Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Short, simple, and to the point. (AKA I couldn't think of anything remotely amusing to write for the disclaimer.)

Taking the Next Step

Chapter One

Early Morning Snacks

Naruto groaned and rolled over in bed, bringing a pillow out from under him to cover his head as he tried to drown out the incessant screeching coming from the kitchen. He'd just gotten back from an A-class mission, and he wanted to sleep, dammit!

The screeching paused for a blissful moment only to be replaced by the banging and clanging of metal on metal. Naruto sleepily pried open an eye and lifted his pillow enough to have a decent view of the kitchen across the hall. Ino was on the tips of her toes, reaching up for a plate in the back of a cabinet. The extra large t-shirt she'd pulled from her closet and donned rode up over her hips and very clearly revealed that the t-shirt was all that she had bothered to don.

Naruto groaned for an entirely different reason and rolled back over in an effort to relieve his growing discomfort. Okay, so the screeching was actually Ino singing some song as she went about fixing herself a—Naruto glanced at the digital screen of the alarm clock—three AM snack. And he hadn't just gotten back from an A-class mission, but when he had gotten back, he'd already been a little sleepy and he certainly hadn't had any sleep since his return to the village a few hours ago.

After the…activities that he and Ino had been participating in since he'd shown up at her doorstep—at the time far too tired to bother walking all the way back to his own apartment, but suddenly wide awake when Ino had answered the door in her sleeping attire, or rather her lack of sleeping attire—he figured that he'd earned some peace and quiet and a warm body to cuddle up against so that he could catch up on all the sleep he'd missed during the pervious night's stake-out. Apparently, Ino had other plans.

"Since when did making a sandwich require pots and pans?" he asked groggily, wrapping the pillow around his head in an attempt to block out the noise.

Ino's singing cut off immediately. "Who said I was making a sandwich?" she replied snappily.

"You did," he informed her. "You know, when you got out of bed and said you were going to the kitchen to make a sandwich."

Ino scoffed and proceeded to ignore his presence for the next few minutes. Naruto guessed she'd actually gotten to the cooking part of whatever she was making, since the noise level had decreased severely. Naruto soon found himself dozing off, so he closed his eyes gratefully and drifted asleep.

Naruto jerked back awake when an acrid aroma assailed his poor nose. He stared in open disgust at the bowl of something that Ino had placed on the bed-side table next to his head. "The hell is that?" he demanded, covering his nose in hopes of blocking out the stench.

"Eat," Ino instructed while placing her hands on her hips.

"That shit is edible?" Naruto questioned incredulously.

"Yes! Now hurry up and eat!" she ordered with a frown marring her face. When all he did was continue to glare at her carefully prepared dish, she stomped her foot and wailed, "If it was ramen, you'd have already shoved it down your throat!"

"Yeah, but that is definitely not ramen!" Naruto exclaimed.

"I know you're hungry, dipshit! Your stomach's been growling for the past ten minutes! When the hell was the last time you ate?" Ino fumed, trying with all her might to keep herself from knocking the idiot in her bed out cold.

Naruto regarded her skeptically. "Are you sure it wasn't your stomach that you heard?" he asked suspiciously. "I mean, you're the one with the little person growing in your belly."

"A maturing fetus does not cause a stomach to growl!" she shouted exasperatedly.

"But it makes you hungrier than you normally are, which does make your stomach growl," he pointed out matter-of-factly.

Ino was just bringing up her hands to start forming seals when an idea occurred to her: why not just switch tactics? "Ne, Naruto-kun," she purred, climbing up on the bed and starting to crawl toward him slowly, "If you hurry up and eat, then for dessert…" Her tongue flicked out to lick at her lips suggestively as she leaned closer to him. Naruto grinned back at her and leaned up onto his elbows, quickly moving in for the kill, when Ino's lips were quite suddenly replaced by a spoonful of the something. Ino shoved the spoon into his mouth and Naruto reeled back, spitting the spoon out and clutching at his throat as he gagged.

"Poison! I've been poisoned!" he wailed, his head flailing back and forth against the pillow.

A fist came flying toward him suddenly and he barely had time to register Ino's outraged shout of "How dare you insult my cooking, you fucktard!" before he was seeing stars and the pain in his left cheek became very nearly unbearable.

"I'm sowwy Ino-chwan," he mumbled pathetically, nursing the growing bruise of his face. "It wash delicioush. Reawwy," he insisted.

"That so? Then hurry up and eat," she hissed, turning away swiftly and heading for the kitchen to retrieve her own bowl.

Naruto rubbed at his cheek until the pain was just a dull throbbing. Feeling relatively safe with Ino in a room across the hall, Naruto ventured, "Oy, what the hell did I do to warrant such cruel and unusual punishment?"

"What did you do? Why, Naruto-kun, that's the problem," Ino called back sugar-sweetly. "You didn't do anything. You didn't offer to make me something when I said that I was hungry or even get off your lazy ass to help me."

"But you never eat what I fix you!" Naruto retorted.

"That's because all you know how to make is ramen," she spat back.

"And whenever I try and help, all you do is yell at me!" Naruto continued.

"That's 'cause you're always in the way!" she snapped.

"So then what's the point of me even offering!?" he exclaimed incredulously.

"The point is that you care enough to offer, dipshit!" she cried, a light blush spreading over her cheeks as she turned to her own bowl—which was quite obviously filled with vegetable soup; Naruto was just too much of an idiot to recognize any form of sustenance that wasn't ramen. She could feel tears welling up at the edges of her eyes, but quickly blinked them away. God damn mood swings.

Naruto stood and, after pausing for a moment to slip on his boxers, walked over to wrap his arms around Ino from behind. She roughly shrugged out of the embrace and began fervently gulping down her soup. "Ino-chan," Naruto whispered lowly, letting his breath ghost over her ear and throat pleasantly and grinning when he saw light goose bumps pop up along the flesh. "Have I ever told you just how sexy you are when you're mad?"

Ino whacked his arm none-too-gently and replied, "What are you talking about, you idiot? I'm sexy 24/7."

Naruto 'hmm'ed contemplatively before conceding, "That's true, my bad." Ino's head dipped down in what could have been a nod of affirmation, but other than that, she was back to ignoring him. Naruto began to slowly make his way back toward the bedroom and the bed, pulling Ino along with him. Once the back of his knees hit the edge of the bed, he sat down and pulled Ino into his lap. She was still steadfastly focused on her bowl of soup, gorging down the vegetables and broth as if she was a dying man trying to fit in one last meal.

"Hungry much?" Naruto asked teasingly.

Ino paused and glanced over her shoulder at him. "I'm eating for two now, in case you've forgotten. Even if I want to diet, your spawn is rather against it."

"That's 'cause my spawn understands that food is vital to life."

Ino snorted derisively. "If you don't hurry up and eat, I'm going to take yours too."

Naruto quickly picked the bowl up off the bedside table and shoved it into her hands. "Please, be my guest."

"There's no ramen in any of my cabinets, and your favorite stand doesn't open until seven," she reminded him offhandedly.

Naruto's stomach chose that moment to erupt with a strange gurgling noise to signify its emptiness. With a frown, Naruto picked up his spoon and began sipping at the soup cautiously. "So what do you call this?"

"Vegetable soup."


"How is it?"

"Well, other than the vegetables, it's alright."

"'Other than the vegetables'? What the hell's left then?"

"The broth."

"Which gets its flavoring from the vegetables."

"But the broth isn't an actual vegetable."

Ino looked back at Naruto with an eyebrow arched high. "That doesn't make any sense."

"It does if you're me."

Ino snorted softly and shook her head. They continued to eat in a comfortable silence, and Ino found herself reflecting on their situation. For all his promises that he'd always take care of her, and she'd never even need to lift a finger, most days it seemed like Ino was the one who ended up taking care of him. But then there were times like these, where he was just so him, when Ino couldn't imagine life without him. When had Naruto become such a major part of her life?

Ino's musings were cut short when she remembered that she was supposed to pass a message on to Naruto. "Hey, Tsunade-sama asked me to remind you about some meeting?"

Naruto stared at her blankly for a bit before blinking and nodding in realization. "Oh yeah. I'm actually supposed to go see her in few hours," he mumbled, glancing over at the clock.

"About what?" Ino asked curiously, as she placed her empty bowl down.

Naruto placed his own bowl down stacked inside hers. "I'm getting my genin team assignment."

"Eh? So then…"

Naruto grinned and tightened his arms around her waist. "Yup. That was my last mission outside of the village for awhile. It's gonna be strictly D-rank missions for the next few months."

Ino turned in his arms so that she was straddling him and looped her arms around his neck, his arms still resting comfortably around her waist. "And that means that we can actually plan dates ahead of time and you won't end up standing me up for another sudden assassination mission."

Naruto groaned at the overly-chipper tone. "I'm sorry, alright? I could've sworn I stopped by the flower shop and told you."

"Sure you did," Ino responded sarcastically. But then her lips stretched into a real smile and she asked, "Can we do something this weekend? There's a movie that just came out that I'm dying to see."

"Hmm, I don't know," Naruto drawled playfully, rolling his eyes up towards the ceiling as he pretended to be thinking about other plans. Ino grabbed his chin and forced his head back down to face her. With a mischievous grin, she leaned forward and kissed him hungrily. Pulling back after a minute, she murmured, "Please?"

"Well, when you put it like that…" Naruto trailed off, quickly moving to flip their positions so Ino was lying back on the bed underneath him. He started to lightly kiss and bite his way down her neck and was just about to try something he'd read in the latest Icha Icha book when Ino interrupted suddenly, "Oh, and don't forget—we're having lunch with my parents tomorrow."

Naruto halted abruptly in his actions to pull away and glare at her. "A mood annihilator if ever there was one."

"You're the one that wanted to tell them I was pregnant in the first place," Ino snapped.

"Well we sort of have to!" Naruto burst out. "I mean, they're going to notice eventually, and I'd like keep the majority of my body parts intact, which I'm hoping will be the case if we come out and tell 'em up front."

Ino rolled her eyes and rolled out from underneath him, pulling the comforter up over her in the process. "Hey, what are you doing?" Naruto asked.

"What's it look like? I'm going to sleep." Ino shifted slightly, trying to find a comfortable position and turning herself away from him. Naruto fell down next to her with a huff, crossed his arms over his chest, and pouted at the ceiling. He continued to lie there, grumbling about bitchy teases, until Ino rolled back toward him and rested her head on his chest.

"Night Naruto," she mumbled sleepily.

Naruto grinned goofily and wrapped an arm securely around her waist. Closing his eyes, he whispered against her hair, "G'night Ino. I love you."

"Mmm," was the groggy reply, "Love you too."

A/N: This took me far to long to write. Oh well. Yay! The sequel's here! What's going to happen? Honestly, I don't know. I'm just writing this one as it comes to me. Anyway, review! Please? 'Cause I love reviews. They give meaning to my otherwise meaningless life.