A New Challenge
By Magnus Prime

This is my very fourth fanfic, so...well, I guess I can't ask you all to be gentle anymore...

"Ryu, wait up!"

Ryu turned from his departure from Tokyo to see a young woman racing to catch up with him. He grunted. Sakura...

The young woman had been hounding him for training almost from the moment he set foot in Tokyo to compete in yet another fighting tournament.

He had fought and defeated her for the first time two years ago when she was sixteen. After the match, the aspiring martial artist had made it very clear that she wanted to be trained by 'The Greatest World Warrior of All Time', as she had put it. Since then, he had tried to make himself invisible during his visits to Tokyo.

She always managed to find him, though, and this time was no exception.

"Hello, Sakura," he greeted as she skidded to a stop in front of him, hands on knees and gasping for air.

A smile broke out upon the young woman's sweaty and red face. "You...remembered...my name," she wheezed, though starting to regain her composure.

Ryu's eyebrows raised. "Of course. I remember all those that honor me with combat."

Sakura nodded gratefully, her breath finally catching up with her. "I ran all the way from school," she offered in explanation.

Ryu gave her another minute to recover before noting, "You graduate in two weeks, don't you?"

The almost-graduate straightened with a final 'huff', the sound emphasized by the lift of her shoulders. "Yeah. For a while there, I thought I wouldn't have enough credits, though."

Ryu gave one of his rare smiles. "I would have been surprised if you were not at the top of your class."

Sakura crossed her arms. "How did you-oh, right, the newspaper."

"Karin must be...irritated."

Sakura shook her head as she thought of the heiress to the Kanzuki fortune. "No, not really. I mean, yeah, she's competitive and all, especially with me, but..." she trailed off to give the thought more attention. "I think she'd be mad if she lost to anyone but me. I guess she respects me for some reason," she finished with an awkward chuckle.

Ryu gave up another rare smile. Changing the subject, he asked, "So, what do you need from me?" He figured that he already knew what she wanted, but he wouldn't second-guess her.

Sakura smirked, wrinkling her nose. "Oh, I think you know what I want."

Ryu's smile faded and he nodded sadly. "I'm sorry Sakura, but I'm still a student myself. Maybe Fei Long will take you in."

Sakura grimaced. "I like his style...Wing Chun-based, isn't it?" At Ryu's nod she continued. "But, I've been studying you-I mean, your style for so long..." She grinned sheepishly and looked at the ground.

The Shotokan warrior sighed heavily. "Sakura, the reason that I won't teach anyone is that I believe that I am nowhere near the level of Master Gouken." A beat. "While my skills are definitely improving, I have far to go before I will be worthy of taking a student."

Sakura sighed, nodding. She had expected that answer. But that didn't mean she wouldn't keep trying. "What about opening a dojo?"

Ryu sighed again. "But I just said-"

"I know what you said," the young woman interrupted. "But look at it this way, You could make a little money teaching what 'little' you do know, and if you plaster your name on the dojo, powerful warriors will want to come to you to fight. That way, you wouldn't have to hunt them down."

"Traveling is good for self-discipline," Ryu replied.

"Oh come on, Ryu! You've been traveling for years! Doesn't the idea of having a permanent home sound good to you?

Truth be told, Ryu had thought about it. But after losing himself to the Dark Chi... "I cannot think about such things. I have much to learn about myself."

Sakura hung her head. "Okay, Ryu, I think I understand." She saw him turn to leave. "Wait!" She kicked at the dirt uncomfortably. "Would you be willing to spar once before you go?"

Ryu considered her request, then dropped his traveling bag and took several steps away from it. Sakura clapped her hands before opening her backpack to retrieve her gloves.

After some light warm-ups, combat commenced.

The young martial artist knew she wasn't going to win this one, but as she did with everything, she gave it her all.

Ryu immediately started with a Hadou-ken. Sakura knew that if she jumped over to attack, he would catch her with a Shoryu-ken. She smiled and jumped anyway.

As expected, she could see Ryu rising with fist outstretched. It looked like he was putting everything into it. Perfect.

In midair, Sakura executed the Shun-pu Kyaku, her version of the Whirlwind Kick, just carefully enough to tap Ryu's extended forearm. The tap was enough to send him off balance, falling awkwardly to the ground.

The pride of the Kasugano family landed as Ryu rose to his feet, rubbing his forearm. Giving her an approving nod, he resumed his combat stance.

At that point, Sakura decided to take the fight to the 'Dragon'. Closing the distance, she tried throwing a few punches to Ryu's midsection. As expected, he blocked every one of them.

As the fight wore on, Sakura realized that Ryu wasn't putting his all into it, holding back many of his more damaging moves. At one point, she had overthrown a punch, leaving her chin wide open. She could even see in what seemed like slow-motion, Ryu setting up for another Rising Dragon Fist. At the last moment, he stopped and settled by pushing her away.

Her strength fading, the high-schooler grabbed the front of Ryu's gi, intending a throw. Before she could gain leverage, however, Ryu quickly grabbed her at the elbows, rotated them slightly, then fell back, carrying her into a throw of his own.

Ryu quickly got to his feet and faced his opponent, only to hear a gasping "I give up." He lowered his fists and walked over to the prone fighter and offered her his hand, which she accepted. "Thanks."

"You fought well as always." Ryu offered. "Thank you."

Sakura snorted as she started to dust herself off. "You're welcome. Nice to be entertaining every once in a while."

Ryu's brow lowered. "Are you teasing? I'm serious. You helped me find a weakness in my defenses, and for that I humbly thank you."

The young woman looked up at him with surprise. "Oh! I'm sorry Ryu, I thought you were making fun of...but I guess you don't do that, do you..." She dipped her head meekly. "My bad."

"No harm done," the warrior replied. "Well, thank you again." He made his way over to his traveling bag.

Sakura worried her lower lip with her teeth as she watched him pick up the bag. Do something!

Ryu faced her, gave a slight bow, and turned to head down the road once more.

Sakura, still worrying her lip, watched him depart. Her chest began to tighten, and her breathing started to quicken.

Anyone would recognize it as the breath of tears.

She began to run...

As Ryu headed down the road away from Tokyo, he suddenly heard footsteps rapidly approaching him from behind.


He whirled around just in time to feel something big connect with his stomach. A moment later, he found himself flat on his back, looking up into Sakura's flushed face. He shook his head to get the two girls to fuse into one. "I...I thought we were done," he finally managed to say.

Sakura had impacted him in such a way that she now sat atop his stomach, straddling him. Any other time, she would have been mortified, especially considering that she was still wearing her school uniform, skirt and all.

But she was on a mission. "Ryu, I have to tell you something."

Ryu blinked, clearly surprised. "And you had to tackle me to tell me? You could have told me before."

Sakura shook her head vigorously. "No, no I couldn't." Before he could respond, she stated, "Ryu, you can't leave."

"I can't?" Ryu actually seemed amused. "Why not?"

"Because..." she started. "Because...I, uh..."

Ryu watched with some awe as his young opponent began to blush even further.

"Ryu..." she tried. "I-I like you."

"Like me?" Ryu started. "I appreciate that, but..." he paused, trying to follow her thinking. "Sakura, you...you don't even know me."

The high-schooler nodded in agreement. "I'm sure of that. But the things that I do know about you, I really," she gulped, turning a darker shade of red, "really like."

It didn't take someone wise in the world to pick up the young woman's meaning. Dilated pupils, flushed cheeks...even Ryu recognized the signs of attraction.

What struck him as odd, though, was that her expression lacked the possessive aspect normally found in lustful expressions. Rather, he found what he believed was a...fondness of sorts. An affection, perhaps?

A flash of insight. "Sakura...why do you really want me to teach you?"

Sakura suddenly could not look him in the face. She dropped her head, which had the secondary effect of pointing her eyes at his sweat-moistened and well-muscled chest. She quickly looked aside, clearing her throat.

Despite her hanging head and quiet voice, Ryu found he could hear her quite clearly. "When we first sparred, I really did just want to learn from you. But after our match, I found myself...developing a, uh... crush on you."

Ryu blinked, in surprise this time, cocking his head.

She noticed the motion and gathered the courage to look into his face again. "I've had two years to think about it." She tsked, shaking her head. "Think about it," she grunted. "More like swooning. For the first year, at least." She looked off into the distance. "After I turned 17, though, I realized that what I felt had...changed, somehow. Became more than just a 'he's so cute, he's so strong' kind of thing." She blushed yet again as the memory surfaced.

The young woman looked down at him, blush still firmly in place. "What I realized, is...I...I wasn't attracted to your face or your skills." At another surprised blink from the Shotokan warrior, she waved her hands defensively. "No, no, I still think you're incredibly handsome and the best fighter in the world, and I still want to learn from you!" The blush faded to pale. "My God, I did not just make a fool of myself!"

Ryu simply shook his head. "No, you didn't." She looked down at him again, and he could see that her eyes had returned to something resembling normalcy, but she still managed to smile at him with that strange smile, that strangely welcoming smile...

Sakura took a deep breath then looked her victim square in the eyes. "Okay, Ryu, I'm going to be completely open with you. 'Lay out all of my cards', as the Americans say." Another deep breath. "I understand that you consider yourself a student, that we all are. But you understand a lot more than me about fighting, and I want to learn that. Also..." She swallowed, and Ryu could see her fighting to hold her gaze to his. "Also, I want to see if I am worthy..." the young woman started to turn slightly green. "Dammit, I am going to say this..." She took a deep breath and forced, "I...want...to...see...if...I...am...worthy...to...be...your...wife."

With that she collapsed, the impact of her slender frame barely jarring the large man, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, her heart and mind nearly bursting from the admission.

Although she could hear the cacophony of her own body, she noticed nothing from the older man. No reaction, nothing of any kind. No words.

Finally, she lifted up her head to look into his face.

He was clearly lost in thought. A variety of emotions subtly presented themselves. To others, it would have appeared as though he were experiencing mild digestive problems.

But Sakura had taken the time to learn how to read him. He was confused.

She carefully slid off of him and folded her legs underneath herself to sit and look at the ground. "I'm really sorry, Ryu. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." She traced a circle in the dirt. "It just felt so strong, that...that I couldn't keep it to myself anymore."

Ryu sat up, crossing his legs and turning toward her. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then snapped it shut with a frustrated look.

Finally, he reached up and pulled off the red headband that he had worn at the recent tournament. Holding it out to her he asked, "You are 18 now, correct?"

Sakura reflexively reached out her hands. "Yeah, that's what I said."

He laid the headband in her waiting hands. "I shall return on this day in three years. If you are wearing this, I will be your...boyfriend." He spoke the slang awkwardly, as he was barely familiar with the concept. "But..." he admonished, "you will see other men in the meantime. I will not enter into a relationship with you unless you are absolutely certain."

She nodded. "I understand." She rose to her feet. "See you in three years, then?" she asked, offering her hand.

Ryu smiled, shaking his head while accepting the proffered hand. Getting to his feet, he retrieved his bag. Facing the young woman one last time he held out his gloved fist, saying, "Fight with honor, Sakura."

Sakura smiled and touched her gloved fist to his. "Fight with honor, Ryu."

With that, Ryu nodded and turned heading down the road to new challenges.

Sakura also turned, heading toward home with her new prize...and a new challenge.