SPOILERS: Through Naruto chapter 98 and Naruto episode 59.

NOTES: Set during the one-month interval prior to the first chūnin exam finals, this scene popped into my head after reading a story about Shino being protective of Hinata in the Academy, which I found almost antithetical to what we see of Shino's personality as a genin. All I could think of was his complete dispassion during her fight with Neji—if Shino was the least bit concerned about her, it didn't show, as opposed to Kiba all but begging her to forfeit. As I have said before, I adore Team 8, but I have always been bothered by both Kiba's and Shino's reactions to Hinata's match. This is my attempt to address that issue.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Naruto.


RECOVERY

Youngest of all the male contestants, shinobi Shino Aburame had passed every test to make it to the finals of the chūnin exam. Although his father would not be so open as to say so, he was proud enough to rearrange his schedule to train as often as possible with Shino during the one-month hiatus leading to the finals. And although he would not be so expressive as to toot his own horn, Shino was also a bit proud…perhaps even more than a bit, no matter how unbecoming a controlled, staid Aburame that might be. He was, after all, still only 12, so even though such youthful fancy would not be indulged, it could be overlooked for a few weeks. As he had long ago learned to control the insects he shared a symbiotic relationship with, it was not as though a few weeks of overlooking would impinge on his mastery of Aburame hidden techniques.

Despite his busy training schedule, Shino agreed to accompany his genin master, Kurenai, to visit his teammate Kiba Inuzuka in the hospital. After all, until the preliminaries for the final, the exams had been a team effort; he could not have made it alone. It was only reasonable he acknowledge his teammate's contribution by paying a visit and bringing a gift.

Of course, genin teams were traditionally made of three ninja taught by a master. His third teammate, Hinata Hyūga, was also hospitalized, but she had yet to regain consciousness after nearly being killed by her cousin, Neji, in the preliminaries. It had been a troubling match to watch, but all Shino could do was hope to face Neji in the finals.

As they entered his teammate's room, Shino and Master Kurenai were greeted by a welcoming bark from Kiba's canine partner, Akamaru. The cream-colored pup all but danced at the foot of Kiba's bed, though whether out of excitement for the company or because he could smell the treat Shino had brought, it was unclear.

With a sniff, Kiba's sharp-featured face lit up in a grin that showed off his pronounced canine teeth. He looked distinctly more relaxed in hospital clothes, without his customary headband and jacket hood to contain his unmanageable, spiky, brown hair. "Hey, you brought me Nikuniku brand jerky!" It had been the only gift Shino had been able to think of that both Kiba and Akamaru would enjoy.

"I am glad to see you are doing well." As Shino passed the package to Kiba, Akamaru barked at him. "I am glad to see you are both doing well." Like the inseparable partners they were, Akamaru had also taken a serious beating during the preliminaries.

"Thanks, man." Kiba tore open the bag and ripped off a small piece for his dog before chewing on the larger portion. "You seeing much of this guy, Master?"

Master Kurenai had settled on a stool beside the bed and was peeling an apple from a half-empty basket of fruit. "Shino trains with me when his father isn't available, but the schedule's still up in the air, since it's only been a few days."

Kiba turned his slit-eyed gaze back to Shino. "Learn anything new about that puppet guy?"

With a sigh, Shino leaned against the wall beside the door. The topic of his first opponent in the finals was one that had been causing him some consternation. "It seems Kankurō is singularly disinclined to practice, so I have learned nothing beyond what we saw in the preliminaries."

Kiba made a sympathetic face. "Tough break, but you still have the better part of a month to try." He turned back to their Master. "How is Hinata?"

The cheer in the room dropped perceptibly as Master Kurenai sliced off a chunk of apple and ate it herself before passing the rest to Kiba. "She's still unconscious, but her condition has stabilized."

Kiba's gaze grew disgruntled. "Any of her family been to see her?"

Shaking her head, Master Kurenai's long, dark curls slipped over her shoulders. "I've been taking care of her non-medical needs."

Although the answer was to be expected, Akamaru growled in response, but Kiba's expression became unusually bland as he nodded. Their third teammate might be the heir of her clan, but she was not living up to her prestigious lineage's expectations. Although the cousin who had nearly killed her in the preliminaries was more talented, he was in the lesser branch of the family and could not lead the clan, which was no doubt one of the motivations behind his overdone defeat of Hinata.

"Based on this afternoon's tests, the doctors are hopeful for a full recovery." Master Kurenai's smile didn't reach her unusual red eyes.

Kiba glanced back to Shino. "Got any more training today?"

"Only meditation."

Nodding, Kiba smiled at their Master. "You've probably seen enough of the hospital lately, and all I've seen since I got here have been ladies." His only immediate blood relatives were women, after all, but Kiba flashed one of his egotistical grins and added with a suggestive lilt that sounded idiotic coming from a 13-year-old, "Not that that's a bad thing, but all the other guys from the exam are either in the hospital or off training. I could stand to have some guy talk."

Somehow, despite his foolish banter, Kiba managed to get their Master to grin—a real grin this time. "I get the picture." She tossed the apple peel in the trash and patted Akamaru on the head before leaving. "Be good, boys."

As soon as their Master was gone, Kiba's smile slid off his face, making the twin, red, fang tattoos on his cheeks look suddenly harsh without his grin to blunt them. "Tell me more about what happened with Hinata. Master Kurenai keeps glossing over the worst of it."

It was understandable, given Kiba had been injured in the match prior to Hinata's, that he would want to know more about what had happened. He had always been a little extra protective of his female teammate. Perhaps it was an Inuzuka thing. Then again, given the two Inuzuka women Shino had ever met—Kiba's mother and sister—were both extremely fierce, maybe not. Either way, in the name of teamwork and camaraderie, Shino recalled the details of the very disturbing match for his wild-hearted teammate.

Kiba listened intently, with surprising calm, only occasionally interrupting to ask for clarification.

"Did you think Neji planned on killing Hinata?"

Shino couldn't help but frown. If his teammate intended revenge, it was pointless; Kiba would be no match for Neji. Both Kiba and Shino combined would likely be unsuccessful in defeating him at their current level of abilities. "Now, yes. At the time, I considered the possibility, but I had difficulty believing he would be so irrational as to make an attempt on Hinata's life in front of so many people."

They had both been long aware of Neji's enmity toward the main branch in general and Hinata in particular. Kiba frowned. "But you suspected and didn't try to stop the match?"

It was not a decision he was wholly comfortable with in hindsight. "Why didn't I interfere? Had I done so, I would have risked disqua-"

Before he could even register a spike in chakra, he found himself pinned against the wall by his teammate who was giving off a blue glow, an indication he'd slipped into the offensive Shikyaku technique that enhanced his animalistic qualities.

"Hinata's life is more important than a fucking promotion, you self-centered son of a bitch!" After that ear-ringing declaration, Kiba's voice dropped to a growl. "Keep the bugs in check or I'll end you."

Shino had never been afraid of either of his teammates, knowing himself to be the most powerful of the three, but just then he felt a thread of fear coil in his gut as one of Kiba's clawed hands tightened against his throat while the other clutched his scrotum. The palpable anger radiating off Kiba made it seem he would carry through with his threat, however unlikely it might be due to the friendship-centric shinobi code of their village.

Once Kiba seemed certain no bugs would interfere, he loosened his grip on Shino's throat. "You should have stopped her."

Shino had seen Kiba in this state of fury before, though he had never been the focus of it. There was nothing for it but to ride it out and aim for a minimum of violence. Given Kiba's medical state, Shino suspected he wouldn't last long. Despite the clear threat, he saw no need to be anything less than blunt. "It's not my place or yours to-"

"The hell it isn't!" Kiba's fangs gnashed inches from Shino's nose. "You and I and Master Kurenai are the only people who give a shit about her."

Although he suspected being rational was pointless, Shino tried again. "That's not true. There are other Hyūgas who-"

"They're all limp-dicked, spineless maggots who would never stand up for her." Kiba spat on the ground and scowled. "Besides, none of them were there, even if they would. There was only you and me and Master Kurenai, and I was on a stretcher nearly passed out!"

Shino couldn't help wondering if that was the real issue. "Are you mad at me for not stopping her or yourself for getting beaten to the point you couldn't?"

"What difference does it make? She nearly died, and you could have stopped it!" With a yank and a shove, Kiba slammed Shino against the wall. Akamaru whimpered from the bed. "Why didn't you stop her, you cold-hearted prick? You can smell her fear as easily as I do."

"Yes, but I do not see the point in accommodating that fear." If Kiba felt entitled to cast judgment, then he deserved a taste of his own medicine. Shino had always thought it irresponsible how Kiba coddled their kunoichi teammate, and now seemed a perfect opportunity to voice that frustration. "Why? Because she will never learn to overcome it if someone else tells her to run from it or stands in her way to face it for her."

The surprise in Kiba's eyes suggested he'd never considered that possibility. At last, he let Shino go and slumped onto the edge of the bed as the blue glow faded. His panting and the sweat on his brow were clear indications of how much his efforts had cost him, and Shino felt a tiny flicker of concern for his unruly teammate.

"Shit." Kiba put a hand in his mouth and bit down, continuing to mutter around the obstacle. "Shit, shit, shit."

He had never seen such a wounded expression on Kiba's face. Perceiving that this was vitally important to Kiba, and sensing it was also important to himself, Shino patiently waited for his teammate to collect his scattered wits.

Removing his hand from his mouth, Kiba rested it on the bed, and Akamaru began licking it diligently. "I never meant…" Kiba looked away then back, his expression resigned rather than pitiable. "Remember when we first became teammates, and I told you guys you were a part of my pack?"

Shino nodded. "You seemed very earnest about it."

To Shino's surprise, his teammate chuckled, though there was no humor in it. "It's not something Inuzukas take lightly. We aren't like you. You command your bugs, but we're partners with our dogs." Apparently sensing Shino's increased irritation, Kiba held up a placating hand. "Lemme finish, will ya?"

After a nod from Shino, Kiba continued, picking up Akamaru and petting him absently, as though needing the comfort. "It's not that I'm saying my way is better, just that it's different. When I smell fear in one of my pack, my natural response is to fix it." His gaze hardened. "You weren't there. I was right next to her when their names went up on that board. I'd never smelled her more afraid. She was terrified."

Shino recalled being able to see the tension in her stance from halfway across the arena, not that he hadn't been aware of her cousin's acute animosity before then. Ultimately, only one issue mattered in his opinion. "It was what she wanted."

"Letting her have what she wants doesn't mean shit if it kills her!" Akamaru barked at Kiba, and he nodded and raised his hand again, as though to hold off any response. "I swear, if I'd been able to stand, I would have taken her from that arena by force if I'd had to. I wouldn't have been able to help myself."

"And what would that have done to her already minimal self-esteem?" Shino didn't say it to be hurtful but to try to instill a modicum of practicality into his teammate's perception of reality. "What good is she as a shinobi if she can not function under adversity?"

Kiba snarled then shook his head, as though to cast aside an unpleasant thought. "You know damn well she 'functions under adversity' on a daily basis, every minute she's at home. We're still genin. It's not like we have to be able to do it all. We were the second team to finish the survival exam. Not me, or you, but all four of us. That's what good she is as a shinobi." He raised a fist, but there was a grin behind it. "Be glad I'm too tired to smack you for suggesting otherwise."

Shino couldn't help sighing at his teammate's persistent misunderstanding. "I am well aware of Hinata's skills, but that does not make me blind to her faults. And it doesn't change the fact that your efforts to protect her are more detrimental than beneficial. Why? Because it suggests you have no confidence in her. How can she develop faith in herself if her teammates undermine it?"

Akamaru grumbled, and Kiba's expression grew pained. "Really?" Akamaru grumbled some more. "Fine." Returning his gaze to Shino, Kiba looked like he'd just eaten something sour. "Next time you think I'm out of line with protecting Hinata, tell me to cut it out." Then his expression grew hard, and he pointed an accusing finger at Shino. "But in return, you have to quit being such a heartless bastard. I heard half the Konoha shinobi were on the floor of the arena by the end of the bout, but not you—her damned teammate! What the fuck was up with that?"

Put that way, it did seem rather cold. Without moving his head, Shino looked away from his teammate's demanding stare, but Kiba leaned over to follow his gaze. Shino shook his head, exasperated with both Kiba and himself. "Once I realized Master Kurenai would assist Hinata, I consciously chose to remain behind. Why? Not only my chances of becoming chūnin but also the success of our team and Master Kurenai's training would have been in jeopardy had I done otherwise. Masters Kakashi, Asuma, and Gai all had students who had made it to the finals. I would have been ashamed of needlessly sacrificing our collective efforts when she could more effectively stop Neji than I."

Kiba seemed to accept that argument but was still skeptical. "Have you visited Hinata?"

"She is still unconscious." He said it without thought or elaboration, feeling it needed none.

"Then I get to call you out first." With a smug smirk, Kiba pointed at him. "Shino, you're being a frigid idiot."

"I don't see the point in-"

"That's the problem. Fortunately, you have me to help you out." Grabbing the crutch leaning beside the bed, Kiba stood and placed his dog on his head. "Let's go say, 'Hi' to Hinata."

Fortunately, she was just down the hall, so it didn't take long. When they reached her room, Shino could only minimize but not completely control the cold anger that burned in his gut at the sight of his battered, unconscious teammate. Beside him, Akamaru whimpered while Kiba trembled, his free hand in a fist so tight that blood began to leak out.

"Kiba, you're dripping."

"Huh?" His teammate's silted eyes glanced up at him then down at his hand. "Crap." He hobbled over to a box of tissues on a table by Hinata then mopped up the mess he'd made. Once the tissues were disposed of in the room's trashcan, Kiba sat on a stool beside her bed and took her hand in his undamaged one before gesturing with his chin to the other side. "You take her other hand."

It was just that absently commanding tone that infuriated him, but Shino complied. Her fingers felt cool and disconcertingly lifeless in his.

"Hey, Hinata, I hear you fought hard against Neji." Kiba patted her hand in a manner similar to that he used with Akamaru. "I'm really sorry I told you to forfeit, but you know how bossy I can be sometimes. I should have been cheering you on, like Naruto did." To Shino's surprise, Kiba's voice grew softer than he'd ever heard it, almost pleading. "We all miss you, Hinata, so hurry up and wake up so Master Kurenai can take us out to dango. She's really proud of all of us and wants us to help Shino practice for the finals." Kiba looked up expectantly. "Shino is waiting for you to get better to help him train. Aren't you, Shino?"

Shino reluctantly had to admit to himself that Kiba had given him a perfect setup and example to follow. "It is distressing to see you like this, Hinata." Kiba made a growling noise, so Shino changed the direction of his words. "My first opponent in the finals is the puppet master from Sand, so I could really use two opponents instead of just one to practice with. While your health is of paramount importance, I am eager to have the opportunity to practice with you once again."

"Eager?" Kiba wondered aloud. Akamaru gave a few yips, and Kiba nodded. "Have you ever been eager about anything?"

He had senselessly spoken to someone who was unconscious. What more did his obnoxious teammate expect? "It seemed appropriate. Why? Because-"

They apparently both sensed a change in Hinata at the same time, her fingers twitching in Shino's hand ever so slightly.

"Hinata?" Kiba stuck his nose improperly close to her face, as though he could sniff out her level of consciousness. "Hinata?"

Akamaru leapt to the bed and began licking her cheek. Just as Shino was contemplating questioning the hygienic wisdom of dog saliva on a coma patient, Hinata's eyelids fluttered.

"Was I…able to change?"

Shino exchanged a confused look with Kiba, who quickly took over. For once, Shino was glad of it. "Shino said you were amazing, Hinata. Didn't you, Shino?"

"It was a remarkable fight." As Shino spoke, her eyes opened fully, and she turned her gaze to him. He felt a little rush of relief that surprised him; he hadn't realized he'd been feeling anxious about her well-being. "I have never seen you more driven or determined, Hinata. You outdid yourself."

She gave him a little smile that briefly made him understand Kiba's need to protect her, though he rationalized the feeling was to be expected, given her fragile state of health. Her brows rose slightly in inquiry. "Naruto…?" Her voice was hoarse from disuse.

"Here, have an ice chip." As Kiba fished a chip out of a pitcher on the stand by the bed and slipped it into her mouth, Shino couldn't avoid a twinge of admiration at Kiba's intuition. Then again, in this case, his talent was used for a kindness rather than one-upmanship, so admiration was acceptable. "Shino says Naruto will be fighting Neji in the first round, and that Naruto swore to beat Neji for treating you and everyone like crap."

"It's true." Shino felt oddly pleased to be the one to tell her, though the memory of her blood dripping from the blond boy's fist caused his brows to furrow as he contemplated his own reticence at the time. "Your battle inspired Naruto to boldly challenge Neji. He might have fought him right then had Lee not interceded. It would seem Lee also wanted to fight Neji, so they made a pact—someone who succeeded through hard work would defy destiny and defeat the genius."

There was a light in her eyes that was somehow reassuring as she struggled with her ice chip and smiled at them both. Once she finished with the ice, she murmured, "Thank you," in a voice much closer to the norm. She brought her hands together, taking theirs along with them. After giving them both a look of appreciation and squeezing their hands, she released them and closed her eyes. "Tired now."

Kiba bent close for another sniff while Akamaru licked her cheek. "You rest up. We'll see you tomorrow." Returning his dog to his head, Shino's mobile teammate leveraged himself awkwardly onto his crutch, and Shino followed him out of the room. "We need to tell someone she woke up."

"I can do it on my way out."

Nodding, Kiba gave him an appreciative grin that transformed into an inquisitive smirk. "Still don't see the point in visiting unconscious teammates in the hospital?"

Shino stopped in aggravation, and Kiba didn't notice for a few strides, forcing him to pivot on his crutch to face his teammate. "What?"

"It was chance that she woke when she did." Logic dictated that was the case.

Kiba fixed him with an astute gaze and shrugged. "So what if it was? Would it really have meant nothing to you if she hadn't woken up?"

After a moment's contemplation, Shino decided Kiba was correct, though he'd originally been under the impression they had visited Hinata for her sake, not theirs. "I admit the visit…had an effect on me."

"Did you feel how her heart rate grew stronger once we started talking to her?"

Unwilling to admit he hadn't, Shino insisted, "I assumed it was due to her returning to consciousness."

Kiba dismissively waved his free hand. "Sure, sure. That's why it happened when I visited her this morning."

Shino was confused. "She woke up this morning?"

"No, but her heart rate grew stronger when I talked to her." He scratched his chin nonchalantly. "I just figured, if her heart rate improved with one of us there, it might improve twice as much with two of us."

It was the simple kind of logic Shino would expect from Kiba, but, as often was the case, his teammate's instincts were right on target. Of course, that didn't entitle Kiba to be so damned conceited about it. The self-satisfied gleam in the dog ninja's eyes made Shino want to slug him.

Apparently picking up on that, Kiba chuckled. "Hey, glad I could help with the frigid idiot thing. I'm counting on you to help me with the overprotective idiot thing." With an exaggerated yawn, Kiba turned toward his room. "It's been great hanging out, but between threatening you and resuscitating Hinata, I'm beat." Akamaru yipped, and Kiba waved. "See ya tomorrow."

After informing the nurse's station of Hinata's brief moment of consciousness, Shino made his way home, contemplating all that had happened that afternoon.

He had always considered himself a patient person, as those who study insects had a tendency to be. More than once he had wondered if it was the primary reason he had ended up with Kiba and Hinata as his teammates. After all, Kiba could try the patience of saints, and even Kiba got frustrated with Hinata's timorousness from time to time. But as much as he might like to believe himself to be the voice of rationality that stabilized his team, he had to admit Kiba was the driving force behind them—or perhaps the dragging force, pulling his quieter teammates in his wake. After all, even Shino, despite his superior intelligence and power, ended up following Kiba's lead more often than not.

Although Kiba might have used force and threats, cajoling and conning to get Shino to visit Hinata, the results had been nothing less than astounding, not only helping Hinata's health but expanding Shino's perceptions of himself and his role as a team member. No matter how misguided and aggressive, Kiba's intentions were usually admirable, if somewhat mischievous. There were worse people to follow.

Shino couldn't help marveling at the more personal power of teamwork and decided, regardless of the inconvenience, to find the time to visit his teammates every day until they were all three out of the hospital. They had helped him get this far, and he couldn't help thinking they would go even farther. The least he could do was acknowledge the bonds they had made and their effect on him as a shinobi and a human being.


DETAILS

I assume, understandably, that the Academy's schedule is similar to that of the Japanese school system, which begins in early April. Given that Shino's birthday is January 23rd, that would make him the youngest of all the boys in the chūnin exam. Only Sakura, born March 28th, is younger.

Niku = meat

Shikyaku= four legs

Dango = balls of pounded sweet starch, most often rice, occasionally flavored and usually coated in one of a number of sweet or sweet/savory sauces

Since it was commented on in a review, I felt I should add that the hand holding + talking = improved heart rate idea comes from a friend's real-life experience. She regularly visited her grandfather, who was dying from old age in the hospital. Even though the grandfather was pretty much not there anymore, the nurse told her to keep holding his hand and talking to him because, when she did, his heart rate improved. In the end, about ten minutes before he died, he opened his eyes, looked straight at her, and said, "Thank you."