You guys wouldn't believe how long this idea has been in my head. At least…back to November. Of 2007. It's March now. I would need several hands to count the times I went to bed thinking of ideas for this story and smiling at Sasori's image in my head and asking myself, "Should I write this tomorrow?" Well here I freaking go. It got its inspiration boost from a book. The Dorling-Kindersley Handbook of Horses. Seriously. (When I was a kid I wanted a saddlebred, a dark brown male with white stockings named Cloud, and a female appaloosa whose name I never decided.) Amazing how completely off-subject stuff will get you back on-subject at the most random moment.

Another reason I was slow with writing this was because I wondered if it was too weird, if people would think freaky things of me for posting it. Now I laugh at myself for ever thinking that. Straight characters are made into gay prostitutes in fanfiction. My ideas aren't that weird, and if you think they are, browse the fanfiction archives for thirty seconds and find out.

I better get on with this…to see if it turns out anything like what I daydreamed. I will try to keep it a two-shot or three-shot, but if it turns into a multi-chapter story, then…we'll deal with that. Oh, and to honor the book that finally got me to writing this, I will include horses as something of a story element. See if you can find all the references.

Oh, also, the humanoid race felis is pronounced FEE-liss. Not any other way you might be thinking.

Sasori is so goddamn OOC here that, were I a character in the Naruto world, he would seek me out and drive his thumbs into my eyes and hang me from the ceiling of a maggot-infested building by my fingernails till I starved to death. I warned you.

Hope this turns out okay.

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At the Information Vault

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Once upon a time that we won't bother to name, there was a second race of humanoids. They lived alongside humans perfectly well, fought alongside them, befriended them, bred with them, lived together in as much harmony as could possibly be, and so on. This second race was called Felis, a usage of the latin word "felis," meaning cat or cat-like. They were called so because of their two feline traits.

Ears and tails.

A felis had four ears, two "human" ears on each side of their head and two feline ears near the top, that were usually the same color as their hair. They also had tails, of varying lengths, that also typically matched their hair color. There were cases, however, of a felis having cat ears but no tail, or a tail but not ears. It was considered rare, but not bad.

Another felis trait was longevity; an average lifespan was about nine hundred and fifty years. If a human and a felis had a child together, the resulting half-breed (half-breeds almost always had felis ears and tails) was not plagued by racism as you may think. To do so would be pointlessly foolish, like judging a person by their number of eyelashes. A half-breed's lifespan was near four hundred years.

Most felis aged like humans for the first two decades or so of their lives. A human child of ten years would look just the same as a felis child of ten years. But while the human would be graying and aged around fifty, the felis would still appear to be in its twenties, still youthful. They rarely appeared to age beyond that, and most likely when a felis died after centuries of life it would still appear as it did when it was twenty years old.

The world in which our tale takes place was made up of five oceans that we won't bother to name right now, and four continents that we will bother to name, because it's quite important to the story, you see. There were three large continents, and one that was considerably gigantic. In order of smallest to largest, their names were Konik, Noriker, Caspia, and Fell. Each of these continents boasted a king and a queen (excluding Caspia at this time, whose queen fell to sickness, and Fell, whose king and queen had died three centuries ago) who were both pleasing figureheads to the people and their own political powers. Konik and Caspia had human rulers, and Fell and Noriker had felis ones. It had been this way for more millennia than can be counted.

The story I'm getting comfy enough to tell you is focusing on two inhabitants of Fell, the largest and most powerful continent by far. Here, we'll get to know the prince and the one he chose to be his beloved. Said beloved never really gave her consent for the prince's choice, but never really resisted either.

And here we begin, with our prince, when he first realizes the identity of the one he plans to have.

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March 28th, very early in the morning or extremely late at night, depending on one's views

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The felis were also known for prophetic dreams. When one person, a human, witnesses an event, and connects the event with a dream they had, their friend may laugh good-humoredly and say, "Oh, so you're a felis now?" Felis didn't have prophetic dreams often, in fact, it was a rarity among the species. Some one in a hundred of them ever did. It was mostly a few famous dreams of a few famous felis that made the strange ability so famous. We are extremely lucky to see this one felis in a hundred right now.

He's sleeping, you see, looking much more innocent than he really is, in his private chamber, in the castle that had housed his ancestors and their servants for more years than he could imagine. There, on a bed large enough for two, covered with sheets of only the finest silk, Akasuna no Sasori was having his first, last and only prophetic dream, for he was a felis. He was the prince of Fell, the largest continent, and within a few decades, when he was king, he would hold the most powerful political position on earth. And here he was, panting and sweating and wondering what he was seeing in this dream.

Oddly, he was completely aware it was a dream, and knew he could make himself wake up if he wanted. The space around him was black, but occasionally it would light up with sudden, speedy images, or sounds would come out of nowhere and he would strain his ears to hear it. He was after all, a felis with no cat ears. Only his age—still quite young for a felis—and his long, red tail marked him as a non-human.

For three or four seconds, he saw shaky images of a blonde felis woman, who oddly showed signs of aging, laying on a four-post bed and panting. She was pregnant, in labor. Another woman was besides her, a dark-haired, skinny one, supposedly the nurse, helping her through the delivery. The image turned to black immediately, and humming sounds reverberated all around him. He heard the soft breathing of a newborn, the excited exclamations of the mother and the nurse, about how little she was, her eyes, her lovely ears. Sasori never once heard the child cry.

He must have skipped time then, because the next thing he saw was the felis woman, no longer pregnant, but looking happier than ever in a grey shirt of fine satin. She leaned casually against a fence, and Sasori could see two large draft horses in the background. Beyond them was a flourishing, flowering meadow, undoubtedly a peaceful and near-perfect place to live. Then he saw the nurse woman, apparently a relative and not a nurse if she was living there, walk into the scene with two china cups in her hand. Their voices were distant, muffled. He felt he should hear what they were saying.

The dark-haired woman who had been a nurse before suddenly put up a hand and waved to someone, and a child entered, stage left. He could see only the top of her head, her refreshingly striking pinkhairand little, pointed felis ears. The child couldn't have been older than seven. The blonde woman reached in front of the skinnier one and picked the girl up. She set her down on top of the fencepost, where she sat comfortably, talking to the dark-haired woman. She was small and skinny and wearing clothes that were a smidge too big, hair cropped up to her shoulders, and had eyes that were bright and wild.

The image changed, warped, destroyed itself. A little noise like static sounded all around; another image lit up suddenly.

The girl was much older now, perhaps her mid or late teen years. She was walking, and he was looking at her back clothed in an athletic, sleeveless and silken vest. She had changed little since the last picture; her hair was still pink as a sakura tree, hair cut short and close to her shoulders, and her body still appeared lean. She turned around suddenly, showing the same fiery emerald eyes and face in the perfect shape of a heart. Her smile was positively brilliant.

A jolt. A thunderous jolt in his chest. His heart recognized something. Wanted something.

The girl, the pink-haired and green-eyed child of the blonde felis, was what his heart recognized. That little girl would grow up to be his mate, his lover. The queen of Fell.

I must apologize for not explaining to you before, dear listener. It's not uncommon for a felis to feel when they're near their life partner, or dream about them now and again before they've met them. In fact, most felis who have prophetic dreams report the dream featuring their life partner. Rarely was such a dream about anything else, and if it was, it usually wasn't good for you. And here was another example.

You'd think he'd shoot up in bed after waking from a dream that could change his life, but not the Sasori. No, he was a mellow sort of man, who would show anger only when he meant to kill and happiness and amusement only when it was perfectly suitable. Perhaps that personality combined with his natural looks was what made the local girls, felis and human alike, so incredibly attracted to him.

So, instead, he opened his eyes slowly, lazily, happy to flounder around in the fact that a large piece of his life had just been completed very easily, and in a few years he would be a much happier man. But the child had appeared six or seven years old—he'd obviously seen a future image—and he could sense that she had been born tonight, the 28th of March, just a few hours after midnight. It would be half a decade at least before the scene he'd witnessed just a minute ago came to be reality. It would be six or seven years before he sought out that lush place, sought out that girl whose hair was like sakura trees, before he brought her to his home where she belonged.

Until then he had plenty to do. There were always political or combat issues to dissolve and discuss or take part in, and out of uncharacteristic laziness he'd been avoiding most of it in the past few weeks. He blamed his idiotic friend Deidara—who stupidly called himself the prince's "Secretary"—completely. Hopefully in the next few years some of those issues would be gone and less would come, and he could work out some damn free time for himself, and some to be shared between he and the wild-eyed blossom.

Naively young or not, it had been her eyes that caught his attention before anything else. They'd been absolutely aflame with emerald fire, a strength and independence and freedom, in body and spirit, something that would surely help her achieve great things in her lifetime.

She'd already unknowingly achieved one: the attention of one of the world's most powerful individuals.

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Years later, on the 6th of May, at noon exactly

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It was something of a stereotype on all continents but Caspia, which often tended to be sophisticated and classy and too busy being up on its high horse to even look at such things. But on Noriker, Konik and Fell, it was a stereotype, and true to stereotypes, sometimes it was true.

The stereotype was this: a family or person, human or felis, was measured in wealth by how many horses they owned.

There were plenty of rich families with but one horse, or poorer families with plenty of them, and it didn't make them any less wealthy, so thusly the statement above would be dubbed a stereotype. The family we're going to focus on here was an average little farm made up of three felis women, or rather, two women and a little girl. The family owned five horses, an average number.

It was made up of Tsunade Hokage, the "head" of the family, four hundred and one years old and Shizune Hokage, Tsunade's younger sister by a hundred and fifty-six years, thus making her two hundred and forty-three, and Tsunade's daughter, Sakura Hokage. Sakura was only a few months over seven years old, and was Tsunade's first and only child.

She had no father. Sakura had been a virgin birth; Tsunade had not lain in bed with a man to get pregnant with her. One day, she simply went to the nearest town doctor for a checkup, and found she was three months along.

Tsunade was damn glad. With or without a man's help, there could never have been such a wild beauty as her daughter.

No one really knew what it was about Sakura that made her as in tune with Mother Nature as she was. It just was there, and the other little farm families that surrounded Tsunade's smiled admiringly and accepted it. Sakura was a thing of the outdoors. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, she would be outside, watching or riding her horses, running in the fields, climbing trees, cloud watching, swimming, berry picking. She frequently came home barefoot, scratched and scruffy and wet and smelling like the wind and looking quite content with the world. Infrequently, though, was she hurt by nature.

No matter how much the petite girl swam, she never came home with leeches or a cold. No matter how much she ran over the hills and through the grass the scratches on her legs were never serious. No matter how many times she dove into a thorny bush to retrieve its berries or flowers, the bleeding cuts were never infected, and always healed quickly. Nature herself seemed to love the girl, perhaps because she was just as free and beautiful as nature, because within nature was her favorite place to be. Whatever the reason was, Sakura's life was near perfect and the natural world only made it better.

As it were, right now Sakura sat on her favorite fencepost, looking into the square-shaped corral and watching her family's horses grazing and lazing about. Though only one of these horses had been specifically bought for Sakura, she thought of all of them as hers, and the horses all thought of the pink-haired child as theirs.

Firstly, there was the most recent addition to the horse family, whom Shizune had bought for Sakura's third birthday. He was a Noriker trotter, a breed well known for their easy riding and smooth running gait. His coat was a sleek and smooth reddish-gold all the more beautified by the white blaze on his face. Sakura had named him Foxtrot, after a foolish dance her slightly drunken mother had been dancing as Sakura first climbed onto the horse.

The two oldest horses, nearly fifty years old (still quite youthful in this strange world), were twins, both huge draft horses whose job it was to pull wagons and plows and do it with ease. They were pale brown shire horses with white feet, perhaps the biggest type of horse there was, notable for their "furry" hooves and overall hugeness. These were both females, named Renee and Ruki.

Camille was a shagya, a species from the colder, northern parts of Konik, a species of horse that was almost always white or whitish-grey and whose coat was always a bit thicker than one's average horse. Camille herself was perfectly white excluding black hooves and eyes, and was the gentlest creature to ever be born.

Last but not least was Maraconn, the mountain pony, who was Tsunade and Shizune's most-used "leisure horse," a creature used more for free riding than working. Maraconn's coat was smooth and perfect and whitish-grey, but her teeth were nearly yellow from all the sweets she stole from Sakura's pocket.

At the moment, Sakura was laughing and struggling not to be knocked off the fencepost by Foxtrot and Ruki, who were nuzzling into her face like they usually did when they were happy or affectionate. Sakura's expert felis hearing could detect Maraconn creeping up, hoping to steal the peppermints she had in her trouser pocket.

Her wide pink ears pricked up suddenly, and all the horses pricked their ears, too, turning their heads to the south end of the valley, where the trail from their house wound up several miles to the nearest town, Fjord. Whenever anyone came to the little Hokage farm, almost surely they would come down from that road. As the house and the barn and the corral were set somewhat low in the valley, the residents of the place could look up that road and see anyone coming long before they got to the house. And so Sakura was able to look up and see Shizune riding Camille speedily down the trail before Shizune could see Sakura.

She scooted herself off the fencepost and into the corral. With the lightning speed that was her talent, Sakura dashed around the horses crowding the other side of the corral, leaped through the gap in the corral fence, and dashed up the hill to meet her aunt. "Shizune! Hi, Shizune!" she cried, waving. Camille raised her white head and whinnied down to Sakura, but Shizune hardly seem to notice her niece standing on the edge of the path.

As she came closer, Shizune pulled gently on Camille's reins and the shaggy white horse trotted around Sakura. Shizune's dark-colored cat ears were practically bristling. "Where's Tsunade, dear?" she said, gasping. "I have something…urgent! Very urgent, to tell her! She needs to see this letter very soon!"

"At the lake, fishing," Sakura replied, pointing. Shizune groaned. The lake was at the northernmost tip of their property, the opposite end of where they were now, nearly a mile away. "For all the…! Well, it's nothing for you to worry about, Sakura. Go on back to the horses, they look frightened." With that, Shizune clicked her tongue and Camille took off down the hill. She sped past the house without even glancing at the other horses, went up the valley and over the hills and too far away for little Sakura to see.

Sakura, being a curious little felis kit who pondered about many things she was too young to understand, naturally did not go back to the horses. Directly. No, she passed them, briefly stopping to pat Foxtrot comfortingly on the nose before running around the corral and following the trail of Camille and Shizune.

Running was perhaps her most favorite thing to do, she'd even tried to race the horses, all of them, on foot and by herself—she'd gotten in trouble, Tsunade insisted she could have been stepped on—and it was an easy feat for a felis kit, especially this one, to run a mile without exhaustion. It was pure bliss to feel the wind on her skin and the grass sweeping the legs of her trousers and the exertion of every quick breath.

She was about to crest the hill that would allow her to see their family's little lake on the horizon, but she stopped. Sakura got down onto her belly, pulling her pink feline ears close to her head, and made sure the blueberry bushes in front of her hid her from view. Feeling secure and quite sure no one could see her, the felis girl peeked over the edge of the hill.

She wasn't surprised to see her mother at the lake—she liked to go there whenever she had free time to take naps by the shore—but she was surprised, however, to see the team of huge stallions and men in fine robes standing near the lakeshore. Near her mother. Immediately she became angered, compelled to go run down and protect her mother from the strangers, but calmed down when she saw said mother talking to one of them, quite calmly.

There were six men and six horses, red carriers, Sakura knew from her oddly extensive knowledge of unusual things. Red carriers were usually chestnut of red roan-colored horses, bred for being able to run long distances while carrying passengers or loads with little rest. The six red carriers down at the lakeshore were all chestnut-colored, excluding the two on the far end who were such a dark red they were nearly black, and they carried strange décor on their necks and legs that suggested only a royal person could ride them.

Five of the men stood back near the horses as the animals stood regally looking out over the lake. The sixth was the one talking to her mother and Shizune. Sakura squinted to see him. He looked very tall, towering even over her mother, and his hair was redder than any plant she could name, and she couldn't quite tell the color of his eyes from this distance, but the shape of them alone looked kind of evil, and the long black coat he wore didn't make him seem much more nice.

Sakura narrowed her eyes; surely the man was evil and she'd have to use her jackrabbit-speed to run over and bring her mother back home quick as lightning and lock all the doors and wage war against the black-cloaked man. She had plenty of weapons prepared under her bed.

Her theory of the man being evil looked more feasible by the second. One minute the man's head is bowed and then he looks Sakura's mother in the eye with an expression the kit had never seen in anyone's eyes before.

She cocked her head slightly, and scooted a little closer, a little more out of the blueberry bushes. Tsunade's eyes were wide and she looked at a loss for words, but then shook her head to gather herself and bowed low. The redheaded man said something, (Sakura had seen his evil mouth move) and her mother moved up again. The man swished a long, red tail, which showed him to be felis, the type without ears.

The other five men—Sakura then saw how muscular and strong and daunting those five looked and felt a little afraid—understood the signal and mounted their horses. Sakura watched in confusion as Shizune mounted Camille again, and the redhead felis offered one of the darker red carrier horses to Tsunade. Sakura's mother looked flushed, bowed several times, and accepted. Then the entire party began cantering at a fast pace towards the women's farm, the redheaded man running near Tsunade.

With a cry and wishing she'd never gotten so close, Sakura bristled her tail in fear and began a speedy dash back to the corral. Her pink tail streaming behind her, the felis kit zipped over the hills, keeping as low and as out of sight as she could, until she was back at the corral after what seemed like a lifetime of running. She jumped over the fence completely, nearly crashing into Renee's leg, and dove behind the big draft horse to the thick shrub in the corner of the corral. The horses seemed to realize that she needed to be hidden, so left her there and stared at the approaching team of stallions cresting the hill.

Sakura turned her pink feline ears to the strange men and horses, peeking out a tiny hole in the branches. She could now see all of them clearly, as they were hardly ten yards from her and her felis vision was near perfect. Tsunade dismounted the foreign, decorated horse and went up to the fence.

Immediately Foxtrot went up to her, his body conveniently hiding Sakura and most of the shrub from Tsunade's view. He nickered and prodded his nose into her face. Maraconn followed suit. Tsunade, rubbing Foxtrot's white muzzle, called out, "Sakura? Sakura, where are you?"

Sakura knew it was not a lucky day for her at all. These terrifying, dark men and their mean-looking horses wanted to see her. After getting a good look at the redhead—whose eyes were dark brown, she noticed—she decided she'd rather not go up to any of them unless she had a good, solid wall to protect her from the weapons she bet they were stealthily hiding. Tsunade then lifted her head and sniffed the air around her twice. Sakura stiffened, hoping the earthy, wheaty smell of the horses and their feed would hide her scent. She smiled and stuck out her tongue happily when that just seemed so. Tsunade appeared not to know she was hiding very near, as she gestured to Shizune, who began circling the house.

"It's not a problem," said one of the men when Shizune completely the circle and apologized for Sakura's absence. "There was a pair of bandits that needed to be taken care of just before we arrived here, ma'am; we probably smell like a bloody mess to her." Now that Sakura got a good whiff of the wind, she found that, yes, they did smell a bit like blood. All the more reason to avoid them.

"I've got her scent. Come over here, please!" called Tsunade from the other side of the house. The redhead turned to one of the other unnamed men and gave him a low command. The man nodded gravely. Then Shizune, the redhead, and most of the other men of the squad followed Tsunade's voice. Two men and two of the horses stayed where they were, standing and staring admiringly at the flowering greenery of the valley around them.

Sakura steeled herself, deciding it was time to be brave. (There were only two of them she needed to take care of, so it would be easier.) She stood up and walked out from behind the shrub, trying to appear as casual and unafraid as she could. One of the men smiled and twitched his felis ear humorously; he'd known she was there all along and was surprised she'd been able to hide herself to deftly. Returning his smile with one of her own, Sakura climbed up on the fence and sat there with her legs crossed and her tail swishing below her.

"Wait…what?" she heard one of the foreign men say from the other side of the house. Smirking, Sakura made herself comfortable and dignified on the fence, and Ruki and Maraconn came over to stand beside her. She could hear them coming around, and one of the redhead's men, a handsome blonde human, came around the corner and saw her. He laughed once, a short and sort of disbelieving sound, and gestured to the others. The felis kit gulped, preparing to face all of the scary-looking people, as they came closer to the fence.

"Sakura! Where were you?" Shizune chided, jogging over and flicking her ear with her finger. Sakura flinched—her ears were sensitive and she preferred them to be untouched—and then said, "I've been sitting up here all along. What do you mean, where was I?" Shizune shook her head and Tsunade came over with the redhead, both silent.

Even when she was sitting on top of the fence, the redhead was still uncomfortably tall, and his eyes only looked a little less evil than they had from afar. Hoping there wouldn't be some awkward silence, as soon as the redhead and her mother had stopped coming closer, she asked, "Did you just move here? Because if you did, you should move into the valley. It's better out here than in town. A lot more room."

Tsunade smiled and replied, laughing, "No, silly, he's come from far away to visit us. All the way from Suna." Sakura's pink ears pricked up; Suna was the bustling and colorful city at the foot of the royal castle, the very same castle where the prince of Fell resided. "Are you a noble?"

Trying not to laugh again, Tsunade said, "No, he's the prince. Akasuna no Sasori." Sakura's left ear kinked to the side so that her ears made a sort of L shape, and she looked disbelievingly as Sasori. Before she could ask anything or make any remarks on how un-princely she thought he looked, her mother continued, "He'll be your husband someday; he's dreamed it. He's come to take us away to live in Suna, near the castle."

"Are you really?" she asked, still looking quizzically at him. He nodded, and Sakura decided his eyes had suddenly stopped looking evil. No, they appeared quite…gentle. "I have, little one. You," he moved his tail up near the fence and twined it in hers, "are mine."

Sakura's ears and tail bristled suddenly and Sasori fought to keep back a grunt of surprise. In their first touch, they'd both felt an abrupt shock, like a small lightning bolt from the gods, shooting through them. Everyone twitched or gasped, of made some sort of visible recognition of the change in the air. The air, the air itself had sparked. There was no mistake; the green-eyed felis kit was the prince's chosen.

The events after passed in a blur for those who were there to witness them. One of Sasori's soldiers declared that there was another team of horses about an hour behind them, ready to be packed full of any possessions Tsunade, Shizune or Sakura might wish to take with them. Shizune was the only one of the family of women who showed surprise at being expected to leave so suddenly.

Tsunade, though a rural woman at heart, always enjoyed a town or city—where there was a town, there was a bar or restaurant that sold her favorite brand of ale. Sakura was slightly depressed at having to leave her home, her favorite trees and swimming spots and hills, but was mostly made cheerful again by the fact that she could bring all her horses along with her.

Shizune was the only one who really packed. She took it upon herself to lay all their possessions in piles, farming tools, horse tack, cooking pots, personal things. Tsunade stayed outside, talking to Sasori or his five soldiers about life away from a rural place. The horses, Tsunade's and the soldiers' alike, stayed in the corral and grazed themselves happy. Sakura stayed near Sasori, meaning to ask him what that lightning-jolt she'd felt was. Each time she got significantly close to him however, she walked off some yards and looked at the sky or aimlessly picked berries and snacked on them, thinking that Sasori was too tall to speak to unless she was sitting on a fencepost.

The second team of animals arrived about fifteen minutes before they were expected. Shizune panicked, as she had lost two very special antiques her father gave her, and implored one of the soldiers to start a frantic search to find them. There were nine red carrier horses and two huge white draft horses of a breed Sakura couldn't recognize. The draft horses stared at her family's horses, apparently unfamiliar with any of those breeds, and constantly went over to the corral edge to sniff them over the fence, making the packing process much slower.

Sakura took advantage of the extra time in the best way she could think of: hanging around Sasori, and hoping he would eventually ask her why she was following and she would have no choice but to ask about the lightning-feeling. That plan turned out to be unneeded, as Tsunade witnessed. When about half of their things were packed onto the eleven newest horses, Tsunade saw that, about fifty feet away, her daughter was again sitting on the corral fence facing the prince of the continent. His back was turned, but she could see her daughter's mouth moving. She pointed to the wide collar of his cloak, and Tsunade could just imagine her giving some completely blunt remark about it.

Sasori shook his head to whatever she'd said, and gestured with his furry red tail to Tsunade. Sakura jumped off the fence and walked slowly over to her mother, looking wary. Tsunade walked up to meet her and curiously observed her daughter's face; it looked absolutely terrified now. "Er…Tsunade," Sakura had always called her mother by name, "how…how old are you?" She flinched after saying this, and looked ready to flee.

"Four hundred and one, hun. Why do you ask?" Sakura looked back at Sasori, who was still standing by the corral and observing them. "He's three hundred thirty-six. I told him he was too old for me, and he laughed and said to get my mother's opinion on this matter." The last part had been a quote, and instead of laughing at her kit's nature she just flicked her blonde felis ear.

Since homes around this rural area of Fell—the Wide Plains, they were called—were miles apart, different families only gathered for holiday celebrations in town, and rarely saw each other otherwise. Thusly, Sakura hardly ever saw other human children or felis kits and had no true playmates but the horses her mother and aunt had. It was no surprise that with such a lack of sociality, and a clever little mind that usually told her to ponder curious things on her own and not ask them aloud, she knew little of felis culture and customs.

There were some things she knew by interactions with her mother and aunt, like tail twining suggesting some kind of bond between two people. (Either that or you grabbed a felis's tail to annoy them or keep them from running away.) A lick on the feline ears was an ultimate sign of affection, and to bite the ears meant the biter was not cool with whatever the victim was or had been doing.

Another such thing from felis culture was that age gaps between individuals meant very little. Tsunade herself had once had a boyfriend much older than her when she was eighty-nine—of course, her appearance was still youthful, as is normal for a felis. The boyfriend had been a felis man who could drink an entire barrel of brandy and still walk in a perfectly straight line. His name was Orochimaru; he had been five hundred and sixty when Tsunade met him, and five hundred sixty-two when he died of black fever.

So, in ten or fifteen years when Sakura grew up, when Sasori would be in his three hundred forties, a bond between them would be perfectly normal. Sakura, however, didn't like the prospect of having a three hundred and thirty-six year old stranger for a mate. In fact, she'd planned to have no mate at all and adopt her children.

Poor Sasori was left alone for nearly an hour while Sakura tried to convince her mother that yes, the prince of Fell was much too old for her. This argument carried into the rest of the day, even when everything but the house and the large furniture was packed. Sakura was listing her forty-third point on the list of reasons why Sasori should find a different girl when she and Tsunade let all the horses out of the corral and began putting their tack on. Tsunade was just about to help Sakura mount Foxtrot when the subject of argument himself came over.

Tsunade froze immediately—she couldn't help but feel saying the wrong thing in front of him would be one of the worst mistakes of her life—and tried not to stutter in front of him, despite her seniority. "Majesty! Is there anything I can get you?"

"Yes," and both mother and daughter noticed again what a lovely voice he had, "If possible, I would like to ride with Sakura."

"Th—"

"That is perfectly fine!" Sakura interrupted her mother. She pointed her pink ears up towards him. "I have lots of things to tell you." Tsunade laughed nervously, and, unnaturally quick, she fetched a blanket and larger saddle from the barn and tied them to Foxtrot's back. "Foxtrot here is the smoothest runner of our group. You'll have no problem riding him…ah, this buckle is…there! Ready for you." She bowed exaggeratedly, and by the time she moved up again he'd already mounted. Foxtrot rolled his black eyes nervously, but when Tsunade lifted Sakura up to sit in front of Sasori, the trotter horse calmed down.

Tsunade thought it best to leave them alone for a few minutes while she got the tack on Maraconn, the steed she planned to ride the entire trip. When she returned to the group of soldiers and horses five minutes later, leading the mountain pony by a rope connected to her bridle, she found the prince and her daughter and her horse standing to the side of the entire party and conversing. Both looked cheerful. Sakura had Foxtrot's reins in one hand, just near Sasori's, and held said prince's tail in the other. Both were smiling.

Tsunade, grinning and shaking her head, mounted Maraconn, who did not look pleased at all to see her fellow steed friend carrying around a stranger. Tsunade shifted the reins and led the mountain pony over to Foxtrot. She passed Shizune, who looked equally perturbed at her niece and the prince appearing so friendly.

"You two seem cheery." the blonde commented as she rode up close on Maraconn. Sasori had his left hand on Sakura's head, between her pink feline ears. "Your child is very bright, Miss Tsunade." Tsunade tried to keep her smile as dignified and non-giddy as possible. A difficult task. "I purred the tune of 'Heartfelt,' and she recognized it with ease."

"Heartfelt", you must understand, was a very famous piece of classical music in this world of humans and felis, nearly equivalent to the works of Beethoven in ours. And it was not often you saw a seven-year-old listening to or understanding or even being interested in the works of Beethoven or any such things like them. So Tsunade was quite surprised.

"Wh—When did you hear that?" the blonde mother asked. "I followed you into Fjord once." Sakura replied back slyly, quite aware that she couldn't really be punished for such a thing in front of the prince. "It was three months ago. You went to get some more of that wine you like so much, and I hadn't been to Fjord in so long I thought I should see if there was anything new there. And a man by the post building had a violin, and he was playing it. He was very good."

"Since when are you interested in music?" Tsunade asked, and Maraconn nickered as though she, too, wondered. "Mmm…birth." the felis kit said, shrugging. Before her mother could ask anything else, the kit said, "You never asked me about it, so I never told you. You should've asked."

"And in the last five minutes she's made me aware of nine little adventures I don't think she would want you to know of." Sakura, under the impression that the prince would protect her from her mother's wrath, didn't seem unnerved by her secret adventures being unveiled.

Shizune came trotting over on Camille, the white shagya horse. "The, uh, the blonde felis told me to come and tell you we need to leave soon." she said, obviously slightly uncomfortable with speaking to such royalty. "Deidara's his name, I think. He says it's going to rain tonight, or tomorrow morning, and if we hurry we can be in Suna by morning. Is he serious, though? Our horses can go long distances if we need them to, but the journey to Suna has to be two…days' worth, at least, doesn't…it?"

Her words had trailed off due to the sight of Akasuna no Sasori and her young niece relaxed and together on the same steed. Her hand loosely holding his tail at her side, and his own hand—black-painted claws, Shizune noticed—comfortably on her head between her feline ears was so damned sweet she could hardly stand it. The fact that Sakura disliked even her mother to touch her ears only made it better. How she could have warmed up to him in five minutes when she'd spent the last two hours listing reasons to be away from him was beyond poor Shizune.

"Then now would be the perfect time to leave, wouldn't it?" the prince remarked. "You have a few minutes to say your goodbyes to this place. Visiting it won't be impossible; this won't be your last time seeing it."

When he directed Foxtrot away and towards his team of junk-packed stallions, Shizune and Tsunade were left alone to gaze about themselves for a few minutes. Shizune looked truly sad; before her older sister and her two horses had moved here, she'd lived here alone and mostly content for over a century.

She thanked the prince that he was allowing them to come and visit the farm sometime. She would miss directing Ruki and Renee over the fields to plow for the seeds of the yearly vegetables the family loved so much. She'd miss the barn where the horses slept and the house and the lush valley where she'd spent so much of her life. She would miss it, and hopefully enjoy her new home just as much.

Shizune wondered why her sister appeared so much more happy to leave. Tsunade had lived here with her sister in this valley for about two decades, and she knew that her blonde sister loved it, but she could enjoy another living quarters just as much as long as she had her family with her. This she had, and so she looked to the highly sudden change with confidence.

The kit of this tale, Sakura, shared much of her mother's thoughts. She knew she should feel sadness for leaving the places she knew and loved so well, but couldn't make herself feel that much sorrow. She, too, looked forward to a new place with her mother and aunt. Besides, as long as she could run and romp around freely, she doubted she'd have a problem with their new home. So, when Foxtrot carried she and Sasori over the hill that marked the northern edge of their property, she leaned outward and plucked a white orchid flower from its tall branches. Looking around with her large, bright eyes she found the perfect spot: a moss-covered rock that Foxtrot would pass in seconds.

Most of the mounted party was behind them, her mother and aunt included, so most would see her do this next act. Leaning over again, she dropped the orchid flower on the rock, as a good-bye to everything she was leaving here, and then turned around—using Sasori's tail for leverage—and waved to her old home. The valley said its goodbye in the only way it could: a breeze blew by, and the wind kissed Sakura's face.

She was smiling as the group picked up speed. All the horses, even the draft, were cantering now, not trotting but not galloping or running, and within minutes they'd long left the lonely little valley miles behind. Sakura wondered if Sasori was purring or if the smoothness of Foxtrot's gait was just getting to her. She decided it was both that put her to sleep, but it was most definitely Sasori's warm, red tail that kept her from falling off the horse.

666

May 7th, 7:02 AM

666

Not many of Sakura's dreams made sense. She dreamed rather crazy things, unrelated to anything she knew. This dream was just so. It had shown two one-eyed dogs trying to find their way out of of a gigantic mansion that was dangerously and ridiculously overflowing with candy. The second dog eventually couldn't resist the treats all around and had stayed in the mansion forever, gorging itself. The first one, finding temptation too great, jumped out a window, landed on a trampoline and bounced into a pile of hay, from which it ran triumphantly into the sunset.

Sakura woke up feeling hungry for some peppermint candies and wondering if she'd slept for a month, just the way she felt she had. She kept her eyes closed and her ears, all four of them, open, to see if maybe she could hear where she was, exactly, instead of see. She could feel that yes, she was still on a horse, yes, Sasori's tail was still gently wrapped over her shoulders, so wherever the city of Suna was, they hadn't gotten there yet.

"Is that it, Majesty?"

"It is."

"Beautiful!I could—! I could—! Tsunade, just look at it! Do you see that corral? That cottage? They're enormous, and the flowers on the porch, gods above, is that a snapdragon bush? "

"Don't give yourself a stroke. You're agitating Camille, and you'll wake my kit."

"Is she all right like that, Tsunade? I mean, almost two days and she hasn't woken up once, mm."

"Ah, you're a sweet man, Deidara. She's slept much longer than this; it's perfectly fine."

Wondering what the adults would say to find her awake through that whole conversation, Sakura blinked open her eyes and was about to say, "I can hear you, you know," when the sight before her took her breath away.

If the rolling hills and tall grasses of the valley at home had been beautiful, this place was nothing short of magnificent. Violet mountains lined the horizon, and at their bottoms Sakura could just see thin, dark lines, forests at the feet of the mountains. From those forest lines all the way to Sakura, and to the opposite mountainous horizon, stretched a wide, hilly plain dotted with blossoms and flowering trees. Perhaps a hundred yards away, was a fine two-story cottage sitting next to a gigantic corral and a little red barn. Nearly out of sight at the far forest line was another cottage with a smoking chimney, their nearest neighbors.

This scene wasn't including the castle, of course. And we must include the castle and its surrounding city, Suna. The mounted party was just trotting off the beaten path towards the cottage, but said beaten path led down the valley towards a stone wall surrounding a stone city that could just barely be seen through the open gates. Rising high above this city were three black marble towers, dotted with windows and flags and an overpowering air of royalty that reached the group even out here, beyond the wall.

(AN: The physical outlook is somewhat similar to the fields around Hyrule Castle in Twilight Princess, I daresay…)

No longer giving a rip as to whether or not the adults knew if she was awake, Sakura was suddenly stretching as high or as far as she could to see over Foxtrot's chestnut-colored head. Her pink feline ears pointed backward towards her mother when said blonde called from behind, "Sakura, that's going to be our house! That awesome thing there!"

"I'm getting a closer look!" she cried. And without so much as turning around to acknowledge Sasori, who still held her close, she gripped Foxtrot's reins and slapped down. The horse, obeying the command of his more favored rider, neighed loudly and blasted into a high-speed gallop, completely surprising Foxtrot's other rider. Sakura had no idea what a fool she'd just made of Fell's prince.

They were about halfway to the cottage, and Sakura was laughing quietly at how the soft ground made Foxtrot's smooth gait even smoother, when she felt Sasori wrap an arm around her. Then, without any warning whatsoever, he jumped off the horse and several meters into the air. The felis kit was much too startled to even utter a shocked cry as she felt herself hang in midair and watched her horse go on running.

She stiffened fearfully when they fell towards the ground, but found Sasori had great balance, and he landed standing up in the grass soundlessly and easily. Sakura was still much too startled to do more than dig her little feline claws into his arm.

Foxtrot came cantering over the them, nickering in horse language something along the lines of, "What the hell was that?" and Tsunade came running over. The blonde felis woman jumped not-very-nimbly off Maraconn and Sasori passed the kit to her, who was set down on the ground immediately. "What were you doing, setting Foxtrot into a gallop so suddenly! You could have injured yourself and his Majesty! I think you owe him an…apology…"

But Sakura was already bowing and apologizing faster than words could allow her. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know I made you look really stupid like you were gonna fall off or something and falling off horses isn't a prince-ish thing to do and it could have broken your spine and it would be very nice if you didn't chop me up into little pieces and eat 'em!"

While Tsunade was blinking in surprise and Shizune came over to do quite the same thing, Sasori's shoulder shook with silent laughter. "I would never have fallen off," he assured. "And even if I somehow had, I wouldn't be hurt by such a thing. It would take much more than a fall to injure me." Sakura was still apologizing at a pace so fast her words could hardly be made out.

Eyes aglitter with an amusement and gentleness most of his soldiers had never seen before, he crouched down and pinched the kit's feline ear to get her attention. She stopped immediately, rubbing the sensitive thing and now glaring not quite apologetically into his brown eyes. "And are you hurt, little one?" he asked.

"No." she muttered. "I ride Foxtrot fast like that all the time. I never fall off."

The way his tail flicked her hand was something Sakura vaguely recognized as affectionate, but she brushed it off. Instead, avoiding that fond gaze he was giving her, she looked just past him and saw the wall circling the city of Suna and the black castle above it. "Are…are we going to go there, too?"

Sasori's five men turned to look as though they forgot the royal city was right behind them, along with Shizune and Tsunade. "You don't want to look at our new house, Sakura?" Shizune asked. "There's probably an attic room that you can use for your star-watching. You don't even want to see that?"

The pink-haired youngling was slightly angered that her aunt would think that she wouldn't want to do something related to star-watching, a favorite activity of hers. So she turned to Shizune and said indignantly, "Yeah, I do! But…maybe more near nighttime when stars are actually there…and that place looks kind of…fun to…" Well it was only reasonable. Where would a child want to be—a lively, scenic, unique city and a castle, or a cottage in the middle of a charming but boring field?

"At least unpack your carved birds." Tsunade insisted, going over to Deidara, whose steed's knapsacks contained said birds. "I'm sure the blackbird would love to be on the windowsill up in that attic room there. What's his name again? Riddle?" Now embarrassed that her love for creative naming was revealed in front of the prince, Sakura looked away and took the little wooden, painted blackbird as her mother handed it to her.

"I don't see a reason why she can't see Suna," Sasori murmured. The seven-year-old had been about to open the red mahogany door to the cottage, but her ears pricked and she stopped with her hand an inch from the knob. "It only makes sense that a trip through the city would tire her out, take away the energy one receives when sleeping for two days. Perhaps she'll be calm enough to unpack then?"

Sakura would not know if this was or was not an unspoken command from Sasori to Tsunade and Shizune, something like, "You, the mother, may tell her she can't go, but I rule this continent and I say that this kit, my kit, shall be allowed." Then again, you would not know either. Even I, the teller of this tale, wouldn't know, but we're going to have to assume so because at the moment we can't think of any other option.

The kit in question set the blackbird carving gently on the snapdragon-filled flowerbox on the windowsill. She made sure it was safe in a little ditch of soil, safe from being blown off the flowerbox by the wind or knocked off by a real bird before turning around and saying, "I think so, too! If I didn't have so much energy, I'd unpack just like you tell me to, Tsunade! When I see the city and when I'm all burned out I won't want to run around anymore and I'll unpack everything."

Her daughter's innocent, green gaze completely full of hope was just too much, no matter what the prince of Fell said on her behalf. "Fine…but please be back as soon as possible. If you can, I mean!"

Sasori nodded, understanding the mother's want to keep her child near, not that he could remember much of his own mother acting the same way, but he did try. When she came up to him, eyes wide and excited, she asked, "When, when?"

"Now, if you'd like."

"I like now very much, thank you."

The smiles from both of them were genuine and warm. It wasn't all that surprising when he flicked his tongue over her little feline ear before standing up. It was surprising that Sakura accepted it without flinching back, for licking a felis's ear was an ultimate sign of affection and no one who'd spent the last few days watching them doubted that there was familiar affection between the two.

They went off on foot downhill, towards the walled city and the castle. Sasori's tail was wound protectively into Sakura's, and even Tsunade and Shizune, who'd been mildly irritated that he'd flashed the "I am the prince, my word is law" card to be able to give the kit what she wanted, found themselves nearly in tears at the sight of them.

Because it was so fucking cute.

666

DONE! Yeah. About six compiled hours, all in one weekend to get 17 pages. Slow for me and a smidge shorter than normal. My first comment is don't get all upset because Sasori's three hundred thirty-six and Sakura's like seven. Age gaps were explained within the story, above it, and even in the manga/anime where he's already about thrice her age and the fans seem okay with that and their ages is actually going to end up being a funny little plot device next chapter so if it worries you just lay off it. Oh, and don't get worked up over Sasori's OOC-ness, either. I warned you. Twice. You're the one that read it.

Mostly fluff in this chapter and the foundation of the plot. Next chapter will be more humorous, fun and adventurous with some fluff still in there, and more romance the third chapter. I have most of this planned out in my head. Except the ending and fancy details. I'll probably just wing those.

I stayed up till 11:00 on a Sunday night to get this done, so you'd better appreciate it.

Ta…Storm