Hello again people! I'm aware it's been a bit since my last update, and the inspiration for this new chapter struck me recently so I began working on it again. Hope you enjoy, and don't forget to review! :)

砂時計

Following that afternoon that I spent simply talking with Itachi, my life began to return to a normal pattern. I would work extensively on my sealing skills overnight, then do some during the day so that if it was discovered just how much that I could do with seals, it wouldn't look nearly as suspicious. I also learned a trick that ended up being quite useful. By concentrating on a seal array or scroll explanation long enough, it was, for lack of a better word, 'printed' into my mind, like having photographic memory. So despite the fact that I had to pretend that I had no idea how to create said seals, I constantly improved my comprehension during the night.

One small problem that I came across once morning when I was trying to draw a storage seal in real life, was that my calligraphy skills did not transfer between my mindscape and reality, thus leading to several problems. Since, as everyone knows, handwriting is one of the most important aspects of sealing, as one line out of place can make a seal collapse, I needed to work on that, and fast. Though, there was no way I could in the beginning, as I was not supposed to know enough to solve that. I quickly remedied the situation by purposefully messing up many of my seals when I knew Tou-san was watching. After the tenth in a row malfunctioned one day, he approached me.

"Takara-chan, do you know what the problem with the seal is that you keep having?" he asked, crouching near my level.

"No, wha's wrong?" I questioned, mentally pleading for him to explain so I had an excuse.

"Your handwriting, it's not as developed as it needs to be for this seal, sweetheart. Let me show you what I mean," Tou-san replied.

He and I spent the next hour or two just sitting there, practicing my writing over and over and over again. Yes, it did get repetitive, however it was a change in my monotonous routine, so I could care less.

After Tou-san gave me that tips, I continued to learn and practice as much as I could. Well, as much as I could in my mind. In the real world I censored everything to (I hoped) make it seem like I was just a very intelligent child, something not completely unexpected as Tou-san was a genius as a child as well. Just...not this early from what I'd heard them saying.

As time went on, I became increasingly antsy with my 'lack' of improvement in reality. It was at times like that when I sometimes wished I didn't have such an advanced mindset; sure, there were lots of upsides, but the downsides came pretty close to the same amount. The only thing keeping me from breaking and telling Ka-chan and Tou-san just how advanced I was, was the fact that it would bring people into my head to check things out and I didn't want them finding the strange woman.

As for her, I occasionally went and visited the lady. I would sit by her side, having a one-sided conversation, asking her questions that I knew she would never be able to answer unless I managed to wake her by some miracle. She was very pretty, high cheekbones, long lashes, and a calm, peaceful expression. I'd considered her a possible threat at first, and though I was still not completely sure about her, I had an itch in the back of my mind that told me she was completely harmless. Well, to me at least. The fox still had his suspicions of the woman.

Speaking of said fox, I began to dig a little deeper into exactly who he was. The chakra he possessed was definitely not human, which left me with only a few options. Demon, god, hanyou (half-demon), or something no one had ever heard of before. Every time I walked by his cage, I prodded him for more answers, but he could never say anything to me straight, preferring to give me riddles or mock me or just not speak at all. That infuriated me quite a bit, not that I would show it, but I think he knew anyways. Teasing me always had seemed like his favorite sport, considering that there wasn't much else to do anyways.

Eventually, the time came for my precious baby sibling to be born. Ka-chan had been growing steadily bigger every day it seemed, and I could tell by her attitude that she was at the stage where she just wanted the child out of her body and into her arms.

On a bright wednesday morning, Ka-chan finally went into labor. Tou-san rushed her to the hospital via shushin, promising to send someone for me, trusting that I'd be fine for a few moments on my own. I ran up to my room to grab the plush blanket that Kaiyo-bachan had helped me to pick out at the store. Sure enough, she appeared a few moments later, grabbing my hand and bringing us straight to the hospital. I stayed in the hall, hearing Ka-chan's groans and screams of pain.

"It's alright, you don't have to stay here Takara," Kaiyo-bachan told me, probably thinking I was a bit scared. True, it did disturb me to hear such a strong kunoichi like I knew my Ka-chan was in such pain, but I also knew she would live through it.

"I'm okay."

A few hours later, Ka-chan had calmed, and a piercing wail began to sound.

"Kaiyo-san, Takara-chan, you can come in now," the nurse called as she opened the door a bit.

I moved inside to take a look at Ka-chan and Tou-san. Ka-chan was tired looking, but she also looked very happy, gazing down at the bundle in her arms with a face of pure love. Tou-san softly stroked the baby's tufts of bright blond hair.

"Hi Takara, meet your new baby brother Naruto," Tou-san told me.

I peeked up into the blankets to see his scrunched up little face.

"He's so tiny and pink. Is he supposed to be that way?" I questioned. The adults in the room laughed, and Kaiyo assured me that he was fine. I handed the blanket over to Tou-san so that he could give it to baby Naruto.

"C'mon Takara-chan, let's let your ka-chan and tou-san get some rest. You can come see them tomorrow," Kaiyo-ba prompted, ushering me out of the room.

Sweet dreams baby brother, I thought, happy to be able to finally meet the newest member of our family.

It took a bit of getting used to, having another sibling, and also having a baby in the house. There were several times that I awoke, annoyed, from his cries, but then had to remember that he was a baby who didn't know any better, which made me calm.

The next time I met up with Itachi, he was just as excited as I was about Naruto. Well, excited in his own refined Uchiha way. His brother Sasuke had been born three months before, and his parents had had quite a bit on their hands, which kept him from coming over for a while. Nevertheless, I could easily spot the traits of a proud elder brother, one who'd already decided he was going to watch over his sibling with his life. In the same way, I made my own vow to make sure that Naruto had the best life I could possibly give him.

One day that wasn't particularly remarkable to say the least, I came to a breakthrough in one of my problems. If I could only improve my stealth skills enough to dodge people for an hour or so, I could begin to practice more advanced techniques in reality as well. The only problem was, how did I practice things like that while avoiding investigation at the same time? Then I realized how to do it when Tou-san and Ka-chan were telling me stories of their kid-years.

"You know Takara-chan, I used to be such a troublemaker. When I was just about your age, I began to get bored, and thought that it would be fun to dye my parents hair, or paint the walls multicolor. Thank goodness you haven't done any of that," Ka-chan told me, patting my head as she finished her small tidbit of a story.

"She probably takes after me, Kushi-chan, you know, dignified, refined, etcetera, etcetera," Tou-san quipped, earning him a swat on the back of his head.

"Shush, you. No need to put elitist ideas into her head at this age."

"So you're saying that when she's, say, nine, it'll be fine?"

A louder smack echoed through the house, and I covered my mouth with my hands in order to stifle the giggles that threatened to burst out.

"Oh, you think this is funny, do you Takara-chan?" Tou-san said, getting up and advancing towards me.

"No, no, not funny Tou-san, not funny," I replied, hastily backing up as he moved closer.

"Well in that case...better run Takara-chan!" Tou-san yelled, springing on me.

I darted out between his legs, pushing myself up quickly and rushing around to the back of the couch. Girlish giggles escaped my lips, and I let myself be simply a child playing tag for just a moment. Tou-san made his way around the couch and I ran away in the opposite direction. Charging up the stairs, I focused on quieting my footsteps while at the same time moving as fast as I could. Eventually, I came to a dead end in Tou-san and Ka-chan's room, and was forced to find a hiding spot very quickly.

Let's see...under the bed? No, too predictable. In the closet? Also predictable. Ummm...Aha! The trunk!

Springing towards my chosen spot, I heard Tou-san loudly walking through the hall, checking all of the rooms. I lifted the hinged lid, and tucked myself inside beside old kimonos from Tou-san and Ka-chan's younger days. Quietly, the lid shut above me, and I steadied my breathing. As Tou-san approached the last few rooms, I realized that he could probably just follow my chakra signature to where I was, and that it would be a good time to test those skills in a non-threatening situation. Concentrating completely on my core, I began to feel the rushing stream that was my chakra. Slowly but surely, I slowed the speed that it flowed at, and constricted just how much pulsed through my body. As soon as I'd gotten it as far as it would go, I heard the door open, and I almost lost my concentration.

Keep focus, Takara. You slip and it's immediately obvious, if he hasn't found you yet, that is.

It took him a bit longer than usual, but Tou-san eventually found me. Light flooded my eyes and I blinked rapidly, adjusting to the new brightness.

"Impressive, Takara-chan. You've been practicing your skills quite a bit, I see. I could barely feel you out in the hall, and only a little bit more when I was standing right next to you," Tou-san praised. Of course, he probably wasn't trying to sense me anyways, but I'd take what I could get.

I beamed, happy to be praised.

"Thank'ou Tou-san, you teached me well," I responded, before ducking beneath his legs and running down the hall.

"Clever little girl," I heard him chuckle as he strolled along behind me.

Finally, I had found a way to start slipping away. Pranks looked perfectly innocent, and I bet Ka-chan was going to be kicking herself for giving me the idea...

For the next two weeks, I spent my time thinking up ideas and strategies. I couldn't be caught, otherwise I would get into a lot of trouble with the parents. The first one I tried out on Ka-chan and Tou-san was a simple temporary dye in their shampoo. I must say, seeing Ka-chan with black hair and Tou-san with pink made my day quite a bit more entertaining...

"Kushi-chaaaaaan! You talk about me putting ideas into her head and yet here she is starting to follow in your footsteps!" Tou-san complained that morning at breakfast. Ka-chan simply smiled and placed some food on his plate.

"Calm down Mina-kun, it'll wash out, it's not permanent right Takara-chan?" Ka-chan replied and ask me.

I nodded.

"It's pretty funny t' see you with color hair though," I teased, going back to the food Ka-chan had given me.

"As long as you don't do anything permanent, I'm game for whatever you can throw at me Takara-chan," Ka-chan told me, a mischievous grin on her face.

I mirrored the grin, already planning the next thing, as Tou-san simply face-palmed.

Following that day, I continued to plot and scheme different pranks to play on my parents and occasionally on my aunt, Namikaze Kaiyo, who was also coincidentally my most constant ANBU guard, not that anyone knew I knew. I began to venture out into the village more, and was constantly regarded as 'Takara-chan' or 'Takara-hime' by the townspeople and some of the ninja. That annoyed me very much; I didn't want people to see my Ka-chan or Tou-san when they looked at me, I wanted them to see me, Namikaze Takara. Sure, they may be some of the most influential forces in the war right now, and Tou-san pretty much a shoe-in for Hokage, but that shouldn't mean that I got special treatment. I forced myself to be calm, remembering that I was eventually going to be a ninja and that I'd build my own reputation there.

Over time, my stealth skills gradually improved. I forced myself to train chakra control whenever I had any spare time at all, often times multitasking while I was doing pranks on other members of the village so that the ANBU wouldn't think anything of it. It was a struggle, I'll admit. I realized that I had quite a bit of chakra, akin to that of a high jonin at the very least. That also meant it was incredibly hard to tame, but with enough repetition, I began to get a handle on it. The good thing about chakra control was that it was also a mental skill, one I could practice during the nights in my mindscape. Of course, I couldn't go overboard and bring suspicion onto me at my lack of rest, but I made due with what I could.

The increase in chakra control meant I could start working on the clone jutsu, which was simple enough to explain away if I was caught and a good technique I used to slip away. Unfortunately, even with all of my training, I was still unable to make a regular clone. after seeing Tou-san make what he called a shadow clone one day to help with his paperwork, I decided to copy him. I succeeded easily, and those began to become one of my go-to moves in escaping. The pranks helped me increase stealth and chakra suppression, while the occasional race with Ka-chan or game of tag with Tou-san attributed to my jump in natural speed. I may have used slight bits of chakra to assist me there, but barely any, which, I hoped, didn't tip anyone off.

Finally, once I'd become fairly good at all the areas needed, I began to sneak off every now and then. Never more than an hour, and never incredibly close, but I still managed to do it. I'd leave a clone in my spot and sneak out from under the ANBUs' noses, making my way off to practice whatever jutsu or seal I could in the forest surrounding the house. It worked incredibly well, and as far as I knew no one was any the wiser.

Eventually, time came for my sixth birthday. Of course, seeing as I hadn't many friends besides Itachi, he was one of the few people invited. Ka-chan busied herself the whole morning putting up simple decorations and baking a cake and whatnot. Tou-san and I were ushered out of the kitchen so that he wouldn't mess anything up and I wouldn't see whatever she was making. So, instead Tou-san and I spent the time playing shogi. He of course beat me, but that was besides the point. I had yet to get much practice strategizing, but that was quickly fixed.

"Let's play again!" I called excitedly as Tou-san replaced the pieces in their starting positions.

"Whoa, calm down there Takara-chan. Since when have you been so excited to play?" Tou-san asked, chuckling under his breath.

"It's a fun game Tou-san! Again!" I simple replied, stretching a childish grin across my entire face.

"Alright, let's play."

Tou-san made the first move, and I studied the board, trying to discern what the best opening move would be. I settled on one and play continued, both of us losing a sense of time until a bit later.

Eventually, Tou-san and I both sensed someone coming, even if he did several moments earlier. I could tell by the way he straightened his back and slightly lost focus in the game.

"Itachi's coming," I said simply, going back to the game.

"Very good Takara-chan your sensing abilities are improving," Tou-san commented as Itachi's form came into sight.

"Ohayo Minato-sama, Takara-chan," Itachi greeted, bowing to Tou-san. "I have a gift..."

"Here, I'll take that inside. Take over my game for me will you?" Tou-san suggested with a strange gleam in his eye and slight smile.

You would leave us alone to figure out if there's anything going on Tou-san, I thought, smiling up at Itachi.

"How goes things down in the compound?" I asked the seven-year-old who sat across the board from me.

"Okay. Otou-sama has still been hard on me in training, however it seems to be slightly less rebuke the more I improve."

"Well, getting better is a good thing, right?"

"It is. Except for the fact that I don't particularly like fighting, unless it is to protect my family or precious people."

"That's a very honorable view, I think."

The game continued for some time, until Itachi bested me.

"Very good game, you are an intelligent person Itachi," I told him.

He was about to reset the board, but I stopped him.

"I'm kind of bored of shogi. What should we do?"

"I'm unsure. What would you like to do?"

I paused, thinking for a moment.

"Aha, I know." A devious grin spread across my face. "Race you to the falls?"

A spark of competition flashed through his eyes, and we both raced off simultaneously on an invisible signal.

I dashed through the forest as fast as possible, feeling the wind whip past my face, tickled by the leaves here and there. The thought occurred to me that I should start practicing tree climbing and tree hopping as I'd seen my family and other ninja do, but at this point I hadn't begun that. In barely any time I appeared near the waterfall, situating myself on my favorite rock. Itachi was right behind me, slightly surprised that I'd managed to make it here before him.

"How did you do that Takara-chan?" he questioned, sitting next to me.

I could hear slightly shallow breaths and his chakra was slightly irregular, leading me to believe he'd tree hopped.

"I ran on the ground Itachi, I'm much more used to it than tree hopping like you."

"Aa, I see," Itachi responded, a comfortable silence descending on the two of us.

We simply sat next to each other for a moment, taking in the surrounding landscape. Birds chirped cheerfully, the spring flowers already blooming, trees green and full of life. I then got quite the mischievous idea. Standing slowly, I moved as close to the edge of the pool as possible. Mist sprayed my face from the end of the waterfall, and I was aware of Itachi's eyes on my every move. I then unbalanced myself, and began to 'fall' into the water.

"Ah, Itachi!" I cried in mock desperation. He was up in seconds, one arm around my waist to keep me from falling.

"Gotcha," I whispered to him, and propelled the both of us into the tumultuous waters.

The shock of cold water enveloped the both of us, and I quickly popped back up to the surface. Itachi soon followed, a mix between surprise and amusement on his face. His lips curved into a small smirk.

"Devious girl," he teased lightly, before returning to his near emotionless expression as usual.

"C'mon Itachi, give up the dignified Uchiha heir look and attitude for an afternoon at least, please?" I practically begged as I began to climb back onto the rock.

"Maybe," he said, and I could hear the smirk in his voice. That was quickly followed by a hand grabbing my foot and pulling me back in.

"That's more like it," I replied, splashing him lightly, which initiated a splash war between the two of us.

Finally got the Itachi Uchiha to relax for at least a little bit. What an achievement, I thought, mentally grinning.

砂時計

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