kiba wondered. "It should have been obvious to you that Hinata likes Naruto."

"No, not that," Sakura waved away. "The only one who doesn't know that is Naruto himself, because he's a blockhead when it comes to stuff like that."

"Then what are you surprised about?"

"I'm surprised that Hinata actually turned Shino down. She seems like the type that would say yes just because someone confessed to her."

Kiba pondered Sakura's words. That was true, but Hinata was also getting stronger and more confident. And she was used to speaking her mind with Shino.

"Really? I would have never figured that. Shino seems like the type of guy that always has to be in control."

Kiba blinked at Ino. Had he been talking aloud without realizing it again?

"Yes."

"AAAH!!!"

"Kiba, snap out of it," Sakura commanded.

"Ah. Okay."

"But I suppose that's what's brought them to this point." Ino tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Now that Hinata's increased confidence has led to her reject him, he's not so fond of it."

"I'm not sure that's it at all," Kiba frowned. "Shino's a really good guy. And he truly cares about Hinata. He would never put pressure on her like that."

"But he's not talking to her?" Ino raised a brow.

"Er…well…sort of. But she didn't try to talk to him. They just weren't really talking to each other. I think it's mostly in Hinata's head. She thinks she really hurt Shino, so she feels guilty."

"That's just not healthy," Ino sighed.

"Hinata cares about Shino and looks up to him. She feels like she disappointed him, and she hates disappointing people."

Tenten sighed. "Poor Hinata."

"She's really beating herself up about it," Kiba continued, getting into this 'girl talk' thing. "She's afraid Shino thinks she's some sort of seafood quiche."

All three girls squinted at him suspiciously, as if he were a new form of mold they'd found in the fridge.

"What?"

"Kiba," Tenten began carefully, "that makes no sense whatsoever."

"Why not?"

"What does seafood have to do with anything? What does quiche have to do with anything?!" shouted Ino.

"You know, like those shellfish. The round ones."

"Like…an oyster, perhaps? Plain on the outside, but holding a beautiful pearl within?" Tenten suggested.

"No, not like that."

"Like a clam? Closed and secretive? Inaccessible? Tough to reach the heart of?" Sakura tried. The girls were frantically trying to decode what might have been the true message about Hinata.

"No!"

"Tenten! What are you guys up to?" Lee shouted cheerfully as he poked his head into the flower shop. Then he caught sight of his favorite pink-haired kunoichi. "Hello, Sakura-san!"

"Hi, Lee-kun."

"So what were you up to, Tenten?"

"Ah, we're just discussing a little love problem."

Lee gasped dramatically. "Tenten," Lee's voice trembled. "I, I never realized that you and Kiba-kun had love-love feelings for each other. I'm so happy for you! But Tenten, what will Neji do? Surely his springtime fountain of youth will suffer under the weight of such news."

"Lee…" Tenten hung her head in despair.

Kiba's left eye was twitching dangerously.

Ino quickly filled Lee in on the details as Kiba kept trying to talk around his words to Tenten and Sakura.

"It's more like fish, but round. White. Sometimes comes in a cylinder shape."

The girls exchanged cynical looks.

"A scallop!" Lee cried.

"Yes! That was it! Alright, Lee!"

"Of course!" Lee flashed him his 1000 megawatt smile and sparkling thumbs-up. The two grinned manfully at each other.

"That makes even less sense." The three girls scowled comically.

"Together we shall be the Protectors of Youthful Love! I shall help you discover the perfect plan to prune and encourage Love's timid branches.

"Correction," Tenten shook her head. "That makes even less sense."

OOOOO

"Sh-Shino-kun…" Hinata whispered to his back. The two were picking up after an evening training. Kiba had disappeared earlier.

"Yes, Hinata?"

"M-May I speak with you, please?"

Shino resisted the urge to point out that she was speaking to him at that moment. "Of course. We are teammates. It is only right that we have chats together. Is something bothering you, Hinata?"

"I-I…I'm sorry."

"What for?" Shino cocked his head.

"For…for being so rude."

"Hinata…what are you talking about?" Shino looked genuinely confused. "You've never been rude to me. Ever."

"On our last mission," Hinata elucidated.

"When?" Shino asked softly.

"When…when you were so kind and took such good care of me. You always look out for me. Always. You were the first…the first person who ever really believed in me. You are the one I can always rely on, that encourages me to be strong and never doubts me."

"That's what teammates are for."

Hinata nodded, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. At least she had stopped worrying her fingers.

"Anyway…I'm sorry for being rude at that time."

"Hinata," Shino frowned. "You were never rude to me."

"B-But I…when we woke up and I thought…"

Understanding dawned on Shino. (A/N: Finally!)

"Hinata," he whispered.

He nodded, as if confirming something he'd been thinking. "I thought you…might be regretting our…that moment."

"No," Hinata shook her head and stared at her feet."I-I mean…I don't regret…that part exactly. I just regret that I did it so badly. It was rude, and careless, and… disrespectful…"

Shino shook his head adamantly. "No, Hinata."

Hinata looked up suddenly, a worry line creasing her delicate brow.

"It was…unexpected…but nice," Shino insisted softly. He was right next to her now, his lips almost brushing against her ear.

A light blush crept up Hinata's cheeks. It intensified the radiance of her skin under the moonlight. She smiled shyly.

"You know, that was my first."

"Really?" For some reason, I had assumed…

Hinata nodded.

"That was also my first," Shino admitted.

"Oh…" Hinata frowned. "Shino-kun I feel so guilty. I stole your first…"

"No," Shino shook his head. He reached up to cup her cheek in his palm. "I am glad that you were the one to give me my first kiss. I…would not have wanted it any other way."

Hinata and Shino gazed intently at each other.

"I suppose," Shino began, "since you gave me a kiss…that I should return it."

He bent down and pressed his lips against hers, taking his time, allowing little brushes of softness against softness, and wrapping his other arm around her waist. I wonder…if this is what a bee feels like when it is sipping the nectar from a lovely flower…

OOOOO

"See, Akamaru? You never should have doubted my plan," Kiba whispered proudly.

Akamaru managed to raise one skeptical puppy brow as he as he and his master did their best to blend in and not be noticed by their teammates. As the two lovebirds (or lovebees, as Shino might put it) passed by, however, Kiba swore he saw a knowing, contented smirk and a wink in his direction from the normally reserved and "closed-off" shinobi. Of course, since Shino wears sunglasses at night, perhaps it was just a gut feeling. But Kiba was fine with that.

OWARI!!!