Chapter 1- Butting Heads

I'm getting far too old for this job.

This thought, common as it was to Sarutobi nowadays, was not helping his current situation in the least, and thus was once again pushed to the back of his mind until he had the time to contemplate it later. Hopefully, before he ended up dying of being overworked.

Realizing he was getting off track, the Sandaime Hokage shook his head and turned back to concentrate on the papers in front of him, which listed off the admittedly impressive transcript of the seven year old Ninja Academy graduate Uchiha Itachi, the son of Uchiha Fugaku and Mikoto and one of the most promising youths he'd seen since Namikaze Minato had graduated, thirsty for knowledge and eager to take on the world.

The reports about the boy's behavior concerned the old man, though. Most of the chunin described Itachi as a talented student who excelled at everything he tried academically, but severely lacked social skills. According to the reports, all of the students who tried to make friends with the Uchiha were either coldly turned away or ignored outright. He was even disrespectful to most of his teachers, and even talked down to the ones who feared him or his family name.

At least Minato had always been humble, polite and respectful of his elders...

Sarutobi sighed, replacing the papers in the folder they had come in. Due to the Uchiha's high standing in Konoha as well as the fact that Itachi was one of the most talented Uchihas the clan had ever seen, Sarutobi had relieved the boy's chunin instructors at the Ninja Academy of the burden of choosing his Jonin instructor, instead taking on the challenge himself. Though of course, Fugaku and Mikoto would have a say in their boy's sensei as well. In fact, he was scheduled to meet with them in a few hours to discuss the matter face-to-face. Which meant he only had a few more hours to assign a teacher to a very talented, very complicated young shinobi.

Normally, when dealing with nins as problematic as Itachi was bound to be, he would be selective in choosing the boy's teammates and squad leader. By making sure to choose people who would challenge the boy to grow as a shinobi and at the same making sure the team would help draw him out of his shell, it would teach the boy the value of teamwork and friends. However, that would be difficult in this case since Itachi was an early graduate, which meant that he would train one-on-one with a jonin instructor instead of getting a full three man squad like most students. Sarutobi was tempted to ask the boy's parents for permission to treat the boy's situation as a special case, but he already knew that Fugaku would never agree to something like that, and Mikoto would go along with whatever her husband decided.

Which means I have to be even more selective in choosing Itachi's sensei. Sarutobi thought dryly, tucking Itachi's folder into a drawer before he opened another to pull out a scroll, which he unrolled onto his desk.

The Sandaime cringed when he saw the sheer number of names printed on the scroll, which listed every active jonin in Konoha. Wearily, he wondered how on earth the chunins at the Ninja academy managed to sort through such a mess to pick which ones were the best leaders for which squads, while at the same time weighing the strengths and weaknesses of their students to keep every team balanced.

Then again, such considerations were necessary in spite of being a hassle, since they kept young ninjas alive that much longer. And with the war that now raged around them, Konoha genin needed every advantage they could get.

The children of Konoha seem to grow up far faster in this day and age... The Hokage mused darkly to himself, realizing rather ironically that young Itachi was the perfect example of that rapidly lost childhood. Sighing, Sarutobi chastised himself for letting his mind wander yet again, and went back to skimming the scroll in front of him for potential jonin instructors for the Uchiha.

He'd only managed to jot down a few names off of the list when a knock at the door drew his attention upwards, to see one of his Anbu guards entering the office, a young man bearing a wolf-shaped mask. Sarutobi frowned curiously as the shinobi bowed respectfully, wondering what on earth could warrant his attention now.

"Forgive me for interrupting, Hokage-sama." the Anbu apologized as he straightened. "but Uchiha Fugaku and his wife Uchiha Mikoto are requesting a conference with you immediately."

Ah, so that was it. His frown deepening, Sarutobi glanced at the clock on his wall to find that he still had an hour before he was scheduled to meet with the Uchihas for their discussion. And as much as he respected the man as a shinobi, the Sandaime couldn't help but feel that it was very much like Fugaku to arrive a full hour early for a meeting and demand to be let in straight away.

Really, sometimes he wished the man had his nephew's bad habit of always being late...

"Very well." Sarutobi sighed, deciding to make due with what he had. "Show them in, please."

"As you wish, Hokage-sama." The Anbu said, bowing again before he took his leave. As the doors closed behind him, the Sandaime replaced the scroll in the drawer it had come from, leaving only his list of potential instructors on his desk. Moments later, the Anbu was back, this time admitting two of the most influential shinobis in Konoha into Sarutobi's office.

"Fugaku, Mikoto, thank you for coming." Sarutobi said with a smile for the couple as the Anbu left yet again, closing the door behind him.

"Hokage-sama." Fugaku said, forgoing the typical show of respect and instead merely nodding curtly to the older man as was his custom. Mikoto, on the other hand, gave the Sandaime a deep, respectful bow.

"I hope you can forgive our early arrival, Hokage-sama." the woman's voice rang out apologetically as she straightened up. "Several members of the clan wish to celebrate Itachi's graduation with our family, and I'm afraid we're not fully prepared for them just yet." Sarutobi smiled at the woman, a former student of Jiraiya's team and a talented kunoichi before she retired not long after marrying Fugaku.

"That's quite alright, Mikoto." Sarutobi chuckled, motioning for the two to sit. "I understand completely. I suppose we should try to make this meeting brief, then..."

"My husband and I would be grateful for that, Hokage-sama." Mikoto said with a soft smile.

"Well, I've managed to make a list of possible teacher's for your son, and no doubt you two have considered possible instructors on your own as well. Hopefully, we'll be able to settle on one soon enough." Sarutobi responded. "Is there anything you'd like me to take into consideration that wasn't in Itachi's files?"

"Actually, there is..." Mikoto said, glancing at her husband.

"We've discussed the situation all week, and decided that we do not want a member of the Uchiha clan to teach my son." Fugaku explained. Sarutobi blinked in surprise, not expecting the odd request.

"Oh?" He said curiously. "Why's that?"

"Itachi's grown up watching the more prominent members of our clan, and has probably already learned all he can from their tutelage." Fugaku explained curtly to the Hokage. "I believe my son is better off learning from someone strong who is not of kin, to introduce new techniques to our family."

"Ah, I see." Sarutobi frowned thoughtfully at the man's words, skimming his list for potential names. "With that in mind, why not ask Hyuuga Hizashi to teach Itachi? The Hyuuga's fighting style differs from your own, after all, I'm sure there's much Itachi can learn from it."

"I do not want my son being taught by a Hyuuga." Fugaku scowled slightly, his eyes narrowing on the man in front of him.

"Hizashi is a talented shinobi, Fugaku, I'm sure he can help teach your son a great deal of things." Sarutobi pressed.

"Absolutely not." Fugaku snapped. "Under no circumstances will my son be taught by a Hyuuga." Sarutobi mentally sighed as he reluctantly dropped the subject and looked for the next name. Secretly, he'd been hoping that by having the next head of the Uchiha clan taught by a member of the Hyuuga clan, the rift that had formed between the two superpowers of Konoha might heal a bit...

Ah, well. Sarutobi told himself. I suppose I'll have to find another way to deal with that problem. I wonder how much counseling would cost...

"What about Yamanaka Inoshi then? Or his teammates, Akimichi Chouza or Nara Shikatou?"

"The three of them have gained a reputation as a squad, but are hardly known for their individual skills." Fugaku scoffed. "I want my son's teacher to be someone who's reputation expands beyond Konoha."

I suppose that rules out Inuzuka Tsume and Aburame Shibi as well, then. Sarutobi winced, this was going to be even harder then he originally thought...

"What about the former Sanin?" Fugaku questioned, bringing Sarutobi out of his musings. "I know Tsunade is still outside of the village, but Jiraiya or Orochimaru should be capable of teaching Itachi."

"Jiraiya's been away from the village for weeks now doing research, I'm afraid." Sarutobi sighed as Mikoto ducked her head to hide her silent laugher from the men, knowing her former sensei well enough to know exactly what his 'research' would be. "And Orochimaru just recently requested to teach another student from your son's graduating class. A girl by the name of Mitarashi Anko." Privately, though, Sarutobi couldn't help but feel that his former student would drop the girl in an instant to teach an Uchiha. But Orochimaru's behavior lately had been concerning him, and he felt it best to keep the man away from the Uchiha clan until he figured out exactly what was going on.

"How about Namikaze Minato?" The Uchiha head demanded. "I've heard that he plans to nominate Kakashi for the jonin test, and that the boy will take over his squad when he passes."

"The tests aren't being held for several months, Fugaku, and Minato hasn't made his decision yet." Sarutobi frowned at the man. "Besides, Minato is already teaching your nephew Obito, if you recall. Any lessons you wish for Minato to pass to your clan can most likely be learned through him." Fugaku scowled slightly at that reminder, and the Sandaime couldn't help but feel frustrated over the man's stubbornness. Really, they were getting nowhere fast with the way things were going right now...

"What about Kushina-chan?"

Both Fugaku and Sarutobi started at that, turning in surprise to look at the innocent smile Mikoto was giving them. The two had been so intent on their discussion, they'd almost forgotten she was there...

"Kushina?" Sarutobi repeated when the woman's suggestion finally registered in his mind. "Uzumaki Kushina? You want her to teach your son?" The Sandaime couldn't fully keep his surprise out of his voice. After all, most of the parents he knew would probably cry in anguish if he told them he intended to have their child taught by the foreign redhead, and here Mikoto was requesting her tutelage.

...Then again, Mikoto and Kushina had been close friends before Mikoto had retired as a ninja, and even now he knew the woman still made time to drop in on the redhead every now and then... Maybe the suggestion shouldn't have been such a big surprise after all.

"I don't see what the problem is, Hokage-sama." Mikoto said, never losing her smile. "She fits all the requirements my husband and I want in Itachi's tutor, after all, and I don't believe she's found a student yet, either..."

"Well... No, she hasn't..." Sarutobi glanced at Fugaku to see how he was taking his wife's suggestion, his surprise growing when her saw a thoughtful look on the man's face.

"Uzumaki is one of the most talented kunoichis since Tsunade." The Uchiha head mused. "And being from another village, her technique is very unique to Konoha. I see no problem with this." The Hokage could hardly believe that the couple was so willing to hand their son over to a kunoichi who was widely considered a dangerous madwoman in the eyes of the village.

Coming out of his shock, Sarutobi began to seriously consider the suggestion himself. While it was true that Kushina was... unusual and while she was rather prone to violence whenever her short temper was provoked, she was still a kind woman and, more importantly, a very talented shinobi. And on top of that, Sarutobi knew that the friendly and hyperactive redhead would not allow any genin under her tutelage to have anti-social tendencies, even if he was the only one she had to put up with. Maybe this was a smart choice after all...

"Very well then." He said, smiling wearily at the Uchihas. "I will talk to Kushina about taking Itachi as her student. I can't guarantee anything, since this is Kushina we're talking about, but I'll give it my best shot."

"Thank you, Hokage-sama." Mikoto said, as she as her husband stood, bowing before following Fugaku out of Sarutobi's office.

This is going to be difficult... The Sandaime thought with a sigh, wondering how on earth he'd get the stubborn redhead to even consider his proposal.

"Hokage-sama?"

Looking up, Sarutobi realized that Mikoto was still standing at the door to his office, a knowing smile tugging at her lips.

"I already told Kushina-chan and Minato-kun to be here in about half an hour earlier today, since I had a feeling you'd want to talk to her about something she wouldn't want to hear and Minato-kun has a talent for making Kushina-chan listen even when she doesn't want to. I hope that wasn't too presumptuous of me." Mikoto winked playfully at the now stunned Hokage then laughed silently to herself as she left, closing the doors behind her. The soft 'click' knocked Sarutobi out of his stupor and sent him into a convulsion of laugher as he realized that Mikoto had planned this entire meeting from the beginning, and made sure that her choice was the one picked in the end.

Next time he saw Jiraiya, he'd have to ask the man how he taught all of his students to be so devious when they set their minds to it.


"YOU WANT ME TO WHAAAAT?!"

Sarutobi flinched as the kunoichi's shriek resonated in his skull, promising to give him one nasty headache later that evening.

"You volunteered me to baby-sit some snot-nosed genin brat without even asking me first?!" Kushina snarled, completely unsympathetic to the elderly man's pain. "When I get my hands on you... Lemme go, you jerk!" This last part was directed not at the Sandaime, but rather the poor blonde who was restraining his friend from attempting to murder the Hokage, a crime Minato knew was frowned upon in Konoha. Fed up with his interference, Kushina elbowed the man in the gut to force him to relinquish his hold on her. She got her wish as Minato released her to protect his stomach from further abuse.

And to think, he was only trying to keep her from being treated as a criminal. That's gratitude for you...

"I am NOT teaching any kids, old man!" Kushina snapped at Sarutobi, ignoring her friend's pain. "There's no way you can just make me take on a student!"

"I don't see why you find this situation so distasteful, Kushina." Sarutobi sighed. "Most jonin I know would jump at the chance to teach such a talented youth."

"Then give the brat to one of them!" Kushina shouted, gesturing furiously with her arms and forcing Minato to sidestep to avoid being smacked in the face. "You know I've always hated those stuck up shinobi geniuses! Why on earth would I want to teach one if I can't even stand the sight of 'em?!"

"Minato was always hailed as a genius, and you get along well enough with him." Sarutobi reminded the kunoichi, watching in amusement as the two turned a soft hue of red.

"That's different." Kushina insisted haughtily. "Minato doesn't act like a steel pole's been permanently lodged in his ass." Sarutobi restrained himself from laughing as the blonde turned the same shade of red as Kushina's hair at that one.

"What about Kakashi? You two are very close, Kushina, don't pretend you're not."

"Doesn't mean that there aren't times I want to wring his little neck." Kushina huffed. "The only reason I haven't yet is because I don't have to be around the kid 24/7. You put a brat like that under my care and he'll be dead in a week!"

"Mikoto and Fugaku were both very insistent about wanting you to be Itachi's sensei, Kushina." Sarutobi sighed. "You are one of the few people in this village who's talented enough that even Fugaku will acknowledge your strength."

"That's just because I can beat him in a fight." Kushina scoffed. "He has to say I'm strong, or it'll make him look weak! And I'm not gonna teach his kid just because he doesn't wanna lose face!" Wincing, Sarutobi shot Minato a pleading look, hoping the blonde could help him draw Kushina out of her violent temper tantrum to listen to reason. Minato seemed to understand the look, and gave the Sandaime a reassuring smile.

"Kushina-san's right, Hokage-sama." Minato spoke up, surprising both Kushina and Sarutobi.

How on earth does agreeing with her help me convince her to teach Itachi? He wondered with a frown.

"I am?" Kushina said, raising a suspicious eyebrow at the man, who nodded sagely in return.

"Of course." He agreed. "I mean, I've told you time and again that training my squad was one of the most difficult missions I've ever been given, and you just said yourself that you aren't suited for that, even if it's only one student instead of three." Kushina stiffened at that, narrowing her eyes at Minato.

"Are you saying I can't teach one stinking kid?!" She demanded, scowling at her friend.

"I'd never say that, Kushina-san." Minato insisted. "But I have to admit that I'm surprised you'd turn down such a difficult mission. The only reason I could see for you to do such a thing is if you felt you weren't qualified for the job." Sarutobi finally caught on to Minato's scheme at that comment.

"Ah, I see where you're coming from, Minato." Sarutobi hummed, struggling to keep a straight face. "Yes, I suppose this is a rather difficult task. I suppose I am asking a bit much of you, Kushina."

"Hey, I could teach any kid I want to, okay!" Kushina snarled. "I could teach ten kids if I wanted!"

"I don't know about that, Kushina-san." Minato frowned at the woman. "After all, Mikoto-chan's son sounds like he could be even more difficult then all three of my students put together, and if I couldn't teach him..."

"Don't sell me short, you jerk!" Kushina snapped, advancing on Minato to stab at his chest with her finger. "Just you watch, I'll teach that kid to be the best shinobi Kohona's ever seen!"

"Excellent!" Sarutobi broke in, startling Kushina as he shoved Itachi's files into her arms. "Here's all the information you need about Itachi, you'll be meeting him tomorrow afternoon, some time after lunch. Please have a test prepared for him beforehand."

"Wha...?" Kushina blinked at the scrolls in her arms dumbly for a moment before her eyes widened in realization before narrowing furiously on Minato. "Bastard! You tricked me!"

"I prefer to think that I convinced you to try something new." Minato said brightly even as he moved out of the redhead's reach.

"No way!" Kushina scowled. "This isn't fair! You can't actually expect me to-?!"

"Of course we do, Kushina." Sarutobi cut her off, watching in amusement as the kunoichi pondered which of Minato's bones she'd break first. "After all, you've told us on several occasions that you always keep to your promises, and you just swore to turn Itachi into the best shinobi Konoha's ever seen, so unless you want to go back on your word..." Trapped by her own stubborn nature, Kushina's shoulders fell in anguish.

"Fine." She moaned. "I'll do it. But you!" Pointing an accusing finger at Minato, Kushina smiled evilly, making the mighty Yellow Flash back away in fear. "You owe me dinner, Namikaze Minato. For the rest of the week! That's the only way I'll forgive you for using such an underhanded technique to get me to agree to this stupidity!"

"Fair enough." Minato chuckled nervously, trapped between the angry redhead and a wall. "Ichiraku's?"

"As much as I can eat, and you're paying." Kushina growled out, turning on her heel to stalk out of the office. Sarutobi chuckled as he watched her go.

"Thank you for your assistance, Minato." He said, watching as the blonde smiled ruefully in the direction Kushina had disappeared in. "I never would have believed you were capable of using such deception on a friend, Minato."

"It was no problem, Hokage-sama." Minato said respectfully, before giving a guilty flinch and rubbing the back of his head. "And I normally wouldn't deceive a friend, but I felt that Kushina-san will make an excellent instructor, and having a student will do her a lot of good. Besides, I doubt she's as mad as she wants us to believe she is."

"True, but she'll still make your life difficult for a while for this." the Hokage reminded the man with a chuckle. "Ah, but at least you got a date out of the affair, hmm?" Sarutobi smiled knowingly at Minato as the man blushed violently.

"Ah, I doubt that's what Kushina-san meant about me owning her dinner, Hokage-sama!" Minato protested hastily. "She just doesn't think about how things sound to others before she words her comments!"

"Oh?" Sarutobi said, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, Kushina-san always makes comments like that, but her innocent and honest nature keep her from understanding that other people tend to misinterpret her words. I've always found it charming, really." Minato explained, sounding as close to babbling as Sarutobi had ever hear the man come. It took everything the old man had not to laugh outright.

"Does that mean that you'd prefer it if Kushina asked you outright to court her?" The old man questioned. "Or would you rather be the one to ask her."

Really, kids today are just too much fun. The Sandaime thought as Minato's face came dangerously close to exploding from embarrassment.

"It's not like that, Hokage-sama, really!" Minato protested weakly. "Kushina-san is a dear friend of mine, but nothing more."

"If you say so, Minato." Sarutobi chuckled. "Though if by some chance your feelings for Kushina do develop into something deeper then friendship, then I suggest you tell her straight away. Otherwise another man might get her first..."

"I'll keep that in mind, Hokage-sama." Minato said, hastily bowing before leaving the old man's office with a good portion of his dignity missing. Really, you think people would realize by now that he and Kushina were just friends!

When he thought about it, though, Minato supposed he really should have been used to comments about his relationship with the redhead by now. After all, he'd been hearing them ever since the two had first met as genin, no thanks to the big mouth of a certain perverted Toad Sanin who had spent the week after he'd met Kushina insisting that Minato had found a crazy tomboy girlfriend.

Of course, the blonde probably would've been far more angry with him if Kushina hadn't gotten to the man first, doing such a good job of shutting the pervert up with her fists that even Tsunade was impressed. Jiraiya, on the other hand, had spent the next three days pouting and moaning about how it was 'always the violent ones, wasn't it?' before he was back to his old tricks and teasing his student worse then ever.

A hand smacked Minato out of his memories before he could contemplate them any further, startling him back to reality. Turning, Minato found himself faced with a rather annoyed looking Kushina.

"Oi! What are you thinking, standing around with that dumb look on your face?" She demanded, throwing an arm around his shoulder. "Your fanclub'll drag you away to have their way with you if they ever caught you out in public looking so spacey, you know."

"I doubt I'll ever have to worry about that when you're around, Kushina-san." Minato chuckled as her removed Kushina's arm. "Most of them seem to be afraid of you." And rightfully so. Kushina was almost frighteningly overprotective of her friends, Minato especially, and the blonde had a feeling that she'd take sadistic pleasure in tormenting anyone she felt might hurt anyone she cared about.

Besides, the giggling and general twittering of Minato's female admirers always seemed to drive Kushina insane...

"Whatever." Kushina scoffed before grabbing Minato's hand and dragging him down the street. "Come on. You promised me dinner, remember?" Momentarily, Minato wondered if he should remind Kushina that she had actually been the one who forced him to treat her, before deciding that he valued his life far too much to chance Kushina's reaction to that reminder.

As the Uzu nin continued to haul one of Kohona's most talented shinobi's through the streets of the village, Minato took notice of all the people giving them curious glances as they past and blushed, conspicuously trying to free his hand of Kushina's grasp.

"You're not getting away that easily, you creep!" Kushina said, shooting Minato a withering glare over her shoulder. "You owe me at least dinner for what you're putting me through, and you know it! Besides, I still don't get this whole test thing, anyways..."

"Uzu didn't have a graduation test?" Minato asked, frowning at the redhead curiously.

"Of course we did!" Kushina said, sounding insulted on her former village's behalf. "You don't think we'd send kids out into battle without knowing if they were ready, do you? We just didn't have all the complicated crap that Konoha does."

"Oh?" Minato questioned, his curiosity growing. He paused a moment to nod at Teuchi, Ichiraku's owner, as he and Kushina took their favorite table, receiving a nod in return before the man busied himself with the pair's usual orders.

"In Uzu, potential genins are blindfolded and taken into separate sections deep in the heart a complicated system of caves near the village that are usually off-limits due to how dangerous they are." Kushina explained to the man across from her. "They're given a time limit of three hours to get out of the cave alive using every ninja skill at their disposal, as the chunins in charge of the school use their skills to confuse the students and give them obstacles to overcome. If you make it out in time, then you pass, if not it's back to the academy."

"And after that?" Minato asked.

"After that, graduates were broken off into teams and sent on their way with their instructors." Kushina shrugged. "I've never heard of any village doing this second test thing before..."

"The second test is merely a chance for the jonin instructor of a squad to measure his students' abilities and drive home important point of being a true shinobi." Minato explained with a chuckle. "It's also a way to help focus on students more independently. If the jonin decides after administering the test that a student is not qualified to be a ninja, the student in question will be sent back to the academy for more training." Kushina frowned at that.

"Sounds complicated." She complained. "Aren't Konoha nins straightforward about anything?"

"Not all shinobi can afford to be like you, Kushina-san." blinking in union, Kushina and Minato turned to find a twelve year old boy standing a few feet away, arms crossed and eyes indifferent.

"Kakashi." Minato said warmly, waving to Teuchi to bring another bowl, and receiving another nod in return. "It's nice to see you up and about... how's your arm?"

"Fine." Kakashi said as he took a seat at their table. "Rin healed it up enough that a good night's sleep fixed the rest of the damage."

"Girl's got talent." Kushina said with a little half smile before glaring at Kakashi. "And hasn't anyone told you that it's rude to eavesdrop, brat?"

"Information gathering is one of the most valuable skills a shinobi can possess." Kakashi reminded the woman, smirking under his mask as her scowl deepened. "Why are you two talking about graduation tests, anyways?"

"Kushina-san's been given a student." Minato explained in a bemused tone even as the redhead in question shot him a warning glare.

"You've been put in charge of a genin?" Kakashi said, raising an eyebrow at Kushina. "The person in charge of assigning teams must have lost his mind."

"Real cute, brat." Kushina growled, smacking Kakashi upside the head with one of Itachi's files. "Haven't you taught this kid to respect his elders, Minato?!"

"I have, but lessons don't tend to stick as well as they should with Kakashi." Minato chuckled, prompting his student to give him a rather nasty look in return.

"Well, I doubt anything I teach this kid'll go over any better." Kushina grumbled as she flipped through Itachi's papers. "Look at these stats! This kid's almost as perfect as you two!"

...Idly, Kakashi thought that only Kushina could ever make that sound like an insult.

"I'm sure you'll do fine, Kushina-san." Minato reassured the redhead. "After all, your wonderful with kids."

"Flattery ain't gonna get you out of having to pay me back, Minato." Kushina told him, never looking up from Itachi's papers even as their food was set in front of them. How on earth old was the kid when he entered the academy if he graduated at seven, anyways...? "You're paying for all of my meals for the rest of the month!"

Minato responded by promptly spitting out the bite of miso ramen he'd just taken.

"ALL your meals for a MONTH?!" He repeated, mortified. "I thought I was just supposed to give you dinner for a week!"

"That was before I took a look at this kid's files." Kushina said, shooting the man a pointed look. "You got me into this, you jerk, so you owe me at least that much for the headache this kid's gonna give me." And with that, Kushina began to pile the pages off to the side so she could eat, leaving Minato to mourn the affect this would have on his bank account as his silver-haired student laughed silently beside him.

"Do you have any plans yet for the boy's test, Kushina-san?" Kakashi asked after he got his laugher under control. Kushina frowned thoughtfully at the question.

"Dunno." She said as she slurped up some of her beef ramen. "I guess I'll figure it out after I meet the kid."

"The bell test is probably out of the question, since you only have one student..." Minato nodded as he pondered with the redhead. Kushina's eyebrow kicked up a notch at that.

"...Bell test?"

"The test sensei gave our squad." Kakashi explained, sounding faintly annoyed. "It's supposed to teach us teamwork."

"Which is difficult to do without a team." Minato finished wryly.

"Point." Kushina chuckled as she finished up her ramen, "Don't worry. I'll think of something. In the meantime, though, It's time to cash in on my free meal ticket! Teuchi-san! Another bowl of beef ramen over here!" Minato flinched as Kushina hailed the cook, forcing his student to smother his laugher yet again.

"You realize that Kushina-san's going to have you bankrupt before the month is out, right Minato-sensei?" Kakashi asked in a sadistically amused tone, causing Minato to grumble bitterly to himself.

Evil little brat...


What on earth is otou-san thinking?

For as long as Itachi pondered this question, he'd yet to come up with an answer that satisfied him. After all, it was difficult for the child to see any benefits of having some washed up refugee who allowed her village to be destroyed as his sensei. Indeed, he hardly saw a need to associate with such trash at all, even if she was a friend of his mother's.

As annoyed as the boy was, though, he refused to show it to his peers. Indeed, even as he wracked his brain to figure a way out of his situation that didn't involve being sent back to the academy for another year, he still appeared to be the ever superior Uchiha to anyone who might chance a glance in his direction. Not that many did, though. Itachi was generally avoided by the other students, who found him too intimidating for their tastes.

It's not my fault they're weak. Itachi mentally scoffed as the girl in front of him giggled at something her friend said, annoying the boy even more. How such simple-minded idiots expected to become decent ninjas baffled the boy, given the strict rules and schedules he'd grown up on since birth.

But then, all Uchihas were expected to make something of themselves. After all, they were Uchihas, a clan in a different class then the rest of Konoha, with a reputation known around the world. The Uchiha clan was what put Konoha on the map, and what kept it one of the super powers of the shinobi world.

Still, even as far as Uchihas went, Itachi knew he was special. After all, he'd always had a talent for learning things that surpassed not only the other children his age, but even members of his clan twice as old as he was. Practically from infancy, the rest of the clan had been praising Itachi as the future of the family, the one who would take the Uchiha clan to the next level of greatness.

But he could hardly do that with some talent-less fool as his teacher...

As if sensing the Uchiha's thoughts, the door to the classroom slid open, and the figure who stepped into the room momentarily silenced the freshly graduated genin before the room buzzed to life with conversation again.

Itachi knew just by looking at her that it was the kunoichi who was currently plaguing his thoughts, though the two had never formally been introduced. After all, if her long, fiery red hair (Far longer then a ninja's hair should be, especially if it wasn't tied back, Itachi thought reproachfully) innocently beautiful features (Far more expressive then most ninjas he knew. She was practically an open book) didn't give away her identity, the Uzu hitai-ate tied as a belt around her waist did.

After all, Uzumaki Kushina was the only active ninja in Konoha who refused to wear a leaf headband.

"Uwaaa!" The girl in front of Itachi whispered loudly to her friend as this new nin walked over to the chunin who had been assigning teams. "She's so pretty!"

"Un!" The other girl nodded vigorously. "Her hair is so long and silky looking! Is she really one of the jonin senseis?"

"Uzumaki-san!" The chunin at the front of the classroom said, looking mildly surprised. "What on earth brings you here?"

"Your meddling Hokage and a blonde conman." The redhead responded dryly, rolling her eyes. "I've been asked to take a student, Umino."

"You have?" the chunin asked, alarmed. "But you name isn't listed here for any teams... I didn't even know you wanted a squad, Uzumaki-san."

"Call it a favor." the woman sighed as she crossed her arms. "Fugaku and Mikoto want me to train their kid." Umino paled dramatically at that, lowering the clipboard in his hands.

"...You're going to be Itachi's sensei?" He asked in a very careful tone. Silence filled the room again when, at once, almost every head in the room turned to the Uchiha boy sitting by himself near the back, eyes wide and jaws slacked.

"Don't gimme that look, this wasn't my idea." Kushina scoffed, sounding faintly annoyed. "So where is this kid, anyways?" Irritated, Itachi stood, drawing the redhead's attention to himself.

"'This kid' is right here." Itachi said as he walked to the front of the room. "I suppose you must be blind as well as stupid if you didn't figure that out right away." silence followed this proclamation as wide eyes turned to Kushina who had gone dangerously still at this comment before she made a gesture that at one time could send all of Uzu no Kuni running for shelter.

She smiled, a wide, dangerous smile that didn't look happy in the least. Itachi was so confused by this reaction, that he didn't have time to move as the redhead reached over and pinched his cheek. Hard. Hard enough that the Uchiha (though he'd deny it with everything he had until his death) let out a loud yelped in pain and surprise.

"Sorry, kiddo!" Kushina said loudly as she jerked the boy around by the hold she'd taken on his face. "But it's kinda hard to see someone who can barely look over his own desk, shrimp!" Letting go of the struggling genin's face, Kushina allowed him to step away from her, glowering violently all the way and resisting the urge to rub the cheek the woman had pinched. All the while, Kushina's dangerous smile never left her face.

Bitterly, Itachi wondered if he'd get a new sensei if this one somehow met a violent, painful demise.

"Y-yes... well..." Umino stammered, looking between the two as they stood off, clearly uncomfortable with the tense atmosphere caused by the arrogant youth and the hotheaded woman. "Ah, I suppose you two should leave to get better acquainted then, shouldn't you Uzumaki-san?"

"Yeah, I guess your right." Kushina said, her smile losing all of it's edge and changing into an actual, friendly gesture when she turned to face the man. "say hi to your wife and son for me Umino!" turning back to the Uchiha, the dangerous smile reappeared. "Come on, shrimp, let's go get better acquainted."

"My name is Uchiha Itachi." The boy growled out, refusing to move as the woman walked past him towards the door.

"And mine's Uzumaki Kushina, shrimp." the redhead responded, still smiling. "There, see! We're already better acquainted then we were five seconds ago! There's still a long way to go, though, so we better get moving." Itachi opened her mouth with every intention of telling the woman that he wouldn't move until she showed him the respect he deserved as an Uchiha when, without any preamble, the redhead grabbed Itachi's ponytail and pulled the startled boy out of the room.

Stunned silence filled the classroom in the wake of the pair's departure. Most of the students were still slack jawed over what they'd just seen. Umino sighed to himself as he tried to regain his composure, wondering what on earth the Hokage was thinking when he assigned Kushina to be Itachi's teacher.

With the way things are going right now, you have to wonder if Itachi will survive Uzumaki-san's instructions... The man thought dryly to himself. Still, he was hoping the boy would pull through, even with Kushina's unpredictable nature.

After all, he didn't think he could survive another year with the Uchiha boy.

"Good luck, Uzumaki-san." Umino murmured silently as the classroom buzzed to life recounting what they'd just seen. "You're going to need it."

Out in the hallway, Kushina sneezed loudly.

What a time for someone to be talking about me. Kushina thought dryly, rolling her eyes as she continued to haul the youth she was supposed to be teaching around by his hair. Normally, she'd consider this action to be a little too mean, but the boy had seriously ticked her off in the classroom back there, so she saw no reason why she should make the brat suffer a little.

Just a little, though. Really.

"Let me go!" Itachi snapped, trying to free himself from the older woman without potentially going bald. Apparently, his indignance had finally won out over his shock...

"Nope!" Kushina said, flashing the boy her trademark crocodile smile. (Hey, if the Uchihas could trademark a glare, then why not?) "We need to get better acquainted, remember?"

"No, what we need to do is figure a way out of this." Itachi growled, finally working himself free of Kushina's grasp. "You don't want to teach me and I don't want you as a teacher. If we can find a suitable replacement for you, then we'll never have to see each other again. That shouldn't be a difficult task either, since anyone else in the village would be a suitable replacement for you." Thus stated, the Uchiha boy's head promptly met Kushina's fist.

"Look, as much as I'd love to leave a spoiled brat like you in someone else's hands, I made a promise to teach you kid, and I don't break promises!" Kushina said with a scowl. "So suck it up and follow me!" Itachi narrowed his eyes at the kunoichi, but before he could do anything else, she grabbed him by the back of his shirt and started pulling him out the academy.

What is it with this woman and dragging people around? Itachi thought bitterly, struggling to free himself yet again. Unfortunately, Kushina's grip was surprisingly strong for a woman, and Itachi was only freed when Kushina herself deposited him into a seat at a nearby restaurant, taking the opposing seat for herself.

"Oi! Gokuraku!" She yelled to the nearest waiter. "Gimme a special with a side of miso and an order of chicken for the kid! And sake! I'm gonna need it after this..."

"Coming right up, Kushina-san!" The man said, heading for the kitchens. Straightening up in his chair, Itachi scowled at Kushina, who looked undisturbed as she tossed the menus on the table over her shoulder without a care of where they'd land.

"So kid." Kushina said, perching forward on her elbows and resting her chin in her hands. "I guess this is the part where you tell me your likes, dislikes and dreams and all that crap, huh?" Itachi raised a disdainful eyebrow at Kushina, who shrugged in return. "Hey, I'm just following standard procedure here, kid, no need to tell me that it's stupid."

"If you know it's stupid, why ask?" Itachi asked curtly.

"It's my obligation as your sensei." Kushina replied.

"You're not my sensei." Itachi sniffed, narrowing his eyes at the woman again.

"Whatever you say, kid. So spill." Annoyed, Itachi looked away from the redhead and said nothing, making the woman roll her eyes. "And here your files said you were mature beyond your years..." Gritting his teeth, Itachi finally relented.

"I don't have anything I like." He snapped. "But I dislike annoying, stupid and useless people. My dream is to someday surpass every member of my clan that came before me. Happy now?"

"Not especially." Kushina shrugged. "Now you sound even more boring then before..." eyebrow twitching, Itachi wondered yet again what his father had been thinking when he requested this woman as his teacher.

"And I suppose you could do better?" Itachi demanded curtly.

"Yep!" Kushina beamed. "My likes are good food, training, exciting missions, traveling, my friends and the color red. My dislikes are stuck up people, boring meetings and unfair rules, as well as dumb blonde jerks who trick me into doing something I don't want to do, and my dream is to keep the Uzumaki name alive and on everybody's lips." Itachi frowned, wondering momentarily about the comment on the blonde before deciding that he didn't care enough to ask.

"And exactly how do you plan to keep the Uzumaki name alive?" Itachi scoffed. Kushina gave the boy a mysterious smile at that.

"I already am." She said, grinning up at the waiter when their food arrived. Itachi frowned at the woman in confusion as a plate of chicken was set in front of him, but didn't get the chance to ask her to clarify her answer further as the redhead attacked her food with chopsticks. "well, what are you waiting for? Dig in or it'll get cold! I promise it's good even by the delicate standards of Uchiha, Mikoto and I eat here all the time."

"How do you know my mother?" Itachi asked, crossing his arms and not touching his food.

"We met as genin, through a teammate of hers." Kushina explained between bites. "I broke his nose in an argument when my team was sent here on a diplomatic mission, and my sensei made me into his personal helper monkey as punishment, so we met through him and hit it off right away. She was a good ninja back then, too. Shame she had to go and retire like that..."Itachi frowned, still not understanding why his mother would voluntarily spend time with such an annoying woman.

"What about my father?" Itachi demanded.

"We met through your mother when I moved here after everything with Uzu." Kushina shrugged before smiling rather evilly. "He was against my appointment to the Konoha active nin roster when we originally met. I changed his mind."

"How?" Itachi asked doubtfully.

"Oh, why don't you ask him about that, hmm?" Kushina said brightly, before turning back to her meal. "Now then, about your test..."

"I told you you're not my sensei." Itachi reminded her sourly. "I won't take your test."

"Then you'd rather spend another year at that Academy? Because if so, I couldn't care less."

"No!" Itachi narrowed his eyes. "Find me another teacher."

"Sorry, kid, can't do that." Kushina shrugged. "I promised and all, remember? So it's either me or the academy, brat." Itachi scowled at Kushina, who sighed. "This is getting us nowhere... Look, how about this; You meet me at ten tonight at the eastern training grounds for my test. If you fail, It's back to the academy. If you pass, we'll ask for a new teacher for you. Deal?"

"What happened to keeping your promise?" Itachi asked suspiciously. Kushina shrugged in return.

"I'm not really expecting you to pass, to be honest, but if you do I have no problems telling the old man to find you another teacher." She said, as she slurped up her miso, having finished her meal.

"You really think you can give me a test I can't pass?" Itachi demanded, scowling at the redhead.

"Actually... yeah." Kushina smirked, deepening Itachi's indignance. "So? Do we have a deal kid or not?" Itachi narrowed his eyes, suspicious of why the woman would give up so easily.

Still. He thought to himself. I doubt anything this fool could throw at me would be too difficult to overcome... And if it means I can have a different sensei...

"Deal." He said briskly, standing up. "I'll see you at ten." For the last time...

"See you then!" Kushina said brightly, frowning in annoyance when she saw that Itachi hadn't touched his food before she shrugged and pulled it closer to chow down. "Ah, well. No use letting good food go to waste!"

And speaking of food, next time I see Minato I've got to tell him he owes me my meals for a year for this one... Kushina thought evilly as she began to eat.

After all, nothing was sweeter then the taste of victory...


"Are you sure about this, Kushina-san?" Minato said with a frown. "Your test sounds a little too difficult for a kid like this... I mean, he's only just graduated, right?"

"Hey, he's the one who wants a new teacher." Kushina shrugged. "Maybe the next one will go easier on him, eh?" Minato's frown deepened before he sighed.

It had been a few hours since Kushina and Itachi had parted ways, and it didn't take the woman long to fill her blonde friend and his squad in on the details of her and Itachi's meeting (Which had Obito howling with laugher at the thought of his cousin being hauled around by his ponytail) as well as her plans for Itachi's test.

"I still can't believe you're Itachi-sama's sensei, Kushina-neechan." Obito said, leaning back in his chair. Kakashi raised an eyebrow at him.

"'Itachi-sama?'" he repeated. "Isn't this kid younger then you?" Obito's face flushed with color at that.

"Oi! That 'kid' is the son of the head of the family! I have to show him respect, okay?!" Obito said angrily. Kakashi scoffed.

"Sounds like a stupid reason to kiss up to a seven year old." He said, making Obito turn purple.

"As much as I hate to say it, Kakashi's right." Kushina said, frowning in annoyance. "That brat's been spoiled rotten by overindulgence. Being brought down a peg or two oughta be good for him."

"Says the girl who grew up being waited on hand and foot." Minato reminded his friend.

"Hey, I never let it go to my head, okay?!" Kushina scowled. "If I had wanted that kinda life, do you really think I would've disobeyed my father and become a ninja?"

"True." Minato chuckled softly.

"What are you gonna do if Itachi passes your test, Nee-chan?" Rin asked curiously.

"I don't see how he could." Kushina said, shrugging. "But if he does, I'll keep my end of the bargain."

"Personally, I think it'll be interesting if he does pass." Minato said, smiling at the woman. "Fugaku won't be happy if he fails, though."

"It's his fault for spoiling the kid." Kushina scoffed. "That brat needs to learn he's not as great as he thinks he is."

"Good luck with trying to show him that." Obito said, making a face. "Itachi-sama's been the best at everything since he was born. People don't kid around when they say he's a genius."

"Maybe, but I have something geniuses don't." Kushina said with a triumphant grin.

"A learning disorder?" Kakashi suggested, ducking away before Kushina's fist could make contact. Minato cleared his throat to keep the scuffle from going on any further.

"When are you going to meet this kid, anyways?" He asked, glancing at a nearby clock.

"At ten." Kushina said, stretching. "I was just about to leave and get a little training done before he came."

"I see..." Minato sighed, sounding exasperated. "Any way I can convince you not to go through with this?"

"Nope!" Kushina said brightly, beaming at the man as she stood and gave a cheeky wave. "Catch you later, guys!"

"Bye, nee-chan!" Rin said as Kushina left. The boys were too busy bickering over something to respond, and Minato just gave her a wary smile before turning his attention to them to keep a fight from breaking out.

Shaking her head, Kushina strolled leisurely down the street of Konoha, which were almost barren in the darkness of the night. She took a path where homes and businesses tapered away into wilderness, relaxing more as she got further and further away from the village.

As much as Kushina loved the company of others, she only felt truly at home was when she was away from civilization, training or exploring foreign lands. That was probably the reason she accepted so many long missions, both when she was in Uzu and after she'd settled in Konoha. Though she had kinda tapered off from that recently, since she noticed she'd begun to miss Konoha more and more when she was away from it. Especially Minato and his squad, they'd become like a second family to her.

Before Kushina could muse this over any further, another presence on the training grounds caught her attention, making her frown. Was someone else there that late? Usually, she had the training grounds all to herself after dark. Sighing, Kushina approached the figure to tell him to clear off for her 'student's' test, but when she noticed exactly who it was on the training grounds, Kushina blinked in surprise before smirking, bemused.

"Well well well, look who's early..." Kushina cooed, leaning against a tree as she raised an eyebrow at Itachi, who glowered back at her. "You do realize your test isn't going to begin for another half hour, right kid?"

"I want to get this over with as soon as possible." Itachi snapped. Kushina shrugged.

"Suit yourself. An early start's not gonna help you, though."

"Hn." Itachi scoffed. "What's this test of yours, anyways?" Kushina grinned in response.

"The test is simple enough to understand, brat. When I say go, you attack me with everything you've got. You've got until dawn to try and land a hit, using every dirty trick in your little Uchiha arsenal. However, if I manage to hit you ten times before dawn, or if you haven't landed a single punch by the time the sun rises, it's game over."

"That's all I have to do? Hit you and I pass?" Itachi scoffed. "You've made this too easy..."

"Yeah, what can I say, I'm a softie at heart." Kushina scoffed, untying her headband from around her waist. Itachi narrowed his eyes at her, tensing.

"What are you doing?" He demanded.

"Giving you a little edge." The kunoichi said sweetly as she retied the headband over her eyes.

"You're going to try and fight me blindfolded?" Itachi asked incredulously.

"More or less." Kushina shrugged carelessly. "I don't need my eyes to fight you, though, so it's not much of an advantage for you." Itachi scowled at the woman, seething at being taken so lightly.

"You're going to regret acting so foolishly." Itachi promised the woman darkly. Kushina smiled.

"We'll see about that..." She said, a breeze fluttering past her and playing with her hair. "Just try and impress me, kid. Go!"

Jumping back, Itachi landed on a nearby tree branch, narrowing his eyes at his opponent. Kushina stood motionless in the middle of the clearing, completely relaxed and off guard.

Really, she's making this way too easy. Itachi thought scornfully, reaching for his kunai. Jumping to another tree branch, the boy threw it at the woman from her blind spot (though technically, everywhere was her blind spot now that she'd blindfolded herself)

In a motion almost too fast for the boy to see, Kushina caught the kunai out of mid air, turning to face Itachi with a smirk.

"Wha-?" Before the question could even fall from the boy's lips, Kushina was gone. Cursing himself, Itachi immediately jumped from branch to branch, making as little noise as humanly possible as he did. When he finally felt he was a safe distance from the clearing, the boy stopped, quickly scanning his surrounding for the telltale flash of red hair. As he searched, movement to his right and above him caught his attention, making him wheel around and dive away at the same time. On his way to the ground, a flash of metal passed him, quickly followed by a stinging sensation in his cheek.

Too late. Itachi thought grimly, looking up and drawing his weapon as he wiped away the blood on his cheek with his free hand. His eyes widened when he finally saw the redhead, apparently adhered to a tree trunk and defying the very laws of gravity.

"One." Kushina said, jumping off of the tree trunk and flipping forward to land gracefully on the ground a few feet away from Itachi. "Maybe now you have some idea of what you're dealing with, kid." Narrowing his eyes, Itachi jumped forward to launch a barrage of attacks on Kushina. left hook, right kick, uppercut, jab, right cross, high kick, sweep... every move blocked or dodged flawlessly by the blindfolded woman.

Instantaneously, Kushina switched from defense to offence, twisting around to attack the boy with her elbow so quickly, that he almost didn't catch it. Itachi jumped back to avoid the attack, but wasn't quite quick enough. Kushina's elbow hit Itachi dead on in the stomach, and the force of the blow sent him falling backwards. Cringing, Itachi rolled to straighten himself, watching Kushina tensely as she straightened up.

"Sorry, brat." Kushina called out to the boy. "But you gotta wake up earlier then that to keep us with someone who spars regularly with Konoha's Yellow Flash. That's two, by the way."

"Hmph!" Itachi said, keeping wary eyes on the woman as he fell into a defensive stance.

She's a lot better then I thought... Itachi mused to himself, pushing back a strand of hair the wind had blown in his face and studying the woman. How on earth can she tell where I am and what's around her, anyways? Is it some kind of jutsu? Scowling, the boy made a motion with his hands, creating two doppelgangers and then splitting up, having them surround the redhead. Whatever her jutsu was, he'd find out how it worked and discover the weakness. She'll fall soon enough after that.

Reaching for his shuriken, Itachi tossed three in Kushina's direction, eyes narrowing when the redhead dodged them all.

"You know, using the same trick over and over again-!" Before Kushina could finish, one of Itachi's clones attacked with a kick to the woman's head, which she rolled away to dodge. The second clone then jumped in from Kushina's side, slashing at the redhead with a kunai until Kushina grabbed him by the wrist and disarmed him, throwing him at the other clone so both disappeared.

Twisting around, Kushina then blocked Itachi's kunai with the one she'd just taken from his clone. The Uchiha scowled at the woman in frustration, earning a smirk in reply.

"You're better then I thought you were kid..." She admitted with a chuckle as she pushed him back and falling into a relaxed stance. "Guess you did earn that reputation of yours after all." Itachi raised an eyebrow at the compliment before smirking.

"I haven't even started yet." He told her, already forming familiar signs with his hands. Upon finishing the hand signs, the boy took a deep breath, Kushina's startled gasp reaching his ears just before he let loose his flame.

Through the flames, Itachi saw the woman jump back, apparently trying to escape the inferno. Unfortunately for her, though, their earlier fight had put her in a poor position for escaping, trapped between the fire and a rock wall with only a shallow creek that only reached halfway to the woman's knees, nothing that could help the kunoichi in her current situation.

...Or at least, that's what Itachi thought until a wall of water rose from the creek, blocking his flames with an angry hiss that filled the clearing with steam. When Itachi's fire died away, the water fell back into the creek and Kushina steeped back into the clearing, moisture clinging to her hair, skin and clothes but otherwise no worse for the wear.

"You realize I'm gonna kill you if these clothes shrink, right kid?" Kushina grumbles as she blatted with her wet hair. Itachi blinked, surprised in spite of himself. After all, that water wall trick had been kinda cool...

"You're not as pathetic as I thought you'd be." He stated bluntly, earning a snort from the woman.

"High praise from an Uchiha." Kushina said drolly, giving Itachi every impression that she was rolling her eyes underneath her headband.

Itachi didn't even try to stop his grin at that statement.

"How can you see with your eyes covered?" Itachi asked, genuinely curious as he circled the woman, looking for an opening.

"It's a trick I taught myself in Uzu." Kushina said, shrugging, surprising Itachi. After all, he hadn't really been expecting an answer... "Visibility sucks there most of the time because the weather's always so bad, so I had to come up with something so I could fight even when I couldn't see. Turned out to be a neat trick to use when fighting a sharigan, too..."

"You've fought a sharigan user before?" Itachi asked, before silently diving to the side to attack from another angle. Kushina blocked him, knocking him away with a kick as she did so.

"Yep, Fugaku as a matter of fact. Oh, and that was the third hit."

"You beat otou-san?" Itachi asked, slightly skeptical. After all, even if this woman was better then he originally gave her credit for, his father wasn't the head of the Uchiha clan for nothing.

"Yeah, it's part of that whole story I told you earlier about him opposing me being on the jonin roster. It was kinda a nasty back and forward fight between the two of us for a while before he asked me to prove whether of not I was good enough to even be a ninja. I kicked his butt and everyone pretty much lived happily ever after when everything was said and done." Itachi stared at the woman as she continued to chatter on about his mother and meeting someone named Kakashi, who was apparently on the same team as one of his cousins and a girl he knew nothing about.

Somehow, it was difficult for him to believe his father would really be all that happy about losing to such a bizarre, talkative woman as the one in front of him...

Still, at least now he was beginning to understand why his father wanted him to train under her. After all, if Kushina had truly developed a technique that could overcome the sharigan, training under her would force him to find and fix the weaknesses in the kekkei genkai when his eventually awakened, making the eyes of the Uchiha clan that much stronger.

I wonder if she even realizes that's why my father wanted her as my sensei? Itachi wondered, studying the woman as she complained about Konoha cuisine and the way that some of the wait staffs were so rude, completely unaware that Itachi was tuning her out. ...Probably not.

"How does this trick of yours work?" Itachi interrupted the redhead, earning a feral grin in reply.

"You don't really think I'm gonna make it that easy for you, do you kid?" She teased. "I mean, isn't it enough that I'm blindfolded in the first place?" Itachi shrugged.

"Worth a shot..." He said jumping into the air and throwing shurikens at the woman, who parried them with the kunai that was still in her hand. When the last one was gone, Kushina threw the kunai at Itachi, who used the art of substitution to dodge. After appearing again behind the kunoichi, Itachi attempted to sweep her feet out from under her, only to have Kushina jump and pivot midair as he tried, kicking at Itachi and forcing him to block with his arm.

With his free hand, Itachi immediately began making the hand signs for the fireball technique, which had Kushina cursing vividly by the time he drew his breath. The kunoichi dived away, dodging the coming fire by a hair's width and disappearing from Itachi's senses.

She's hiding again... Itachi told himself, tensing and looking around carefully for any signs of movement or the flash of red hair that announced the kunoichi's presence.

He didn't look long, though, before a fist impacted hard on his head.

"Are you nuts, kid?!" Kushina demanded with a scowl. "Are you trying to burn the forest down or something? Didn't your father teach you to be more careful with jutsus like that?! Jeeze, and people call me reckless!"

"You said to use every trick!" Itachi reminded the woman, glaring at her as he rubbed where she'd hit him.

"Yeah, but think about the consequences first!" Kushina scolded the Uchiha. "We're in a forest for crying out loud! Where would we be if you'd burned down all of Konoha with that stunt?!"

"What, you can't stop a simple forest fire with that water jutsu of yours?" Itachi demanded, crossing his arms. Kushina stiffened, and Itachi just knew she was glaring death at him underneath her headband.

"Well I wouldn't have to if you'd be more careful!" Kushina said haughtily, turning her back to the boy. "Oh, and that makes hit number four."

"That doesn't count!" Itachi insisted, scowling at the woman. Kushina craned her head in his direction, and Itachi had the distinct impression that she was raising an eyebrow at him.

"Why not?" She asked. Itachi flushed slightly, not having an answer that wouldn't make him sound like a little kid whining about cheating or other nonsense like that.

"Whatever, count it for all I care, you won't make it to ten!" Itachi promised, falling into a defensive stance. Kushina smirked.

"Is that a challenge, kid?" She asked slyly.

"It's the word of an Uchiha." Itachi corrected her gravely before jumping at the woman again. As soon as she tensed to deflect his blow, Itachi feigned left before attacking the woman from the right with his fist. Kushina blocked his hand and grabbed his wrist in one move, twisting the boy around and catching him in a submissive hold. Leaning down, Kushina let her hair spill around them both like blood red rain.

"I think I'd prefer the word of Itachi." she said in a soft, knowing voice, making the child stiffen. Before he could respond, though, Kushina did some strange move with her arms that the boy'd never seen before, and Itachi's world went spinning. "That one makes five, kid. Halfway there..."

"So what?" Itachi demanded, getting shakily back to his feet. "I'm not done yet!"

"Would waiting another year really be that awful?" Kushina asked, scoffing slightly. "I can guarantee you it'd be easier then what you're trying to do right now."

"I won't give up, I can't!" Itachi snapped. "I have to get stronger!"

"Why?" Kushina asked. "You're already pretty strong, as far as seven year olds go."

"You don't understand." Itachi said softly, clenching his fists. "I feel trapped, suffocated... I know I can be a strong ninja, the strongest ever, but I'm always being held back. I can't lose this chance now that I finally have it, not for anything! I'd die before I let that happen!"

And, with that proclamation, Itachi lunged forward and attacked the redhead viciously. Startled, Kushina blocked his attacks and tried to escape the barrage, but the boy was relentless, blocking every escape attempt she made.

"Easy, kid!" Kushina shouted as she blocked the boy's attacks, "You're using up too much of your chakra! Any more and you'll have to be hospitalized!" Itachi didn't hear her, or chose to ignore her. Either way, he didn't stop, making two clones to better stop the woman from escaping.

Great, now what do I do? Kushina thought bitterly as she protected herself from the boy. Dawn was fast approaching, and Itachi was obviously getting desperate... Gah, damn Uchiha pride! The matter quickly became worse, however, when she realized that one of the Itachi clones was gearing up for another fireball, and a big one by the feel of it.

Cursing under her breath, Kushina rapidly made hand signs of her own, causing the boy and his clones to tense. Too late though, as a powerful wind attack aimed right at the original Itachi's gut sent the boy flying, his clones disappearing when he hit a tree hard enough for his world to go black...

"Crap, crap, crap, CRAP!"

"Would you please stop hovering, Nee-chan?! It makes it hard to concentrate!"

"Oh man, Mikoto's gonna kill me for this, I just know it..."

"If you know it, then why did you use such a powerful technique on him?"

"I had to try and snap him out of it! It was either that or spend the rest of my night dodging fire as the kid potentially killed himself from overusing his chakra when it's still not fully developed."

The voices were what woke Itachi up, which went silent went he groaned from the headache that was trying to crack his skull open. The first he recognized as Kushina's, but the second was new. Carefully opening his eyes, Itachi found himself with a brown eyed girl he'd never seen before peering back at him.

"Are you feeling any better now?" She asked kindly. Before Itachi could respond, the girl was replaced with the redhead he'd spent the evening fighting.

"Jeeze, kid, you just about gave me a heart attack! You're not hurt or anything now, are you? How's your head? And your stomach?"

"Nee-chan!" The new girl huffed, pushing the older woman away. "Didn't I already tell you to stop hovering?!"

Nee-chan? This girl was Kushina's sister? Sitting up, Itachi gritted his teeth against the vertigo that automatically made him want to throw up and took in his surroundings. It appeared he was in a small, shabby looking apartment, which was mostly bare of decorations, save for a framed picture next to the bed he was lying on of the brown eyed girl with an older blonde man, a bored looking silver haired kid and one of his cousins. They must be her team...

"What happened?" Itachi asked. Kushina flinched at the question, turning away from the argument she was having with the brunette.

"I kinda overdid my Hiraiken a bit, and accidentally knocked you out." She explained guiltily. "Rin-chan's house was closer then the hospital, and she's ten times as good as any medic there, so I figured I'd bring you here to make sure there wasn't any real damage." Stepping back over to the boy, Rin inspected him closer.

"Well, it doesn't look like anything's wrong..." She said. "I'd say he's fine for now, as long as you don't use that jutsu on him again, Nee-chan."

"Ugh, I get it, okay!" Kushina said in embarrassment as a giggling Rin headed towards the door.

"Whatever you say, nee-chan." The girl said brightly. "I'm going back to bed, so just remember to lock the door before you leave, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah." Kushina, blushing a bit as Rin left, closing the door behind her. When the girl was gone, the redhead looked at Itachi in honest concern. "You sure you're okay, kid? I really didn't mean to hit you that hard, you know..." Itachi said nothing, glancing out a nearby window to see the rising sun on the horizon.

It's past dawn. Itachi realized, his shoulder's sinking in defeat. Replaying the battle in his head, he found it hard to believe the redhead could be so strong, with so many amazing and powerful Justus at her disposal. But no matter what he wanted to believe, the truth had to be faced...

"I lost." the seven year old said in a toneless voice.

"Well, I figured I'd call a draw on account of injury." Kushina said, shrugging as she straddled a chair. "Like I said before, kid, I nearly died myself when you didn't get up after I hit you..."

"What was that technique you used?" Itachi asked curiously.

"Hiraiken?" Kushina clarified. "It's one of many jutsus passed through the generations of the Uzumaki clan before Uzu no Kuni fell. Our clan doesn't have blood limits or anything like that, but all of us are born with chakra levels that go through the roof, and we learn to control it from an early age so that we can perform higher level jutsus then other clans."

"So you know more strong moves like that?" Itachi asked, blinking in surprise.

"Yeah, I know all sorts of powerful jutsus." Kushina yawned. The long night was starting to catch up with her... "From Uzu, from here and from all sorts of other places I've been to. My sensei and I traveled a lot when I was a kid, so I got to see a lot of amazing sights and learned new moves everywhere we visited." Frowning, Itachi realized that this meant the redhead had been holding back on him the entire time they'd fought, right up to the end.

"People wouldn't think you were that strong, just looking at you." Itachi said honestly. Kushina grinned in response.

"Yeah, I'm used to being underestimated." She said brightly. "And I love to make people regret it after they've actually had the chance to fight me. I'm not known as one of the world's most unpredictable shinobis for nothing, you know. I earned that title through blood, sweat and tears! More from other people then myself, but that's beside the point..." Itachi chuckled softly as he turned to put his feet on the floor, but his amusement fell away when he saw the headband in the woman's hands, the one she's kept over her eyes during their entire fight.

"How did you get so strong?" Itachi asked, intent on her answer. If he trained more, tried again, maybe he still had a chance...

"Do you know where a shinobi's strength comes from Itachi?" Kushina asked, her eyes dancing with something that hadn't been there before.

"Chakra, discipline and knowledge of jutsus." Itachi recited easily, as his father had taught him.

"Nope!" Kushina said brightly before getting a far away look in her eyes. "A shinobi's strength comes from love, Itachi." The boy frowned.

"Love?" He repeated, confused. "I thought shinobi were supposed to kill all emotion when they went into battle?"

"They are." Kushina agreed. "But it doesn't change the fact that a shinobi fighting for something he loves, something he's willing to risk his life to protect, is stronger then a shinobi who fights just because it was what he was told to do. Even when you kill your emotions in battle, Itachi, you should never lose sight of why you are fighting, of the love that makes you strong." Itachi frowned, not understanding the woman's words. Kushina let out a long suffering sigh when she saw this. "Ah, well... I'm sure you'll understand what I mean one day, kid. In the meantime, we need to get you home before your father puts out a warrant for my arrest." Itachi's frowned deepened at that, for another reason entirely.

"How am I supposed to tell him that I failed?" He demanded. After all, he'd never failed anything in his life...

"Failed?" Kushina repeated, sounding surprised. "Who said you failed?" Itachi stared at the woman.

"But... I lost. I didn't hit you once, and you hit me five times."

"Six, including Hiraiken." Kushina corrected, grinning when Itachi glowered at her. "And I wasn't expecting you to actually hit me, kid, also I never said you'd fail if you didn't. All I said was that you had to try and impress me, a much harder thing to do." Itachi blinked up at the kunoichi in surprise.

"You mean... I passed." He said, stunned.

"Well, you may be a stuck up little pain in the neck, but you're definitely a talented ninja, and even more then that you're determined and creative. So over all, yeah, I guess you pass." Kushina grinned as she pulled the boy in for a friendly one-armed hug. "Congratulations, kid!" blushing, Itachi immediately struggled to free himself of the woman, who chuckled as she released him.

"Before we started, you said I would get to choose my sensei if I passed, right?" Itachi said, trying to regain his dignity.

"Ugh, you're still hung up over that?" Kushina rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, you can have any jonin sensei you want. I'm sure if I bug 'em enough I can convince just about anybody to teach you..."

"Promise?" Itachi pressed.

"Yes, I promise, okay?" Kushina glared at the boy. "Your parents and the old man won't be happy about it, but I promise."

"Good." Standing up, Itachi brushed past the redhead and walked purposely towards the door. "In that case, I'll be expecting my first mission soon, Kushina-sensei." The kunoichi froze as the door closed behind Itachi, leaving the redhead alone in the room. After a moment more of stunned silence, Kushina chuckled to herself, and shook her head in amazement.

"What a weird kid..." she said affectionately. "Ah well, I guess I'm stuck with him now..." Strangely enough, though, this didn't annoy Kushina as much as it should've, and as she left (humming happily while double checking Rin's locks) a thought crossed the redhead's mind, making her grin widely.

I could get used to being called Kushina-sensei...