Title: New Doors
Author:
sarhea
Fandom(s):
Naruto, InuYasha
Categories:
AU-canon, non-massacre, canon, gen, het, Crossover, xover, drama, action
Summary:
Itachi Uchiha is a respected Konoha ANBU captain being pressured into marriage. Feeling cornered, he uses an unconventional method to thin out the pool of candidates. Enter Kagome, a traveling miko looking for… someone. How else could these two possibly meet?
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Higurashi Kagome / Uchiha Itachi, Mikoto, Team Seven, Kyuubi, Sesshoumaru, Tsunade,
Warnings: minor violence, off-side deaths, sexual intimacy, biting, knife-play, BDSM
Spoilers: Too many to count since this is an off-branch from canonverse.
Thanks: To BT who (despite RL) managed to squeeze the time to provide some feedback to improve cohesiveness; to cut out whole scenes and add many others.
Disclaimer:
The characters and 'verses hereon belong to their respective owners; I'm simply playing with them and I'm not making any profit from this work. Higurashi Kagome and Sesshoumaru were created by Rumiko Takahashi. Itachi Uchiha and Narutoverse were created by Masashi Kishimoto.
For: LJ Community crossbigbang – Crossover Big Bang 2012


Summary: Kagome unwittingly lands herself into something she's not prepared for. But like always she rolls with the punches.

~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~

~ooO An Uchiha's predicament Ooo~

Uchiha Itachi was pissed. Surely this bunch of senile geezers would not dare to make such demands of him! They were violating the agreement they had come to eight years ago when he became the Clan Head, when many Uchiha shinobi, including his father, had been killed by Kumo nin making a second attempt to kidnap the Hyuuga heiress.

"You can't do this." An Uchiha never shows emotion. An Uchiha does not growl when he fails to get his way. He does what he has to in order to succeed. "You cannot force me to marry."

Uchiha Mikoto winced. When her eldest got that familiar stony look it boded no good for anyone. Perhaps it would be best if she explained instead of the stiff-necked Elders.

"Itachi, the Clan Elders are worried about the Clan succession, all of us are." She spoke softly meeting slate grey eyes without flinching. Showing fear would not serve either of them. "We nearly lost you in the Sound invasion! If the traitor had been a fraction faster, an inch off, you would have bled to death before the medic-nins reached you."

Itachi winced inwardly. It had been a long time since he had been so thoroughly thrashed in battle. At least he managed to make Orochimaru pay in blood and flesh before his body betrayed him. And it wasn't that he had been slacking off on his training; he had been exhausted from taking down Sound and Sand nin, holding them off with few allies because most of the Konoha shinobi were deployed to protect the Academy and civilians.

"This close call merely reminded everyone of the current situation. There are few males of suitable age and training to step into your shoes. Perhaps Sasuke…."

"No." Itachi shook his head. His baby brother was not going to become a chew toy to clan politics. Sasuke was going to have the freedom he needed to grow and become a strong shinobi. "Sasuke does not have the temperament to be a Clan Head; perhaps in ten years, but not anytime soon."

Mikoto smiled. "That's what most of us feel. What the Elders are not-so-subtly trying to do, is get you to cut back on the number of A and S missions you accept, by giving you a reason to delegate and stay back." She raised a brow. "From what I've heard it has been a long time, two years, since you took a lover, male or female."

Itachi growled. He loved the woman his mother had bloomed into after his father died but there were times when she drove him insane with her interest in his love life. There was a reason why he preferred to have brief liaisons with foreign courtesans; they were much less likely to reach his mothers ears.

But she was right. He had cut back on the number of missions he took. But even as it was he had been burdened by the paperwork that came with doing two jobs. After Sandaime died Itachi had shouldered the responsibilities as the Pillar, until Jiraiya returned with Tsunade, the Godaime Hokage. Currently the only thing he could do was paperwork; he was too injured for anything more physically strenuous.

He shifted fractionally and winced as the cut muscles in his inner thigh stung. A reminder of how close he came to dying.

"Very well. I will marry within the year. But I will select my bride. On my terms."

The Elders eyed him warily. "What type of terms?" The boldest asked.

Itachi smiled predatorily. "She must be fit and capable of keeping up with me."

"A kunoichi?" Mikoto blinked.

Itachi shook his head. "Iie. I will not say she must be shinobi. Just physically fit with minimal tracking-evading-stealth skills."

Mikoto blinked. "How will you reduce the candidates?"

Itachi frowned. "I will tag those who sign up with water-resistant blue ink. Then I will duel the ones who remain unmarked to gauge their skill."

"But you're one of the strongest shinobis in Konoha! You can't expect them to beat you!"

Itachi laughed. "I do not. I want to see how they think and react."

"Oh." That was more comprehensible. Most jounins tested their students in similar fashions, by placing them in difficult situations.

"I want to wed someone intelligent and fast, someone who can think on her feet. The best way to test that is in the field." He smiled viciously. "Since I am the prize so many crave let's see how many of them can survive this contest."

All across Fire Country Uchiha Itachi fan girls cringed, experiencing a sense of impending doom.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Kagome sighed as she studied the cup of bubble tea resting between her hands. She was bored. She was beginning to wish she hadn't accepted Sesshoumaru's invitation to join him on his travels.

After Naraku was defeated InuYasha had settled down with Kikyo, Sango with Miroku. This unfortunately left Kagome feeling like the odd one out. Even Shippo had a play companion with Rin. Kagome toyed with the possibility of initiating a more intimate relationship with Sesshoumaru but had eventually discarded the idea. He was too controlled and uninterested in human 'nonsense' such as intimacies. Besides he made a better older brother and protector than InuYasha.

Under his tutelage she had become quite proficient at human and lesser styles that she then merged to create one that was uniquely her own. She preferred using weapons that never left her hands – staffs, naginatas, glaives, katanas, sai – and she had practiced until she could infuse anything with her potent energy. Youkais learned the hard way it was wiser to avoid Sesshoumaru's miko, because if she didn't kill you he would.

What she needed right now was a really good spar. She hadn't had a decent fight since they left Makai-proper. Kagome still had difficulty integrating the daiyoukais information into her view of reality. True youkai originated in Makai-proper which was divided into four quarters held by four powerful daiyoukai Lords: Inu of the West, Kitsune of the East, Tora of the North, and Ryuu of the South. By migration and necessity youkai spread to other realms through thin spots, breaches, in the barriers between Realms. Once they reached a world/reality they brought humans as slaves or dominated the local sentient species.

Occasionally they would reach worlds where humans had the potential to be strong enough to fight them on equal terms. By unspoken agreement such worlds were avoided. If humans learned how to breach the Veil Makai-proper and other realities would be in danger. Kagome completely agreed with that view. She knew enough of history to know humanity had the general tendency to sprawl, spread, and dominate the land, to destroy cultures and species that weren't strong enough to defy them. Europeans did it in the Americas, and the Japanese did it in Korea.

She looked out the window at the peaceful, yet bustling Hidden Village of the Leaf, Konoha. Sesshoumaru had been interested in determining the fate of Kiyone, the Kyuubi-no-Kitsune, Lord of the Eastern Lands. His long absence was disrupting the power balance in Makai enough to irk the inu-youkai. Sesshoumaru was determined to drag the Eastern Lord back to Makai by his nine-tails if necessary. They had spent the past month tracking the Kyuubi Kiyone across the Hidden Countries to Fire Country. Sesshoumaru had sent her to scout ahead while he scoured the countryside for traces of the kitsune.

So here she was and bored out of her mind. She dug enough to know the old leader just died in a terrible battle and was replaced by a Tsunade, a slug sannin. The one before was the one who supposedly killed Kyuubi before dying himself. Kagome sincerely doubted the accuracy of that information. She knew how tough youkai were, only mikos could destroy them through purification and she had seen no evidence of these shinobi having access to spiritual energy, they were purely dependent on mental and physical energy that they called Chakra. So she had kept probing discreetly until she pieced together the facts.

Kiyone had been sealed/bound to a human host, a newborn baby named Uzumaki Naruto. The people around showed their fear, hate, dislike through words and actions though the teen never let it get to him. He was loud, rude, obnoxious, stubborn, and fiercely loyal; kind of like InuYasha. Unlike most youkai he had short spiky blond hair and bright cheery blue eyes, the whisker markings confirmed her theory as well that he was the host to the kitsunes power. She avoided getting too close though – she wasn't sure how much access he had to Kiyones memories and senses – she didn't want anyone to know she was a miko.

It would be best to wait until Sesshoumaru caught up with her before approaching the boy. From what she observed many were trying to capture the boy for his power. She frowned remembering her own encounters with the Akatsuki. She hoped that disgusting shark-hanyou Kisame was still regenerating his hand and missing flesh from their last battle.

It wasn't that Kagome enjoyed bloody battles like InuYasha or Kouga. She was more of a tag-you're-it kind of girl; games of wit and chance, elegance and grace. Probably why she took to pole arms – she could disable and hurt, but she didn't have to kill her opponent outright.

She sighed and brushed off the rice cake crumbs from her hakamas. She had given into modesty and practically and wore a navy hakamas with a white haori bound by black cords. However she refused to wear traditional geta like Kikyo and instead wore lace-up deer moccasins, shoes that were warm and easy to run in. Her hair was longer reaching past her waist but as wavy as ever. She would have screamed if it resembled Kikyo's straighter locks.

She stood up and reached for her staff, an iron-and-teak affair that resembled Miroku. The rings made a cheery jingle as she tested its iron heel. The Konoha weapon smith did a wonderful job repairing the damage done by those missing-nins. She hoped she didn't meet other Katon jutsu users. She would miss the brass-plated-staff but this would be more durable in future battles.

Now all she needed was a sparring partner. She pouted. The shinobi didn't consider her a suitable sparring partner. And she wasn't in any mood to share her past experience.

As she studied the scenery she heard traces of feminine conversation from the street.

"Have you heard? Today is the last day to register."

Register? Register for what? Curious she moved closer to the doorway.

The other female snorted. "I doubt there will be any one else. All the interested girls already signed up. Most of them were tagged and eliminated within twenty-four hours."

"Didn't anyone try to delay registering for the contest? To have a better chance of outlasting Uchiha-sans elimination sneak attacks?"

Her friend laughed. "Some girls did. Uchiha gave an earlier deadline for Konoha residents. Today is the deadline for visitors and traveling kunoichi."

"Really? He's allowing foreign females to participate as well?" Her friend sounded shocked.

"Oh yes. Few are willing to pass up Uchiha Itachi. He is the best of his generation and is going places! He has been ANBU captain and Clan Head for nearly ten years now. He's most likely to become a Sannin at the rate he's improving."

"I don't understand why he bothered allowing civilians to register. None of them can keep up with or even outlast a kunoichi."

"You never know. I had a friend who came from a trapper family. She could track and evade better than most of those silly genin-wanna-bes from the Academy."

"What is Uchiha Itachi really looking for Ayame-san?"

"From what I heard he's looking for someone who can keep up with him. Quite understandable given the nature of his job. He would want a partner who he can rely on, someone who can look after herself."

"But what if a foreign kunoichi wins?"

There was loud laughter. "I doubt that will ever happen! There are many strong Konoha kunoichi competing – jounin and chuunin. One of them will definitely make the cut and win."

Their voices softened and faded as the two women walked away leaving an intrigued Kagome. One Uchiha Itachi was looking for a female sparring partner. He was holding a contest to eliminate unskilled candidates. The ones who lasted would spar with him, an ANBU captain and powerful skilled shinobi.

Kagome resisted the urge to squeal. This was exactly what she wanted! Someone to spar with until Sesshoumaru showed up. She quickly ran out of the tiny café. She had to register for this contest!

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Itachi smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile. It showed lot of teeth and predatory intent. Sasuke and his team-mates cowered away from the ANBU captain.

"Aniki is scary!" Sasuke whimpered. He couldn't remember the last time Itachi had emitted such an aura without enemy-nin around. Then again maybe Itachi considered the girls fighting to be the next Uchiha Matriarch as the enemy.

Naruto stared at his best friends brother and personal idol and nodded vigorously. He glanced at his female team-mates. "Sakura I'm glad you didn't do something silly and sign-up as well."

Haruno Sakura growled and smacked the Kyuubi-carrier upside the head. "I don't want to marry Itachi-san! I want to marry Sasuke-kun!"

Sasuke edged away from the girl.

Itachi simply watched amused. It was fun watching the teens blundering around in their love-triangle affair. He just hoped no one would get permanently hurt.

He frowned and focused on the candidates entering the training-ground. There were plenty of kunoichi from many Hidden Villages. He frowned as he caught sight of the civilian. Higurashi Kagome, no particular village affiliation, but she had described her occupation as healer. Itachi knew medic-nins could be far more deadly when they focused their skills on disabling and killing. This Higurashi must have similar pressure-point and pharmaceutical knowledge. Itachi still couldn't believe she lasted the whole day. When he found out there was a non-kunoichi entrant he tracked her down to take her out. And failed. Six times.

She demonstrated no chakra manipulation skills yet she had this uncanny ability to track shinobi and detect traps. Simple bucket-door pranks failed when she kicked the door open before entering. Trip wires were evaded neatly and activated by the next hapless passer-by. She somehow sensed he tampered with her body lotion and dumped the container. The exploding-tag tampered gift pen was dropped in the trashcan. The complimentary drinks were passed to her table companions who ended up with a blue mouth and tongue.

Higurashi Kagome was an interesting conundrum – a civilian with no chakra manipulation abilities who evaded traps that took out Academy trained genin and chuunin. He wondered how she would stand up against a more direct attack. The only visible weapon she carried was a five-foot iron-capped staff. Of course there could easily be more under the voluminous material of her blue hakama and white haori. Her outfit vaguely reminded him of a shrine maiden but the traditional weapon for a shrine maiden was bow-and-arrow.

He forced his attention to the other candidates. Two from Wind, five from Mist-and-Cloud, three from Earth, seven from Fire including Konoha. Itachi sighed. He had tried to eliminate foreign candidates, he had no inclination to risk the Sharingan bloodline passing to enemy countries. They were good to have lasted this long in unfamiliar territory.

Of course Itachi had directed his more vicious humiliating traps towards his more rabid fan girls. They were part of the reason why he was in this position, they had infected the general population with this want-Uchiha madness. They drove the nice sane girls mad. Once they were out he focused on the weaker candidates, genin and chuunin. With Narutos help he set up several large scale bait-traps that took out several in one shot. Those left were the more skilled ones, the ones worthy of consideration.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Kagome smiled as she studied her competition. To her surprise the contestant rivalry was hot and heated. Luckily they weren't interested in her. Uchiha Mikoto had been forced to break out several catfights. Kagome couldn't understand why they were so crazy. Sure Itachi-san would be a great sparring partner but that was no reason to go crazy!

She sighed and focused on taking in the environment. Fairly open ground, few stunted bushes, no real cover unless she made some by lifting earth. The area was bound by bright yellow rope. Outside were few observers: old men in traditional robes, women in kimonos, shinobi and kunoichi of varying ages and gender.

The women moved into a semi-circle before the slender man standing in the middle of the ring.

Kagome stared curious. He wore black: footwear, comfortable pants, a sleeveless t-shirt under steel chain mail, upper arm-high gloves under metal bracers. Brown thigh pouches for weapons or ammo stood out from his black-steel outfit. He moved with certain grace, very self-assured like one daiyoukai she traveled with. He had an almost delicate feminine beauty like Sesshoumaru. Long silky black hair was tired back into a short tail. Intense dark grey eyes. Only thing missing were the facial markings of a youkai. He moved with unhurried ease backed by a restrained explosive power.

Kagome had seen Sesshoumaru decapitate youkai during tea ceremonies. One second he was seated and sipping, the next he was up and taking heads off without getting a drop of blood on his pristine white outfits. She sensed this Uchiha Itachi had that same capable prowess, calculating collected mindset, resistant to emotional blackmail, elegant poise… Very much like the daiyoukai.

She didn't allow the cool onyx eyes to intimidate her.

"The rules are simple. Stay in the area bound by the yellow ropes. Do not get marked by ink. In the first stage you are allowed to move freely. After the whistle you are not permitted to move from that spot though you have to continue avoiding the ink. If you cannot handle my temper you are not worthy of what you aspire to. You are free to forfeit and step out of the ring at any time."

The kunoichi around her hissed at that blatant challenge but no one gave in.

He waited a few seconds then nodded. "Very well. Begin."

Kagome leapt back and away. She sensed his ire was directed towards the non-Fire kunoichis so she gave them a wide berth. Her prudence was rewarded. Within minutes they were taken out by little bags of paint. The Mist and Cloud kunoichis avoided being hit by manipulating the liquid contents so it hit their Fire competition.

He merely switched his ammo to powdered chalk balls. The more intelligent ones tried to burn or divert the balls using ninjutsu. Those who tried to use genjutsu to hide were the first to be taken out. Soon the only ones left were one Sand and three Leaf and one miko.

~o~

Itachi was impressed. The not-civilian was definitely smarter than the others. She sensed he would take out the non-Fire kunoichi first and kept them at a distance. Subsequently she had concentrated on observing his tactics, occasionally diverting paint or chalk balls with her staff. She had superb reactions and hand-eye coordination. She definitely had weapons and taijutsu training. Even when he deliberately went after her she remained cool and collected with a pleasant smile. Attempts to intimidate or confuse her using genjutsu failed miserably. If she were shinobi he would easily rank her as chuunin.

Now there were only five: Temari of Suna, Hyuuga Hinata, Tamaka Reiko, Inuzuka Hana, and Higurashi Kagome.

A quick glance at his brother and Sasuke blew the whistle.

"Hold your ground. If you move you are disqualified."

He saw they were not as confident of getting through this. And they should be.

Temari attempted to use her fan and wind jutsus to divert the ammo. Didn't work with paint balls coming in from all directions.

Itachi knew the Hyuuga heiress was in to please her father; she was interested in her year mate Uzumaki Naruto so he took her out quickly without much difficulty.

Inuzuka Hana was next one out. She was bound to one spot but her animal companion was not and she made good use of the distraction the nin-dog provided. Of course it didn't work for too long.

Tamaka Reiko was a skilled jounin and more difficult. His Sharingan eyes saw through her chameleon genjutsus. The Inuzuka lasted longer.

He turned to the not-civilian Higurashi Kagome. She merely stood leaning on her staff with a faint smile, a gleam of interest in her bright blue eyes. As he narrowed his focus on her, the smile became an open challenge.

The frontal paintball assault failed, her weapons work was very good. The side assaults were easily parried as well. She had every right to be proud of her skills.

Itachi paused for a brief second then moved.

In an encircling spiral he moved in closer, faster, throwing paint balls at her from different angles and heights.

To his shock the balls hit a faint pink-purple barrier inches from her skin. The light faded once the energy consumed the paint, vaporizing it.

A murmur of interest emerged from the crowds.

Interested he stopped and slowed, to stand before her. He reached out to test the energy field. She had to have absolute chakra control and she had to have a huge capacity to keep that full-body shield emerging from tenketsus all over her body.

It wasn't exactly chakra though, something more potent. It prevented him from touching her skin.

"How good is your control?" Itachi asked softly.

She smiled brilliantly. It reminded him of Naruto.

"Pretty good. I can keep a barrier up for an hour at most, less if I need to protect others or a larger space."

"Does it disable weapons?" He asked.

She frowned and considered the question. "It is a matter of power and efficiency. Liquids and gases can easily be destroyed before they pass through. Solids are another matter. I can increase the density to select spots, like substitute armour for short periods of time. It takes a lot of concentration though. I can't move while I do it."

"But you do not use chakra." He could see that easily with his Sharingan eyes.

She smiled cheerily unfazed by his blood-red eyes. "Nope. Something different."

Itachi glanced over her body. He could 'see' the streams of potent pink energy emanating from her tenketsus. It was more than chakra.

"Why didn't you use it from the start?" He asked.

Her grey-blue eyes were wide with surprise then indignation. "Why should I? It's a waste of energy! What if I had to go into a serious fight a few hours from now? I would be completely drained and vulnerable. Dodging a few paintballs wouldn't kill me."

Itachi nodded and took in her explanation. It was a prudent, admirable, use of limited, available, resources.

"Do you use any other weapons?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yes." And she rattled of a list of names that read like an armoury inventory; of archaic and unique weapons, edged and not, compact and not. "I prefer pole arms though, to take out opponents from a distance." She scrunched her nose. "I used to use bow-and-arrows but I kept running out of arrows. When the string snapped I would have no time to re-string it. It got frustrating after sometime so I switched."

Itachi nodded thoughtfully. "You clearly are the most skilled. You win." At least it wouldn't be too bad, having a wife capable of looking after herself.

Somehow she smiled even brighter and relaxed. He saw the energy aura retreat into her body, the remnants dissipating quickly. She squealed and clapped her hands.

"That's great! I was looking for someone suitable in Konoha." She made a moue of distaste. "Most of the people I talked to weren't interested in even listening to me."

Itachi raised a slender brow. She had not been talking to any shinobi he knew. Most of his ANBU subordinates often complained of the difficulty in finding girlfriends and wives who understood and could handle the lifestyle and risks.

"Then you weren't talking to the right males." He replied feeling amused. "Why don't you meet my family first Higurashi-san. My brother and mother were witnessing the contest." He waved at the interested audience waiting beyond the ropes.

She nodded. "Okay. But please call me Kagome. Higurashi makes me look for my mother."

"Call me Itachi."

He placed one calloused hand on the small of her back and guided her to the ropes where his brother and year mates waited. Naruto was literally bouncing with anticipation.

"So? So? So?" The blonde genin wanted to know.

"Kagome is the one." Itachi replied simply.

Sasuke stared at the open smiling eyes of the girl. She was a few years older than himself, maybe seventeen compared to aniki who was twenty-one. She was open and cheerful, kind of like Naruto. She wouldn't be too bad of a sister-in-law. He still couldn't believe the technique she used to counter the paintballs. Maybe she could teach him how to do that shield-thing.

Itachi smiled faintly and made introductions. "This is Higurashi Kagome. Kagome, my brother Sasuke and his team-mates Uzumaki Naruto and Haruno Sakura. Their teachers, Umino Iruka, Hatake Kakashi. My mother Mikoto. You can meet the rest of the clan and Elders later."

Naruto stared at the open friendly face and said the first thing that came to his mind. "Kawaii! Itachi-san you are really lucky! She's really pretty and strong!"

Kagome choked and laughed. "Thank you for the compliment Naruto-san." Then what he said next nearly floored her.

"So when are you going to marry her?"

Mikoto sighed. "I am curious to know as well Itachi-kun. I still can't believe my eldest son decided to use a sparring contest to select his future bride."

Everyone in Konoha heard Kagome's shriek of disbelief. "HE WHAT?"

Those present stared confused at her outburst.

"What are you yelling about Higurashi-san?" Sakura voiced the question on all of their minds.

Kagomes eyes were wide and wild. "What do you mean future bride?"

Mikoto frowned. "That was the purpose of this tournament Higurashi-san. It was heavily debated but Itachi got his way on various counts. He doesn't have time to form a more typical relationship and was reluctant to concede to a more formal arrangement so he decided on a sparring contest." She was confused. "What do you think this was about?"

"A contest to find a skilled female sparring partner!" Kagome was hyperventilating. "I didn't know this was a competition to locate a potential bride!" She wailed. "I was looking for a good sparring partner! Not a husband!"

Kakashi smiled lecherously. "I won't mind sparring with you."

"Pervert!" Her staff swung in an overhead arc and nailed the Copy-Nin. He landed face flat, on the ground, with a huge bump on his head.

The older males stared amazed at her prowess. Kakashi didn't get enough warning to do a Kawarimi or even evade her attack.

The females and teens nodded in satisfied feminine righteousness. The Copy-Nin was a pervert. Only Jiraiya, the Toad-Sannin, was worse.

Itachi frowned. Just his luck. The most suitable female fighter wasn't really interested in Him.

"I don't understand how you didn't know!" Naruto spoke the question on all their minds. "Everyone was talking about it. Itachi-san set up some pretty public traps to eliminate most of the weaklings."

Kagome shook her head. "I am a traveler. The only time I spend in towns is to restock my supplies. I only arrived in Konoha last week. I heard about the sparring elimination rounds in the café. It sounded interesting, testing myself against skilled shinobis so I signed up." She groaned rubbing her temples in circular motions. "I should have read the bloody rules!"

"You travel by yourself?" Mikoto frowned. "That is not safe."

"No I travel with Sesshoumaru… And he's going to kill me when he finds out I signed up for a courtship challenge without even knowing it." She moaned rubbing her face.

Itachi frowned. "This Sesshoumaru… Is he your..." Itachi hesitated. "Partner?"

Kagome shook her head in negative. "No!" A small furrow wrinkled her brow as she explained. "More like an older brother, a teacher and protector all in one. He's the one who trained me. He had to track down an old friend and I had nothing better to do so I joined him. I believe he's a few weeks behind me. Generally I search the towns while he checks the countryside."

Itachi considered the information. "Well, since you weren't aware of the real intention and goal for the contest, it would be best if I choose one who made it to the second round." Itachi was not a graceful loser but he did not want to force a female into a relationship.

Kagome stared at the Konoha nin. She remembered how his dark grey eyes turned crimson in battle, the ease with which he pierced illusions and lies, the powerful grace and economy of motion… He was not ugly. In fact he was highly respected, honourable and sought after. There was no evidence of emotional baggage, past loves like InuYasha. Not did he seem overly obsessive like Kouga. Or blandly boring like Hojo.

The smart thing would be to accept his gracious out and leave Konoha. But Kagome did not want to do the smart thing.

She bit her lower lip. "Itachi-san, it's not that I'm not interested… I have been alone for a long time. My lifestyle, my work, it makes it hard to form stable romantic relationships… The … Mission was more important than my personal happiness for a long time. Even though the Mission has been completed for a long time now it is hard to forget that mind-set…" She shook her head. "It doesn't help when you are the weakest and most protected in the group."

Itachi raised a brow. "The weakest? Then those you travel with must be truly remarkable."

Kagome snorted. "Oh Hell Yeah. A grumpy powerful ramen-addicted fighter. A perverted houshi. A graceful taijiki and her animal companion. A shape-shifting trickster."

"This Sesshoumaru guy likes ramen?" Naruto asked eagerly.

Kagome laughed. "Sesshoumaru? Oh no! InuYasha is his younger half-brother. They have this love-hate relationship and enjoy beating each other bloody. All of my companions found partners and settled down; I was the odd one out so I stayed with Sesshoumaru. After rescuing me one-too-many times he gave in and started training me." She turned serious and towards the intriguing male. "I am not… averse to a serious relationship. It's just that I don't know anything about Uchiha Itachi, the man."

Itachi nodded. A sensible view. Avoid accepting missions with scanty information.

Mikoto could clearly see there was something going on with the young woman and her son so she made her suggestion. "Then why don't you stay with us? As a guest in the Uchiha Compound. You can spend some time with Itachi and get to know all of us. Before you make any decisions."

Kagome smiled brightly. "Thank you Uchiha-san, it is most generous of you."

"Nonsense! And call me Mikoto." Then the older woman laughed. "It takes a special lady to attract the eye of my sons and keep it. I'm merely increasing the possibility of having grand-children sometime soon."

Kagome blushed but could not help laughing as well. They weren't hiding the reason for this bridal hunt, they wanted their clan head to have a wife and children. It had been a long time since Kagome allowed herself to dream of her own wedding, since Junior High in twentieth century Tokyo. It was nice to dream. It wouldn't hurt to agree…

"And since I already spent a lot of time made all the arrangements for the party today I'm not going to let it go to waste," Uchiha Mikoto added firmly. "All of you are invited," she said looking around.

Kagome blushed feeling horribly embarrassed. She suddenly realized exactly what the party was for… her son's betrothal.

She jerked when Mikoto patted her cheek, drawing her attention.

"Don't feel guilty for anything dear. And to be honest I'm glad you're being honest and practical about your views. I never agreed with Itachi's idea in the first place but I didn't have much of a reason to say no because in certain aspects it makes sense. The next Uchiha matriarch must be strong and capable of holding her own ground. Marrying into a Great Clan main house is stressful and demanding. You must be certain you can handle it, that you want to."

"And if one of the other girls had outlasted me?" Kagome asked curious to hear Mikoto's answer. "What would you have done then?"

"I would have accepted Itachi's choice. Besides those girls knew what they were getting into, and were willing for a whole range of reasons that I mostly disapprove of," Mikoto said her lips thinning.

"Many females have chased Sesshoumaru-sama," Kagome admitted softly. "He's kind of my guardian. I was friends with his brother when I was younger. When InuYasha died and I lost my family, Sesshoumaru took care of me." She looked sad. "They don't understand he will never be only theirs." Seeing their confused expressions she expanded. "He belongs to the land, to his people. He will always have twin mistresses called Responsibility and Duty."

Mikoto brushed away tears and hugged Kagome.

"And it pleases me that you recognize that."

Kagome smiled wryly. "I might understand in my head but I'm not sure I can live it," she cautioned her potential mother-in-law.

"But you are not going into a relationship blindly or with volatile emotions, determined to get immediate benefits. That is one of the better options that I had hoped for. You are much wiser than I was at your age."

Kagome felt horribly guilty at receiving Mikoto's praise because Kagome had been just as bad, if not worse, when she was younger. Only now she was more experienced and disciplined, despite her seemingly young appearance. The miko wasn't secure enough to confess she was technically much older than Mikoto herself. Kagome's time in Makai had retarded her aging process. That combined with her drawing on the re-absorbed Shikon for power in battle had somehow kept her body in a form of stasis, in her optimal teenage form.

Most girls would cry of despair when they found wrinkles but Kagome celebrated the faint crow-lines and laugh-lines she developed after reaching this realm. They reminded her of her mother, of mortality, of her humanity… Yes she was powerful but that was no guarantee. There were no guarantees for happiness and success in life. Everything was a gamble. Especially love.

She turned to Itachi and bowed her head. "I'm sorry but could someone guide me back to my hostel? I haven't had the time to memorize the town layout."

"I will accompany you," Mikoto said quickly, giving Itachi a pointed look. "You will stay with us, as a guest of the Uchiha clan."

Kagome smiled wryly but didn't bother arguing with the high-handed phrasing. She turned towards her new hostess and said, "I don't suppose you know of any local spas who'd be able to squeeze in a last minute appointment?"

Mikoto laughed. "You can join me. Bara-chan will be more than happy to fit you in."

Itachi watched his mother wrap her arm around the one he had chosen and he was not certain if he should feel pleased they were getting along, or terrified. As though in response to his thoughts Sarutobi Asuma spoke in a sage-like voice.

"Be prepared to run and hide." He smirked at the gawking expressions from the younger nins. "Every guy feels that way when he's introducing a serious girlfriend to female relatives. You aren't sure if you're happy they're getting along or worried about the possibility of them ganging up on you."

"Hey!" the kunoichis squawked in unison but Asuma did not back down.

"And I'm right," he insisted.

Itachi sighed but didn't say anything.

~o~

Kagome followed Uchiha Mikoto without complaint, allowing the woman to guide-tug her to the Uchiha Compound. Silently she observed, taking note of reactions of those around and their interactions with Mikoto.

Uchiha Mikoto was an old-style clan matriarch with her finger on every pulse. She knew what was happening in all the branch families. She probably was a very good intel analyst when she was an active kunoichi. The individuals who approached her, they were curious about Kagome's presence but polite enough to not ask. Mikoto pretended not to see their inquisitive looks, and did not satisfy their curiosity.

They crossed through half the Uchiha district (most of the houses and shops were run and patronized by individuals with distinctive Uchiha looks) before they reached the main house. Kagome removed her shoes and slipped into a set of guest tabi-socks and followed Mikoto into the kitchen and laundry facilities located in the back of the house. The miko bowed and greeted the household and kitchen staff as Mikoto introduced her as a guest 'who will be staying with the family for a while'.

At first Kagome had simply sat at the kitchen table, sipped the fruit juice served, and listened as Mikoto went through a list of chores and tasks that needed to be completed for the evening entertainment and the rest of the week. She bit back her comments – she was a guest and it was not her place to interfere – but Mikoto must have sensed something because she turned to Kagome and asked, "What do you think?"

Kagome was surprised by the question. "Excuse me?"

Mikoto's lips curved into a faint smile. "I'd like to hear your opinion."

Kagome hesitated for only a second before responding honestly. "Most of it is okay but it might be more efficient to prepare and store the food in foil pans that can easily be re-heated for serving."

Mikoto blinked taken aback, then intrigued. "I had never thought of that," she allowed.

"Usually it doesn't matter for a smaller party or a sit-down meal. But the food items you've chosen lend themselves to re-heating on a grill. It would be easier if they are already in foil pans that can be recycled. I'm assuming you'd use a katon ninjutsu for quick reheating?"

Mikoto shook her head. "Katons jutsus are too powerful."

Kagome was openly sceptical. "You don't have ninjutsus that require great control? Or small flames? Like lighting a camp fire?"

"There is an old E-class camping technique," an older cook offered. "Most shinobis used it to heat up trail rations."

Mikoto was surprised. "Really?"

"Oh yes. Not many know of it ever since the Akimichis developed trail ration bars that do not need to be moistened and heated before being eaten."

Kagome nodded firmly. "Teach it to everyone. Something like that could come in handy. With control and practice you could heat a fire-resistant blanket and stay warm in the field."

The Uchihas suddenly looked very thoughtful at the idea.

Kagome leaned back pleased she had contributed something meaningful to them. The next set of questions were directed towards her, not Mikoto, but she was comfortable answering them.

~o~

Mikoto watched pleased and proud. It took a lot to win an Uchiha's respect. Mostly by beating them in combat or fighting to a draw. However Kagome managed to do it with a creative but practical application of ninjutsu. This only solidified Mikoto certainty that this young woman was the right choice for Itachi. Higurashi Kagome was not awed or star-struck by the Uchiha clan's wealth. She was more interested in getting to know the people around her, not the wealthy life she would be leading if she married Itachi.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Later that same evening Mikoto flitted around the main house, ensuring the informal party with the buffet-style meal was proceeding smoothly. She might have originally made the preparations to celebrate Itachi's engagement but she refused to let the efforts go to waste. Meeting a strong capable woman who impressed her boys was good enough reason to celebrate. They both had some experience interacting with strong kunoichi but they never met a civilian female of exceptional power and skill close to their own ages.

She frowned slightly as she reviewed the current roster of kunoichis. There were very few exceptional examples close to either of her son's ages. And those who fit the criteria, they did not fit the criteria Itachi had in his mind. Then she put those thoughts away. They did not matter, not right now. Kagome did. She made the best showing and Itachi chose her.

She was not content to watch the slightly stilted interaction between the two. They were part of the same cluster but they weren't talking directly with each other. Because her son was naturally reticent and Kagome was probably feeling embarrassed about the situation. Well, there was no room for that! Deftly Mikoto manoeuvred through the crowd, dropping hints, rearranging conversation circles, inserting and removing individuals, seemingly randomly, until she finally almost isolated the pair.

"Come along Sasuke," she told her younger son, gripping his arm firmly. "I need some help re-heating the trays." And she dragged him off without giving him a chance to argue. This effectively left Itachi and Kagome alone for the first time since their duel.

~o~

Kagome knew what Mikoto was doing and she could not fault her. If Kagome was younger and less life-experienced she would have probably fled and hidden from a potential suitor, a near stranger. But Kagome was tired of being alone. And hadn't all her best friends started off as strangers? So she smiled cheerily and sat down on a padded storage bench, patting the cushioned surface next to her.

Itachi accepted the silent invitation and sat beside her. He angled himself so he could meet her eyes directly and waited. Kagome knew he'd have no problem waiting for her to make the first move if he felt like it. Like Sesshoumaru. So she reached out.

"Are you familiar with Twenty Questions?"

He blinked once but did not betray his confusion by any other means. "The children's game?"

"Yes. I think it will help us get to know each other. You have two passes on questions you don't wish to answer. Any more will require a forfeit."

Itachi smiled slightly. "That sounds agreeable. Do you want to go first?"

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Sasuke threw three kunai in quick succession. Two hit the bulls-eye and the third was in the first ring. Kakashi frowned but didn't say anything. He waited until all his students had completed the target practice portion of the training and were waiting for further instructions.

"Sasuke, you seem distracted today."

The Uchiha opened his mouth then clamped up. This perked Naruto's interest. Kakashi waited for the blond to do the work.

"Get any more distracted and I'll beat you all the time teme!" This had the predictable effect of Sakura attacking Naruto, defending Sasuke's title/honour.

To Kakashi's surprise, Sasuke did not react as predicted. Instead he looked pensive.

Sakura paused in her violence and turned to her love interest. "Sasuke? What's wrong?"

Finally he spoke. "It's Kagome-san."

Kakashi's senses went on high alert. "Oh?" he asked in deceptively idle tones. "Is there something wrong about her?"

Sasuke shook his head. "No!" His muscles worked before he expanded. "She's weird."

"How so?" Sakura asked looking worried herself.

Sasuke opened his mouth then shut it, then repeated the process two more times before finally spilling. "She thinks in circles and asks the oddest random questions. And Itachi just smiles at her." That confused everyone.

"Eh?" Naruto was the only one to voice it out loud. "What's wrong with that?"

"Itachi never smiles openly. The last time he smiled like that was when I was little," Sasuke explained.

That answer confused Naruto and Sakura; they couldn't understand how anyone could live without smiling. Kakashi understood; Itachi had been his subordinate after all and Kakashi was familiar with the scion's character.

"You know that is a good sign," Kakashi said gravely. "She makes him forget and enjoy the little pleasures of life." All three genin turned to their sensei at his serious earnest voice. "When you find someone who can make you forget, make you smile and laugh, you don't let that person go. You become their friend and if they really make your world a brighter one then you form a serious, lasting relationship with them."

"So is Itachi-san going to marry Higurashi-san?" Sakura asked timidly.

Kakashi smiled more soothingly. "If he has any brains he'll be doing everything he can to get her to say yes." He looked more carefully at Sasuke. "And how does that make you feel Sasuke?" he asked.

Sasuke thought for a moment. "Jealous," he said, "Because she can make aniki smile. But at the same time I'm happy because he's smiling now."

"Then that's all that matters."

~ooOoo~

Uchiha Mikoto bowed before the altar in Amaterasu's shrine. Most shinobis weren't particularly religious but ever since Kagome entered their lives, Mikoto had made it a point to burn incense every morning. Even if they didn't marry Mikoto had the impression Kagome would not let Itachi backslide into his old stoic ways. She made him human in the best of ways, making a special point to involve him in the little things of life.

Mikoto was ashamed to admit she herself had contributed to isolating her elder son, in an attempt to make his private life as conflict free as possible she had removed all choices, or more accurately made them for Itachi. Tears shimmered in her eyes as she recalled a particular incident just two days ago.

Kagome had offered to make a different breakfast dish she called 'pancakes'. She had accepted assistance but insisted on being in charge. Under her guidance the cooks mixed several batches of batter and made a few test 'pancakes' until they were familiar with the heat and cooking time requirements. Then Kagome had suggested making flavoured 'pancakes' by adding other ingredients. Chocolate chips, raspberries and blueberries were immediate requests, the ingredients mixed in and batter poured and cooked.

Then Kagome had turned to Itachi and asked what he wanted. As typical, her eldest demurred, saying whatever made was acceptable. But Kagome had pushed and prodded and dragged out Itachi's personal preference: apples and cinnamon. Then she immediately peeled and chopped an apple, mixing the slices and cinnamon powder into 'raw' batter. While the cooks prepared pancakes for the entire household, Kagome cooked apple-cinnamon pancakes for Itachi. She piled them on a plate and poured a small amount of honey across the top of the small stack before placing the plate in front of Itachi with a smile.

Mikoto remembered Itachi's disbelieving yet pleased expression. That someone cared to make an effort to meet his preferences. Dark eyes lifted up to meet the graven features of the idol above the altar. Mikoto prayed that Kagome would say yes, that she would marry Itachi. Because Kagome was exactly what Itachi needed: someone who would place him above all others.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

TBC…

~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~

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