The Third Paper Crane

Naruto left just after two for work, leaving Ino home alone. She wasn't sure what to do with herself, since Sakura had demanded she take a few days off. She had argued that she didn't need a break, especially now when things were weird at home, but Sakura just gave her one of those 'Lee-glares' and that pretty much shut Ino up. It was still creepy that Sakura could glare like Lee did...

Ino ended up cleaning the kitchen and the living room for Mikan's arrival, even though she wouldn't be there in at least three days. Ino once again found herself rolling her eyes at Mikan's brief letter, she had not mentioned a date, so they had no idea when she would arrive. Typical.

After cleaning, Ino sat on the couch in the living room with a cup of tea. Once again her thoughts drifted to Mikan, this time regarding a place for the woman to sleep. The house only had two bedrooms, both which were now being used. And Ino had a feeling that Mikan would not come alone, so she had to find a bed for at least two people. She could always go back to her old No, she wasn't ready for that yet. She needed her space and Mikan and whoever was travelling with her would have to accept that.

Ino sighed and took a sip of her tea. Right. Beds. She can't make them sleep on the couch or floor, that would be terrible. Hmmm...

A knock on the door snapped Ino out of her daze. She frowned, this was the second time she was interrupted that day by someone at the door. Ino put down her tea on the coffee table and quickly went to open the door.

It was Temari.

"My sister-in-law is coming to visit," she announced. "Do you know what that means?"

Ino blinked, surprised. Temari had also received a letter from Mikan? "Oh, I wasn't aware she contacted you as well."

Now Temari seemed surprised. "Wait...she sent you a letter?"

"Yes," Ino replied.

"Darn, and here I was hoping I could stash some of my stuff here while she's around."

Ino frowned. "Uh...what?"

Temari chuckled. "Mikan has a tendency of breaking things when angry, so I was hoping to hide my fine China here. Obviously not a good idea."

"Do you always stash them at other people's houses when she visits?" Ino asked, flabbergasted.

"Yep," Termari hummed, putting emphasis on the 'p'. "Sakura was host to my beautiful cups and plates the previous time. They had a splendid time. However, she's so busy these days with the wedding and all, I didn't want to bother her."

"Has anyone ever told you that you are weird?" Ino asked.

"Shikamaru recites it daily. So does Gaara, actually, but he can't talk. He's weird too."

"What about Hinata?" Ino suggested.

Temari titled her head to the side. "You know, I didn't even think about Hinata. Do you think it will be okay? What if those dogs decide to try and chew one of my cute little forks?"

"I highly doubt Akamaru would be interested in your forks. Be serious, Temari. Forks?"

"Okay, I'm being silly. Just a little joking around," Temari laughed. Ino just nodded, not really sure what to make of this strange side of Temari. "Joining me to go beg Hinata on our knees to babysit my breakables?"

"Sure, I have nothing else to do. Just let me grab my coat."

"You're smiling like an idiot," Sai pointed out, just as a group of Jounin had left Naruto's office. Naruto, who had indeed been grinning like an idiot, just continued grinning. "Naruto, I do not think this is normal. Should I contact a doctor?"

"No," Naruto laughed. "No, that will not be necessary, Sai. I am just happy. Ecstatic, even. I feel brilliant. Never felt so alive. Ever. Not even the day I defeated Pein and the whole village welcomed me back felt like this."

The captain of the ANBU continued to stare at his friend, utterly confused. Naruto ignored it and returned to doing paperwork.

"Why are you happy?" Sai finally asked.

Naruto looked up and just grinned again. "I'm going to be a father, Sai."

Sai blinked. "And that warrants goofy grinning that puts your ANBU captain on edge?"

Naruto tapped his chin. "Yes, I suppose it does. Why is this so weird? Kiba jumped off walls when he found out he was going to be a father. I'm relatively calm, though I'd like to climb up the Hokage Monument right now and announce the news to the whole world. But I'm controlling my urge to do so."

"I see," Sai hummed. "Excuse me, I'm going to research this phenomenon."

Sai disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving an amused Naruto behind.

"So, do you really stash your breakables at other people's houses, or is this a way to get me out of the house?" Ino asked. Temari, who was walking beside her through the busy streets of Konoha laughed nervously.

"I've been found out!" she chuckled, then her face turned serious. "How are you?"

"I'm alright," Ino replied. "But breakables? Really Temari?"

"Maybe I went a bit far," Temari admitted, "but Mikan has destroyed some of my things before. I've lost two plates, three cups and seven forks thanks to her temper. Oh, and she lit my bookshelf on fire once. That wasn't very nice."

"Your family is insane," Ino muttered.

"Tell me about it."

Silence followed, but it was comfortable. Ino wasn't sure where they were headed, since they obviously didn't really need to visit Hinata, but it was nice to be outside in the sun. And although Temari's story had been ridiculous, it was funny and had lightened Ino's mood a little. The silence suddenly brought back Ino's attention to the fact that she needed a place for Mikan to sleep.



"Did Mikan say anything about where she would be staying? Her letter to me was very short and lacked any information."

Temari laughed. "She did, actually. She'll be staying with her cousins. Kankuro will be staying with Shikamaru and myself."

Ino sighed in relief. "Thank goodness, I don't have space for guests right now."

"I think Mikan is perfectly aware of that."

Ino smiled. Why had she been blessed with such great friends?

Despite not actually having to visit Hinata, Temari and Ino decided to swing by anyway. They knocked on the door twice, which allowed just enough time for a pair of tiny feet to stomp down the hall inside and swing the door open. Two large lavender orbs stared at the two older women, blinked, and then the little boy launched himself at Ino, causing her to stagger backwards in surprise.

"Aunt Ino! I'm making cookies!" Inuzuka Kenshi exclaimed excitedly as he held onto Ino's legs. She laughed, especially when she realised he was covered in flour from head to toe.

"I can see that," Ino replied, kneeling down before Kenshi so that she could look him in the eye. "What flavour are they?"

"Chocolate," Kenshi stated. "Although mommy wants to make ginger nut too."

"Sounds yummy," Ino hummed. Temari nodded in agreement. "Can we come in?"

Kenshi nodded, just as Hinata appeared behind him. She was also covered in flour, but not as much as Kenshi was. She smiled when she saw her two friends.

"Hello," she greeted them.

"Yo," Temari returned the greeting, giving a small wave. "My sister-in-law is coming to visit."

"Ah," Hinata hummed. "Do I need to babysit anything?"

Temari threw her head back in laughter. "Nah, we just thought we'd warn you. And maybe mooch a bit. Do you have herbal tea?"

Hinata chuckled as she motioned for them to come in.

At twilight, Naruto decided to take a short break. He didn't want to work too late, but he had to meet his informant again, so only arriving at home by nine was inevitable. He knew Ino knew what he was doing now, so it shouldn't be a problem, but it still worried him. He felt terrible for the pain he had put her through. She didn't deserve to have a husband like him.

With a sigh, Naruto spun around in his chair and looked out the window that overlooked Konoha. A small smile formed on his face as an image of his unborn child running through the streets formed in his head. He was going to be a father. It felt fantastic.

A knock on the door shook him from his reverie. He spun around again. "Come in."

The door creaked open, revealing the dark hair and spectacled face of his assistant, a woman he had hired on a whim – she had been desperate for a job, and he was being buried in paperwork, so he had hired her on the spot when she had told him her heart wrenching story. He never could ignore those in need.

"There's a letter for you, sir," Mari stated as she handed him a scroll. "It's from the Kazekage."

"Thanks, Mari." Naruto took the scroll from her and unrolled it. Naruto quickly looked it over, then rolled it back up. It was a private letter and he preferred to read it at home rather than in his office. Mari was still watching him. "Anything else, Mari?"

A blush formed on her cheeks. "I-I heard from Sai that you are going to be a father."

Naruto grinned. "Yes."

"Congratulations, sir!" Mari cheered. Naruto thanked her. She bowed and excused herself, leaving Naruto to his thoughts. He chuckled under his breath, if Sai had told Mari that Ino was pregnant, then that meant he had went to her to ask about the behaviour of men who just found out they are to be fathers. Ever since Mari had started working for him, Sai had gone to her for advice several times, Naruto was starting to believe the ANBU had a crush on his assistant...

Naruto's gaze shifted to the scroll and he smiled. He had just gotten an idea, he could write Ino another letter, perhaps this time expressing his joy? Determined, he got a pen and paper.

Halfway through his letter, he decided to open even more and write the apprehension he felt about impending fatherhood as well. He didn't want to burden Ino, but she had to know how he felt. She had to get to know him again, he owed her that much.

When he finished, he folded the letter into a paper crane.