GR's Note: Thank you all for your reviews, as they're much appreciated and a great motivator for me to continue writing! Thanks also to my wonderful betas, who are as infinitely patient with me as the rest of you and provide an invaluable effort towards sparing my readers from the general havoc that is my un-beta'd work. I'm not on hiatus, per say, but for the next little while, my internet will be extremely inconsistent at best and for a good portion of the next few months, I won't have any, just like I haven't the last few weeks. I'm sorry for what will amount to sporadic updates, but I don't have any choice, at least if I want to update at all. Enjoy! ^_^
"Kirie... She's not Sasuke's daughter, is she?"
Ino looked up from changing her daughter's diaper to shake her head softly, all the while keeping a close eye on the visibly pregnant woman dangling a ring of plastic keys over the infant's eyes. It didn't matter, since Sakura wasn't looking at her and hadn't done so properly since her return to the village... But, for so many reasons, Ino found it hard to look her directly in the eyes anyway. She didn't even bother to point out that Kirie was blind and so couldn't see the plastic toy suspended from Sakura's fingers.
"No... She's Naruto's, through and through. She never liked Sasuke." Sakura only nodded absently, giving little indication that she was paying attention to any details of what her friend was saying.
"He... I don't understand..." Down onto the hospital change-table went the plastic keys, making a dull clatter against the sanitary pad while the infant girl fled it for her mother's arms, now changed and ready to face the world again. Her mother, while working to coax the hood of her sleeper over her head, could only wait to hear about what was bothering her best friend. She had her suspicions, but there was never any certainty when it came to Sakura.
"How could he suspect me of cheating on him...? Or not find you out, for that matter...?" The blond simply shrugged before putting Kirie in her carrier, strapped over her chest with a freshly retrieved toy wedged where she could touch and chew on it.
Normally, Ino would still be on maternity leave and wouldn't be anywhere near the hospital, but Naruto had mandated that Sakura be checked over thoroughly upon leaving their mission debriefing; With Tsunade gone to Suna on a diplomatic assignment and Shizune gone with her family on a week-long summer vacation to soften the impact of the news she had yet to break to Genma about the little sister Chihiro would be getting in about seven months time... Ino was the only medic in the village that the substitute hokage would trust Sakura's health to.
"Sakura... You gave Kakashi bedsheets for his birthday three years ago, you remember that? Red, Egyptian cotton bedsheets that, I might add, I would absolutely die for and cost you more than I've paid for every piece of clothing in my possession! Put together! ...You don't do that unless you're planning on sleeping in those sheets yourself, Sakura. Everyone thought you two were involved." Ino raised an eyebrow at the exasperated expression that crossed Sakura's expression where she had been wholly anticipating a blush and the slight grumble that entered her tone in place of the listless detachment that had been.
"I figured that if I was going to continue hand-washing his sheets with my delicates, it might as well be for a good reason rather than because they were too threadbare to stand up to my washing machine. Damn it, he wasn't supposed to tell anyone about those..." Ino snapped her fingers as she got the equipment set up for Sakura's ultrasound, the last part of Sakura's required examination.
"Case in point! You were doing his laundry, Sakura. Naruto still won't let me touch his." Sakura snorted.
"Only because you don't do it like I do. I did all the boys' laundry because I got sick of them coming to training smelling like they'd never been introduced to the concept of detergent." Ino scratched her head before pointing out another obvious fact that the pink-haired woman had no doubt overlooked.
"You don't cook and keep house for all the boys though, do you? Besides, Sakura... Bedsheets? Seriously, what were we supposed to think?" This time, the bait had the intended effect and Ino jumped all over the red tint that had made its way over the pregnant woman's face.
"I knew it! There was so something there, you aren't completely stupid!" Sakura frowned, arms crossed in between the swells of her breasts and abdomen while Ino squealed and barely refrained from jumping up and down in excitement. "I mean, maybe nothing happened at the time, but it was bound to sooner or later! … Something did happen, right?" Sakura twitched slightly in irritation over Ino's easily excitable nature before grinding out a tempered response in lieu of losing her temper with an infant in the room.
"Obviously, otherwise I wouldn't be here, would I?" Sakura gestured to the bed and adjacent ultrasound equipment before Ino actually hopped up and down in giddiness, despite the infant strapped firmly to her chest. Kirie didn't mind, it seemed; Her several weeks of life had given her ample time to become accustomed to her rather loud and active parents, and so when Ino started hopping up and down, the infant simply gripped on tighter to her mother's shirt and dozed off. Sakura could see right off the bat that Kirie, unlike her parents, was going to be a very calm and most likely quiet little girl.
"Alright, hop up! I wanna see my little almost-niece!" Sakura sighed softly, hoping to ready herself for the outburst that was inevitably coming as she hefted herself up on the table and lifted up the sweater that she had borrowed from Kakashi so that the smooth bump of her abdomen was prominently visible. Once again, Ino eyebrows quirked at actually seeing the impact of her friend's pregnancy.
"Uh... No offense, but what are you feeding that kid? Even I wasn't that big at twelve weeks..." A moment of awkward silence followed while Ino's face took on a wistful expression and she ruffled her daughter's fine hair, and Sakura wasn't quite sure what was wrong. She never got the chance to ask what was on the blonde's mind though, as she was quickly assisted into a reclining position and Ino's features went back to the way they had been; Nothing but expectant curiosity.
"Alright, this is going to be a little cold..." Sakura rolled her eyes as Ino squirted a glob of the greenish-blue gel on her belly, having said and done the same thing to dozens upon dozens of her own patients over the course of her career; Strange, it was a little different being on the other side of things. It was... different, wondering about her babies' health rather than her patient's baby. She was almost too unnerved to look at the black and white monitor standing to the side of the table, where Ino had turned it so that she could see clearly.
The women exchanged a glance after expressing the exact same thing at exactly the same time, although Ino's face was plainly more shocked as she controlled the medical apparatus than Sakura's was while she simply watched the monitor in wonderment.
Ino never voiced her complete and utter surprise as she saw not one or two, but three tiny forms on the monitor, because Sakura's expression completely perplexed her to the point of speechlessness. No surprise, or anything even close to it... Just undivided rapture and the faintest hint of tears. Not sad tears... just the tears that came with the abrupt realization that the fetuses she was carrying weren't just there; They were living, moving little infants with beating hearts. Almost nostalgic, Ino found herself thinking back to her first ultrasound and how it had truly driven the point home that she was supporting two tiny lives inside of her.
"Sakura... You knew there was more than one, didn't you?" Sakura wiped her eyes with the cuff of the over-sized blue sweater she was wearing before nodding shakily and returning her eyes directly to the screen again.
"Yeah...'bout a month ago Pakkun told us. Stupid dog..." Because whether or not she'd like to admit it, knowing ahead of time had indeed been a godsend; Finding out that she'd be having three kids like this, staring at a grainy black and white screen... It would have been too much for her, she knew it. The extra time had given her an opportunity to cope and now she was able to concentrate on watching her little miracles move their tiny little arms and legs as Ino continued on with the exam in an extremely professional manner.
"... How'd he know?" Pakkun had come and delivered the reports to her and Naruto the morning before and never said a word about it... though Sakura never said anything about it in her report, either. Sakura shrugged slightly before showing Ino an odd smile, one she hadn't seen from her friend in years.
"Dogs are more sensitive to chakra than humans are, so they can sense it developing before we can. Stupid mutt nearly gave me a stroke..."
"Did you... Did you go off your shot?" Sakura's brows furrowed as she ventured a curious glance at Ino, who was more entranced with taking notes than she was with paying Sakura any mind.
"Not purposely... I... I was due to come in for it, but I wasn't in any condition where I would want to be seen by anyone here... I forgot to reschedule my appointment." Ino nodded, her own brows furrowing further as she made another note in Sakura's folder before delicately pressing the button to turn on the ultrasound printer.
"...You were one of the guinea pigs testing the new one, weren't you? Figures." Looking up, Ino noticed the questioning and slightly concerned look Sakura was aiming at her and only ventured to explain herself once she had averted her gaze to her work again.
"Tsunade stopped the tests. Stuff like this has been happening fairly frequently if the girls aren't taken off of the shot gradually; The body gets confused and releases more eggs than normal with its first ovulation following the drop in hormone levels. We've got 16 girls, including me and you, who went off the shot and ended up pregnant with multiple children... Tsunade calls it 'hyperfertility'... But she's positive that it isn't any more dangerous than any normal multiple birth, so at least you don't have to worry about that."
"...What happened to your other one?" Ino flinched, even though she had been anticipating that question. Even though she had her daughter, the premature death of her firstborn was still a raw wound for both her and Naruto.
"I was on a mission in Grass in those first delicate weeks, before I knew I was pregnant, and we got ambushed and nearly slaughtered. We made it out, but it took a soldier pill to do that, and you know what the effects even just one of those can have on an embryo. I went into labor at 32 weeks, and they were both underdeveloped... Kirie's only here because Tsunade was there to save her." Seeing the pain in her friend's icy blue eyes and the protective manner in which she held her daughter even tighter against her chest, for a moment Sakura could almost understand what Ino and Naruto were going through; How horrible would it be to lose her children after nine months of bonding with them? Even after only a few weeks, she'd gotten used to the idea of having a ready-made family and was now even awaiting motherhood with anticipation; That was most likely the hormones and normally dormant maternal instinct affecting her thought processes, but now she couldn't wait to see the day where her children would move their little fingers and toes within plain sight like Kirie was doing as she protested sleepily against her mother's increasingly tight embrace.
"I'm sorry... That... That must have hurt the both of you." Ino only gave a shaky smile as she carefully captured and printed screenshots of various angles of the ultrasound, both for Sakura's record and for Sakura to take home and put in a photo album for later on.
"It does... but it's alright. We're going to keep trying. I think I can tell the babies' genders, if you want to know..." Sakura shook her head, slightly amused.
"I can see exactly the same thing as you can on that screen, Ino. All the same, let's wait and see. We might very well be wrong." A knock at the door interrupted the young women's quiet, unprovoked giggles and they both silenced completely, with Ino shutting the floor-length curtain that bisected the room to block Sakura's view of the door while she answered it.
"I'm almost through, if you can wai-- Oh, Naruto. Hi."
"Hey, you're almost done? … Is she alright?" Taking a look back into the room to peek at Sakura's silhouette, who had now taken the ultrasound equipment and was controlling it herself, Ino stepped out of the room and almost shut the door before she even noticed Kakashi standing there. Turning red, she pushed open the door again and gestured inside.
"I don't really think you want to miss this... It'll be a few months before you get another chance." She nearly let a knowing smile slip as Kakashi slid past her and she shut the door to confer with her husband. "She's fine, barring the obvious. She had a couple of bites on her and some bruising, but she told me that was a result of seeing her mission through to completion. She's good as new now though. Well... mostly."
Sheepishly, she looked back through the tiny window in the door to see that the curtain had been pushed aside enough to see the two occupants of the room clearly, making her wonder why she had bothered to shut it in the first place. The smile that she hadn't let slip a moment ago wasn't about to be contained after seeing the sight beyond the door and silently, Ino attracted Naruto's attention to something never seen in public, ever.
Kakashi had pulled his mask down and wore the exact same expression Sakura had been wearing minutes ago, one hand holding the ultrasound apparatus while Sakura's smaller hand lie on top of his, guiding it around so that he could see everything she had. The resulting picture resonated with cuteness... right up until Naruto caught sight of it and ruined it with a variety of surprised choking sounds. Turning one eye towards him, Ino shook her head in amusement at the horrified expression on her husband's face as he pointed a shaking finger at the window.
"I thought he had buck teeth! Or an ugly nose! H-he looks... He l-looks... Normal!" Ino rolled her eyes at Naruto's ridiculous reaction, before swatting his hand for him to return to reality and regain some composure. He was the hokage, at least temporarily... He should be setting a good example.
"Of course he looks normal, you knucklehead. That mask is skintight, I'm sure we'd have been able to tell by now if he was hideously deformed... Honestly, sometimes you just don't think." She flicked the end of his nose playfully and stuck her tongue out to remind him that she was just teasing him with her comments; She'd succumbed to enough blond moments that she really had no right to call him a knucklehead, but… it was almost like a pet name; If she didn't tease him, their relationship would get too serious and that just didn't work for her. She liked teasing him and she knew he liked teasing her right back.
"He refused the annulment." Ino snapped back to attention before sneaking a peek back in the window again, not entirely surprised with her husband's comment.
"... I'll have to throw her a belated bridal shower." Naruto looked at her, more serious than normal as he regarded her inquiringly. She simply shrugged.
"What did you want me to say? Even if he hadn't, we both know they just would've gotten married again anyway. Personally, I wouldn't want to look pregnant in my wedding photos, so I'm sure Sakura definitely doesn't."
"So it's official, they're together now?" Ino nodded towards the window, wherein she was quietly observing the couple whispering quietly to each other behind the door.
"I'd say so. They're having their own freakin' genin team, so they'd damn well better be!" Naruto let out a choked sound once again before silently pointing in the window at the ultrasound monitor, looking for all the world like someone was strangling him.
"Three?!" Ino nodded and slapped her completed report into his chest, folder and all, wherein he took it and immediately went rifling through the pictures that were practically still hot from the printer. With every picture he flipped past his jaw slackened and dropped a little farther, until Ino, knowing that their prolonged conference would undoubtedly make Sakura and Kakashi suspect that something was up, took the folder from her husband's hands and snapped it tightly shut.
Grinning playfully, Ino tweaked Naruto's nose in an attempt to alleviate the pout beginning to form over his face before suggesting something that she knew would brighten his spirits.
"So, wanna see which one of us can spread the news faster?"