Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Street Fighter. I can add amateur mechanic to my list of talents. It took six months, a lot of cursing, and anger, but I did it! I am ALL POWERFUL! There is nothing I can't accomplish if I find myself angry enough to attempt it in earnest, and you know what that means?

It's time to take over the world.

Chapter 52: True Strength


Dan was annoyed. It was alright letting Blanka stay with him. He'd been the one to make the offer to the green-skinned man to begin with because Blanka was a friend. It put him out slightly when Gouken started staying with him because the man had cast him out of his tutelage early on after learning why he wanted to learn martial arts, but he'd lost the right to complain in a fight with him so again there was nothing he could do about that.

Having Ryu stay there until Sakura came back was just pushing all of his wrong buttons.

Mostly because his students weren't listening to him and were more concerned with getting Ryu's autograph and asking him to tell them stories. It was screwing up his classes! Granted, he already had their money, but it was his dojo!

Just look at him, sitting all cool by the front window of the studio while people gawked from outside. He looked like a damn mannequin. Meditating, that was what he claimed to be doing. Sure. He could go meditate in the closet and cause less of a disruption.

For some reason he was on edge, maybe because while Ryu was stressing himself out over how he could talk Sakura down from trying to learn both the Satsui no Hadou and its lighter contemporary. Only Gouken's master had ever been able to do so, and in the end Akuma still killed him.

Maybe it was because Gouken himself seemed to be mentally preparing himself for something. He did nothing but meditate, drink water, and face the west on the rare occasions when he ventured outside. It was as if he was waiting for something, and he hadn't spoken in two days.

It was pretty creepy.

"What the hell is going on around here?" Dan mused grumpily as Blanka listened and happily choked down a fruit smoothie straight from the blender, "All of this doom and gloom crap. What's the problem? Life is good right now ain't it?" Blanka lowered the blender and fervently nodded with a mouthful of smoothie to agree with his oldest friend.

All of them had enough money to live comfortably, they were all simply living on and doing their own things, and if a problem arose it quickly found itself solved… with extreme amounts of physical violence. The kids that most of the anarchy seemed to surround had even gone off on a school-sanctioned vacation to Brazil.

Dan honestly figured that he himself should have done something like go on vacation. Hanging out with Ryu and Gouken was a complete buzzkill. They both took themselves far too seriously.

From his place of meditation, Gouken cracked an eye slightly to look at Dan momentarily. He had been able to hear everything that he'd said, and he knew of Dan's growing ire with the somewhat gloomy atmosphere forming around his dojo.

It was understandable, but at the moment it was more than likely for the best that he didn't know exactly why everyone was all pent up.

If he were lucky, he wouldn't have to find out why.

XxX

(Meanwhile – Brazil – Isolated Mountainside)

"Onward Naruto-san, noblest of bodyguards!"

"Yeah, I'm a bodyguard! I'm not a goddamn horse!"

"Of course not! One would not take a horse up this sort of terrain. You would take a donkey or a mule instead. What is Portuguese for 'donkey' I wonder?"

"If you start calling me a donkey I'm totally dropping you. Jeez, I know I told you to take it easy for a while, but this is a little too easy."

The helicopter had been forced to make a landing somewhere lower down on the intended mountain due to a complete lack of serviceable terrain for such an aircraft to safely land. For Naruto and Ibuki it was nothing, but for the other girls they simply weren't used to traversing that sort of terrain, especially plain old civilian Kei.

"Have I ever said…" Kei asked with a deep breath as she tried to keep pace behind Sakura as best as she could. The upward walking was draining her extensively, "…How much I hate hiking? I'm a city girl."

"We're going as slow as we can for you," Naruto said, leading the way and moving forward with a happy Karin riding piggyback, legs wrapped tight around his torso and her chin set comfortably on top of his head, "We should be running up this thing actually."

Sakura laughed nervously at the thought of doing so. Sure, she was in good shape, but her long-range speed was to be accounted for, as in she lacked in that regard, "Please don't," She wouldn't get tired and she wouldn't necessarily lose them because she could sense them, but Naruto and Ibuki would have left her in the dust, and then there was Kei to take note of as well. She definitely couldn't keep up or find them, "Why didn't you stay with the helicopter by the way Kei-chan?"

"In case a wild animal attacks or something," The regular schoolgirl answered, keeping a tight hold on Sakura's hand as she allowed herself to be semi-dragged upward through the jungle-clad mountain by her powerful friend, "I'd feel safer out here with all of you than down at the helicopter by myself."

All of this was apparently par for the course when you had superhuman classmates. Even if she wasn't used to it, she had to learn to cope quickly or find herself in over her head.

Meanwhile, Ibuki was still having fits about fighting one of the biggest legends in martial arts, living or dead. She couldn't try to sneak up on him, even if it was possible for her to do so or not. It had to be a straight-up challenge, a legitimate fight.

Basically, it was everything that she'd been trained to avoid doing if at all given the opportunity to keep away from. She wasn't given any wiggle room to skirt the rules either. It had to be her and her alone, and the only thing her friends could be allowed there for were as witnesses. They were moral support at best.

As she thought about all of this to herself she looked forward at the head of the group's progression to Naruto. He wasn't the conventional ninja, as he had absolutely no problem with fighting anyone or anything head-on. He'd do anything as long as it was for one of them.

She had to think that way as well, because as much as this was for her graduation, for her freedom to live the way she liked, it was for them too. For Naruto, for Sakura, Karin, Cammy, even Batsu and even the adults like Chun-Li and E. Honda. Everyone she'd grown close to ever since meeting them and befriending them. She wanted to be around all of them, one of them much more than the others though. The one-off in the bathhouse made her want more of Naruto than she figured it would have.

'Grr, don't think about that right now! You're about to get into a fight!' Ibuki thought to herself, pressing her thighs tighter together as she kept walking. Luckily her facemask was up to hide the red glow staining her face, 'Mou… and you'll probably be too sore afterwards to ask him for a victory romp or something.'

That, and if she had TWO runs at Naruto before any other girl had even one she figured that Karin or Dark Sakura would be liable to take dire vengeance. Cammy wouldn't care because she didn't care about most things, but the other two would.

Okay, that was enough of that! It wasn't the kind of thing you were supposed to think about when you knew you were about to get into a fight!

She had to get her mind on things that she did have to think about when she knew she was about to fight, "So ah, Naruto. What did you think about when you were heading off to fight Bison, or Sagat, or… you know, anyone really strong."

If there was anyone that had the big fight mindset down pat it had to be him. There wasn't anyone else that she could have possibly asked, neither at the moment nor at any other time. The sheer scope of the battles that Naruto had fought with the fate of something all-important on the line…

…In hindsight, thinking about it was simply staggering.

Taking a moment to contemplate his reply, the youngster found himself short of supply in the answer department, "I dunno," Naruto said with a shrug before looking up to the forested sky in thought, "I guess I never thought about that sort of thing before. Huh. Go figure."

That had not been the answer that the girls had been looking for or expecting. This was the man that had been seconds away from being the undisputed champion of the World Warrior Tournament. The man that had smashed two figures that had been just short of plunging the world into fear and chaos.

"Are you telling me you've fought some of the biggest freaks and powerhouses that the world's ever seen and there wasn't anything going through your head when you did it?" Kei asked in return. She couldn't wrap her head around that kind of mindset, 'How differently do they all have to be wired to operate like that?'

"Hey, I was thinking about the fight!" Naruto barked in offense before pursing his lips sourly after the fact, "Just not much else. What was there to think about? I had to fight 'em, so I did."

Karin drilled her finger down on the top of Naruto's spiky head, eye twitching irritably at the almost careless way he'd spoken of dealing with some of the worst villains around, "But they were supposed to be some of the strongest people that ever lived," She reasoned, "You cannot honestly expect us to believe that you simply plodded forward and engaged them simply because you felt you had to."

"So what? If I didn't fight 'em, who else would have?" It wasn't even a matter of Naruto doing it because he thought he was the only one that could do so and walk away in one piece afterwards, "Besides, I promised myself I wouldn't ever run from a fight after it starts. So even if I thought any of those guys could have crushed me, backing down wasn't ever a choice. It doesn't matter how strong someone is, whether they can beat me down or not, or if it's dumb to fight."

Sakura shook her head with a smile while Kei gave a sour look, "That's just the way he's always been Kei-chan. It's like he's got molten lava in his veins or something," But as much as it was a part of him, she just hoped he'd learned something when it came to enemies like Akuma.

Bad things happened when you stood up to everyone. Some people were bad guys with lots of power. Other people were simply forces of nature. You didn't stand up to forces of nature. When you tried to, only bad things happened.

'If Naruto ever went down the way he did against Akuma again, I don't think I could take it,' Sakura thought to herself with a despondent frown.

She didn't want to think about that though. This was supposed to be a vacation. Training, fighting for their lives, none of that was supposed to happen here. It was their time to relax and reflect.

Yep, relax. Because when Sakura thought of relaxation, the first thing that sprang to mind was stomping across a Brazilian mountainside.

Eventually, Naruto drew them all to a stop, dropping to a single knee, Karin still on his back. What was wrong? Sakura couldn't sense anything that she hadn't felt in the first place after they'd began traversing the mountain.

"What's the matter?" Sakura eventually asked, her nose wrinkling in confusion as she found herself unable to feel anything off. Her ability to sense energy was the strongest out of her group of friends, and she couldn't distinguish anything from the rest of the environment, "I can't sense anything."

…Wait, that was the problem.

Realization slowly dawned on Sakura's face as she met Naruto's gaze and got a stiff nod of confirmation as to her hunch. They couldn't sense anything distinguishable from the rest of the area, even the animals that they knew were there, that they could hear as clear as day only a matter of feet away.

That should not have been the case. Everything had ki, or chakra, therefore sensing was usually a matter of either picking out the biggest signature within your range or the ones most familiar to you due to experience with them.

Sakura grabbed at her own throat as if she were choking upon realizing what was happening, "…There's something here with ki so powerful that it overshadows everything."

An old weathered voice cut in at that point, having wandered through the jungle from his expedient cave to intercept the people he felt intruding on his peaceful domain.

Wearing an ancient burgundy gi held closed with rope, a gold-colored old man with solid red eyes and thin wisps of black hair walked forward. His gi only had its left side intact across the upper body, and it was wrapped tightly, keeping his left arm concealed from sight entirely, to the point that it seemed to be vacant from his person altogether.

This was the first thing of note for one of the visiting party.

"Oh man, that old guy's missing his whole arm!" Naruto shouted, pointing at Oro in shock, "How can you live in these mountains with no arm old man? This place is rough!"

The old man just stared at Naruto flatly before turning his attention to what he perceived as the more appealing members of the party to gawk at. Since Naruto had shouted in Japanese, and the rest of them looked the part, he spoke to them in their native tongue, "Ahem, beautiful young ladies, allow me to introduce myself as the hermit of this mountain. Feel free to refer to me as Oro. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of hosting you on my mountain this fine day?"

Naruto's eye twitched involuntarily. Something about this seemed vaguely familiar, but he couldn't put his finger on just what it was.

Ibuki's eyes went wide at hearing that this was Oro, 'This is the guy I'm supposed to fight?' He did look strong, but she couldn't feel a definite ki force from him, 'It's hard to sense how powerful he is…' "Master Oro, I've come all the way from my village to challenge you to a one-on-one contest. Do you accept?"

Oro looked her over extensively before sighing, "…I suppose it would have been too much of a stretch to hope that you'd come all this way to ask me out on a date," Ibuki was partly mortified and partly disgusted at the thought, sputtering aimlessly as her eyes flickered back to Naruto and off of him unconsciously. Oro noticed this and sighed, shaking his head before moving on to Sakura just as quickly, "Hmm, you have a very strong ki little girl. You wouldn't happen to be the blond kid's girlfriend as well would you?"

"Err, no," Sakura replied uncomfortably, her feet shifting aimlessly, "Naruto doesn't really have a girlfriend… right now."

Really, and did that happen to be why she and the ninja girl were so sheepish when it came to the topic, and why the blonde girl on the boy's back couldn't seem to press herself against him closely enough for her tastes?

Oro might have lived in the mountains alone for decades, but it was child's play for him to sense human intentions. From what he felt, the only one not intertwined intimately with the young male present was the common-looking schoolgirl with no significant ki presence.

Narrowing his eyes on Naruto, it didn't take much scrutiny for him to find the depths of power hidden inside of the misplaced shinobi. It was honestly surprising.

People Naruto's age… they didn't get that powerful. Some 'masters' that had three times Naruto's life experience never got close to how strong Oro felt the boy to be.

As a matter of fact, sparing Kei, all of these children were exceptionally strong. How strong? Well that was what fights were meant for, to find out such a thing.

Color Oro intrigued.

Smacking his lips idly, Oro shrugged and walked up close to Ibuki, getting the kunoichi to slink back away from him to buy herself some more personal space. Once she moved away he put on a nearly toothless grin, "Well who am I to turn down such a good chance to test the mettle of such a pretty young thing? If you're sure you can entertain me, and you won't get hurt too badly, I'd be glad to take you on."

A shuddering breath left Ibuki as she realized that her challenge had been accepted, "Right. Everyone stay back, this is my fight," She turned to Naruto and sent him a dazzling smile, if a little nervous, "Would you mind being my official witness Naruto?"

There was no way that he would ever turn her down, especially for something so important. It would grate on him that he couldn't jump in if things got bad, but he had the utmost faith in her. Besides, he figured it was about time he got a little taste of the medicine he put others through whenever they had to watch him fight.

Oro simply yawned and stood back as Ibuki seemed to take up a deadly serious fighting stance. As she pulled her facemask up over her nose and mouth her eyes were determined, brow furrowed in anticipation.

"One match, no rules, no time limit," Naruto said, trying to sound as official as he could. If anyone was expecting impartiality out of him they were out of their mind, but that didn't mean he couldn't ignore Ibuki's request to him, "The fight ends when one of you quits or I say it's over, alright?"

The golden-skinned old man merely chuckled and sat down on the ground, legs folded underneath him comfortably with his back turned to his opponent, "Attack whenever you feel comfortable dear."

What?

Ibuki looked over at Naruto, and if a facemask hadn't been covering her gorgeous features she would have had quite the stunned expression on her face. She was no stranger to opponents refusing to take her seriously. She was no stranger to being underestimated. None of them were. However, an adversary had never had the gall to turn their back on her before.

Indignation filling her, Ibuki dashed to Oro's side that contained his bound left arm with her speed technique and dropped a spinning ax kick onto her target. Her attack was blocked with a casual movement of Oro's right arm across his body, catching her heel in his palm before he breezily pushed her away.

The force of his rebuke was enough to send her flying into a tree. With a backflip, Ibuki planted her feet on the tree hard enough to crack the bark, her soles stinging like crazy, 'T-That was just a block! All he did was block me and he sent me this far away?'

Okay, fine.

Dropping down onto the ground, Ibuki immediately rushed at Oro's back again, this time choosing to flip in a swift spiral pattern over Oro's head in her effort to land a falling kick right on top of Oro's head. Once again, he caught her leg and shoved her away, causing her to perform a safety roll on the ground to keep from being sent head-over-heels.

This was a problem. Ibuki knew that she wasn't the absolute strongest. She could take Naruto on evenly until he started turning up the heat and drawing upon his inhuman source of energy, and she knew that some of the bigger freaks of the world that they'd gone up against would have torn her apart.

She could barely feel any sort of energy other than the stagnant energy of the mountain, so why was she so outclassed? He hadn't even moved his feet. He hadn't even stood up yet.

Ibuki wasn't the only one who didn't understand what was happening. Sakura and Karin were just as confused as she was.

"I find it hard to believe that this man has the capabilities to so easily handle Ibuki-san," Karin said, a frown on her face as she tried to pick out some facet of Oro that Ibuki could use to her advantage, "…His movements are too few in number for me to find an opening in his style."

"What style?" Sakura asked in return, "He hasn't done anything yet. He's just-," She stopped herself and squinted in Oro's direction when she noticed something off about his posture, "…Is he asleep?"

Having caught the dregs of the conversation from where she'd been situated, Ibuki felt a swelling of anger in her breast, "Grr…" She was well aware that she was at the back of the line in direct fighting prowess amongst her closest female friends, but to have it rubbed in her face on this day of all days...

Calm. She had to be calm. Fighting in a rage was a horrible idea with the style that she used. She relied on speed and accuracy. Getting too emotional would only get her hurt. Biting her lip hard enough to draw blood, Ibuki shivered and shook to draw herself into a state of tranquility, and it was then that she had her idea.

Jumping in at Oro one more time, Ibuki correctly anticipated that he would block her and used the force of his move that sent her away to backflip through and begin her aerial weaponized onslaught, "Kasumi Suzaku (Mist Vermillion Bird)!"

Oro's eyes snapped open, glowing blue as he lifted an open palm and stopped Ibuki's dozens of sharp weapons cold in midair, "That's quite dangerous."

Ibuki was nowhere in sight however until she appeared in a Shunshin and grabbed ahold of his extended arm "That's the point," She replied before slamming her other ki-charged fist right into Oro's exposed body, prepared to release her combat energy right through him, "Raida (Lightning Strike)!"

Sure, it was a lesser attack compared to the one she used as a diversion to get close in the first place, but Ibuki's main concern had been to land a blow to begin with and she'd done just that.

However, like a defibrillator, Ibuki's Raida took a split-second to kick in, which was far too much time for her to remain still against a man as dangerous as the one she'd faced.

"Niou Riki (Twin King's Strength)!" Oro grabbed Ibuki by the wrist and quickly slammed her three times on the ground like a ragdoll mercilessly, "You don't have the speed with that technique to use it on someone like me."

Ibuki only coughed haggardly on the ground in return. Oro had whipped her around like a ribbon, as if she had weighed next to nothing.

She had never felt the force of those that were truly strong. Bison, Akuma, Seth, she'd missed the boat on directly dealing with them all. While most would consider such a thing a blessing, she didn't have experience in taking on opponents that were disgustingly powerful.

Until now at least.

Telekinesis. Oro had telekinesis. Pure, tempered telekinesis.

Karin let out a completely humorless laugh, her face frozen in an expression of disbelief, "I… didn't even know ki manipulation existed on a level like this," She said aloud, mostly to herself, "…To have such control over his energies that he can influence the movement of other objects without touching them."

This was starting to look like a nightmare.

On the sidelines, Naruto gnashed his teeth in bitter tolerance. Watching someone he cared about take a beating wasn't something he had ever become accustomed to, nor did he ever wish to. But this wasn't something he could interfere with.

There was something wrong. People as strong as Oro, normally it was impossible for them to keep their power under wraps. Even for him, it was harder to lower his presence enough to actually use stealth and surprise any longer in open combat.

This old man, it seemed like trying to reach down to the bottom of a well with your bare hands to retrieve water when it came to sensing his energy. They all knew it was there and knew it was most certainly more than enough to worry about, but they couldn't grasp it. Why?

Still, there was nothing he could do but believe in Ibuki. There had to be some way she could win. If there was, she would find it. She was smart enough to engineer a path to victory as long as she could just stay in it.

…He hoped.

'Come on, get up,' Naruto thought, fingers twitching rapidly. Seeing her wince and rise back up to her feet put a spark of relief into his heart, 'There you go. 'Atta girl.'

Putting her feet beneath her, Ibuki shook off the cobwebs and stood off against Oro again, "Okay, I think I'm awake now," She said, trying to play off getting slammed around weightlessly.

"You have to have something better than that," Oro goaded, "If you were dispatched to face me, the people who did it had to think you had something worthwhile that would give you a chance. Stop fighting scared girlie. Even if your enemy is superior, you must fight them as if you have every chance to win."

The last thing she needed was a lecture.

"I've seen how you attack," Oro said, "Now let's see how you defend. Nichirin Shou (Sun Palm)!" Quicker than anyone had ever seen another person form a ki attack, Oro shot forward a flashing golden orb of energy at Ibuki, as fast as a gunshot.

It took every ounce of force Ibuki's muscles could generate, every bit of training her reflexes had ever been given, just to avoid the shot that punched through a tree trunk in its wake.

That was impossible! There hadn't been any telegraphing of his movement whatsoever. It was the fastest release they'd ever seen. Even Guile's Sonic Boom, which had the quickest release of any other ki attack any of them had ever seen before, still had Guile drawing his arms open before swinging them inward to form the blast.

"Good reflexes," Oro mused after watching Ibuki avoid his attack, completely ignoring her wide eyes of amazement, "You see how well you can do when you don't think about how much better than you I am? Isn't that so much better?"

"Ibuki! Stop being scared and hammer this guy already!"

For some reason, hearing Naruto have such undivided belief in her brought her courage up. He was strong, she knew he was. He had beaten opponents she could never deal with, at least as she was, and even then she couldn't hear any empty encouragement in her voice. What had she done to elicit that kind of confidence in her?

He was so strong compared to her. Why did he think she had a chance?

"Whether I'm stronger than you or not, it doesn't matter! You're a better ninja than me!" He shouted at her once again, fire in his eyes, "You… you deserve to graduate now more than I did when I graduated, so don't trip up now!"

He… thought she was a better ninja than he was? He thought she was the better ninja? That simply did not compute.

Even Sakura and Karin were stunned beyond comprehension. This was the man who repeatedly referred to himself as the Best Ninja in the World whenever he had the opening to do so. For him to admit that anyone was better than him at anything, especially in this manner, it was unheard of. The sky had to be falling.

Ibuki's eyes never left Naruto's, and it was there that she found her strength.

Weapons were useless, but she had one last move that she hadn't tried yet. If Raida by itself wasn't fast enough to land cleanly, so be it.

Oro nodded appreciatively to the shift in demeanor that he could feel in Ibuki's aura and smirked at her, prepared for her attack, "Show me."

No misdirection. No attempts to reach his weak spot before trying to make her move. None of that. It was only him, her, and the only thing that she figured she had in her arsenal that would bring down someone strong enough to stop one of her strongest attacks was her fastest one.

Grounding one foot into the grass to settle her stance, Ibuki immediately sped to her side and darted up into the air by jumping off of the trunks of trees until she found herself almost one-hundred feet in the air.

'She can't think that I'm really going to allow her to complete her attack so easily?' Even if he hadn't been curious enough to try and see just what Ibuki had to offer in the technique department, Oro wasn't going to give her anything, 'Taking to the air against me of all people, isn't the best idea.'

Hanging high in the air for several seconds, Ibuki took a deep breath and shut her eyes, holding on to the ram seal until she felt all of the ki she could safely build inside of her body deposit itself at her feet. Speed could translate into force, and she was going to generate all that she could for one move.

After the Second World Warrior Tournament, Ibuki went to Naruto to garner repayment for helping him get into shape for competition. This came in the form of him helping her develop a new technique that played to her strengths.

"Well ah… back when I was a kid, my sensei said that gathering chakra to your feet was the hardest place to do it. I'm not sure how it'd work for attacks or anything like that though.

"But all I ever see you do when you generate power from your feet is stick to walls and stuff."

"No I don't! I-… huh, I guess I do don't I? I guess that's why I didn't ever see many ninjas use any jutsu that came from their legs. They sure came from everywhere else though."

"Yeah, but you're kind of good at coming up with moves, you know, without having an actual trainer and everything, and I need a new finisher. So how's about it handsome? Do you want to help little old me come up with something special?"

They worked and worked. The mountain forests miles outside of Aohura City played host to their training and experimentation until she finally had a breakthrough.

It was a simple motion, and it was all performed so swiftly. She reached the apex of her jump from where she'd started on the ground within two seconds. One flip marked her descent back to earth, overturning with her legs straight and drawn to her chest, body was bent forward perfectly.

Oro had prepared to rise up and take her out himself, completely obliterating her attack to show how thoroughly outclassed she was, but after observing her body posture and feeling the building of her energies he decided that he was going to stay right on the ground.

That… wasn't the kind of attack that you rose to meet in mid-air. Not if you wanted to keep all of your body parts.

Especially when, without warning, Ibuki bolted to the ground like a flash of lightning, merely from uncoiling her bent body into a straight position.

Gritting his teeth, Oro lifted his exposed arm to defend himself as best as he could. His confidence that he could endure the worst of these young whippersnappers had put him in a position where he wouldn't have been able to avoid Ibuki even if he'd had the mindset to do so.

"Tentojishuuki (Heaven and Earth Divider)!"

Ibuki's heels stomped into Oro and upon contact unleashed enough blue ki to split the ground underneath them in a straight line behind her target, forty yards running. Sakura and Karin had to move out of the way, with the former making sure that she dragged Kei along with her.

Naruto didn't turn away from the dust and flying debris, nor did he close his eyes. He observed Ibuki's fastest technique in its entirety, having had a hand in the basis of its conception; the movements needed to garner the finishing speed of the strike.

'She really finished it,' Naruto thought to himself, a grin pulling at his lips as he waited for the smoke to clear, '…That was so fast. I don't think I could blink any faster than she fell.'

One graceful move in the sky to allow her to build the needed ki, substituting for the lag she normally displayed when using other techniques with an impact ki release concept similar to Raida. Afterwards, anything beneath her when she unwound herself would find itself annihilated.

Only Oro didn't.

As the aftermath of the attack came into sight, it was clear that Ibuki's finishing double kick had landed. Oro however, managed to block her, lifting his arm over his head and taking the entirety of the damage on his forearm.

His forearm. Not even reinforced and braced with his other. It only took him one arm to keep her blow from landing home, "This is over. I don't want to have to hurt you, but I'm afraid I've always had a little bit of trouble when it comes to holding back. If I hit you, you might not ever get up."

No one there doubted him. Behind him, a long gash sat in the ground, caused by the impact of Ibuki's move. That should have been Oro as well.

This man couldn't have been human. There was just no way he was mortal.

"I…" Ibuki said to herself, still balancing herself on Oro's forearm, her bare, bandage-wrapped feet resting on the appendage, "No. Still, after all of that, you didn't even fall?"

Oro's red eyes glared up at her from behind the guard of his elevated arm, but to her surprise he began to laugh. Not in a mocking manner, but in a legitimate, heartfelt expelling of mirth and entertainment, "You are quite something young lady. I almost thought about using my other arm to protect myself after I realized that I reacted too late to dodge."

So that was it. Her fastest technique. The move she'd spent so much time working on. It hadn't been enough to get him to take her even seriously enough to use both arms to fight her.

"You fought extremely well after you stopped worrying about the difference in our abilities," Oro said supportively, smiling warmly at the teenage kunoichi, "I'm quite certain that even you didn't know you had so much power in you."

Dropping off of Oro's arm, Ibuki landed and fell to her knees on the ground. Even with Oro's attempt at encouraging her, she felt broken. She'd done her absolute best to fight him, but nothing she threw at him seemed to register as a real threat at all.

"I failed my final ninja exam then," Ibuki said, her voice wavering with every word she said. All of that time, and when her chance to prove she could go it on her own finally came, she couldn't garner the victory, "Sanjou-sensei and Master Enjo were right. I guess it was too soon."

"Like hell!" Naruto said as he stomped over to where she'd fallen down, "You did great! You finished a technique that nobody even showed you how to do and actually used it! None of your masters even taught you or oversaw your training for months! You did that all on your own!"

He walked right up and picked her up off of the ground, planting her back on her feet before finding himself engulfed in a tight hug, arms wrapped around his neck and pulling her into him. He returned it as easily as he would have from anyone else he cared for so extensively, but it took a moment for him to feel the tears on his shoulder.

The poor thing had just had her heart broken. He couldn't hear her sob, but he could feel the vibrations of Ibuki muttering that she was sorry into his chest, and that just made him feel so much worse, "You don't have anything to be sorry for."

She should have known that, and hearing it shouldn't have made her cry that much harder as a result. Even Sakura felt her own eyes well up at the sheer despondency emanating from her friend.

Ibuki definitely didn't expect to hear the subject of her test actually defend her however.

"Bah, if anyone dispatched you with the intent to have you actually defeat me, you should return to them and beat them to within an inch of their lives," Oro said before snorting, "Girl, if anyone tells you that you shouldn't be a ninja, that you aren't ready, tell them that I'll gladly host a challenge from any of them to show them just how well they would do against me given the same circumstances."

She managed to locate him, she fought against him, and she surprised him with her power and ability. As far as he was concerned she'd performed splendidly.

As a prize, he'd show them just what their friend had been going up against.

Oro's eyes flashed from red to blue for a split second before returning to normal, and with that return, everyone present felt a crushing pressure descend upon them. Kei felt as if her lungs had stopped and began clutching at her throat as if she were being strangled. Everyone else had become relatively accustomed to the sheer weight that ki had behind it when the presence was strong enough, but she wasn't.

Sakura gasped raspily as a stark realization set over her once Oro stopped holding back his ki.

The atmosphere of the mountain, the feeling that they'd all felt while making their way up the side of it, it had been from him all along. Him and only him.

Seeing the looks of realization on their faces, Oro let out a low chuckle, "…You should be around when I actually unbind my other arm. Animals won't even live here when it's free," With that being said, he reined his power back in before Kei wound up really getting hurt from his showing out, "There was nothing more that you could have done against me on your own."

Ibuki almost felt like crying again, although for a different reason, "…Are you saying-?"

"I'm saying that simply going as far as you did and displaying the strength that you have, it was more than enough to pass you," Oro said, "If ninjas from Japan are anything like they were when I was last there, most of them could never even hope to make me contemplate using my other arm. Most of them make me think in hindsight that perhaps I would have had a greater challenge if I bound both of my arms."

"Wow," Naruto said, deadpanning a stare the old man's way over Ibuki's shoulder, "And people say I've got an ego problem."

"It's not ego if it's already been proven boy," Oro replied with a missing toothed grin, "Trust me, I don't brag about things that I haven't actually accomplished already in some fashion."

What Oro was or wasn't in regards to his strength wasn't the point. What was important was the girl who had gone limp in Naruto's arms and had fallen asleep after the adrenaline dump of her test and all of the preparation and worries that went along with it.

While it was rather untimely of her to rest out in the wilderness, she had certainly earned the right to do so.

XxX

(Mountain Outskirts of Aohura City, Japan)

This was where the power of the Satsui no Hadou had been percolating around, but it wasn't Ryu's that Akuma had been sensing.

No, Ryu's was different. But still, this power also had the potential to give him a truly glorious and violent battle.

Ryu had been a disappointment, always fighting against the part of himself that would give him more strength than he could ever imagine. For a man who wanted to be the strongest, he was willing to forsake the side of himself that would give him all that he had dreamed of.

The fool. The coward.

No, he was a lost cause. But this new power… whomever it belonged to was young enough to still be shaped and molded. Perfect.

All it would take was a little seasoning. He would find the person that had discovered the newest strain of the Satsui no Hadou, and he would raise them to his liking. Yes, they would be given all they needed to make him feel the true thrill of a fight to the death.

Until then he would meditate.

The fly would come to the lair of the spider eventually.

It also helped that the lair of the spider just so happened to be where the fly called home to begin with.

XxX

(Later that Night – Sao Paulo, Brazil)

"Sakura-chan wants to stay with Kei tonight to make sure she still isn't as rattled as she was when we left the mountain," Naruto explained as he escorted Karin away from the room that she shared with Ibuki. The kunoichi needed her rest, and she seemed testy when it came to sleeping around the normally bustling Karin, so the heiress decided to take a walk after Naruto had dropped Ibuki off, "If you really want to go for a walk to kill time Rin-Rin, just let me change into some real clothes first."

"I would not qualify what you choose to walk around in as 'real clothes' Naruto-san, but if it makes you more comfortable, certainly," Karin replied smoothly without missing a beat. Naruto shot her a half-hearted glare but knew that if Karin had her way, she would have had Naruto dressed up in a respectable, proper suit every chance that she got, "You do not need to feel obligated to attend to me further."

"Why would you even say something like that?" Naruto asked, feeling a bit put out. She was so hot and cold at times that it was hard to hold a gauge on her at any given time.

"I am well aware that accompanying me is not your primary concern at the moment," Karin declared with a frown, "After all, Ibuki-san has accomplished her goal. When we return to Japan, she will be a full-fledged ninja, in control of her own destiny. I am quite certain that she is who you would rather tend to at the moment."

"…First of all, she's probably dead asleep. Second of all, you've really got to learn what to shut up about, because you don't know what you're talking about sometimes."

Karin simply exhaled sharply and remained silent, which set Naruto off all the more, "Do not pity me, because I will not allow it Naruto-san," She figured in her head that Naruto simply felt some semblance of guilt or responsibility for what occurred during their encounters with S.I.N., "I had long since been accustomed to being alone before I met any of you. I am not so weak that I need to be surrounded to deal with my problems."

As they reached the door to Naruto's room and opened the door to enter, Karin's negative, despondent attitude and self-deprecating statement was simply too much to tolerate. He wanted his tough, top-of-the-food-chain rich girl back. Naruto let out a low growl and pulled her into the dimensions of his room for some minute semblance of privacy as he decided to let her have it.

"No one's gonna let you be alone again, especially me. So get it through your thick head, alright?" Naruto stated stubbornly, debating on whether or not he should have poked her sharply in the head for emphasis, "Things aren't ever going back to the way they were before we met. I don't care how rich or more important than us you're supposed to be. You're ours, you got that?"

Not even waiting to hear her answer, Naruto strode past her into the darkness of his room and after finding his civvie clothes lain out on his bed began changing. It wasn't like she could see him in the near pitch black.

Karin didn't say anything, simply looking right at his silhouette with her mouth barely open, and not because he was switching clothes. Eventually she realized she was staring though, and turned her gaze to the corner to save some face as she mumbled out a response, "I understand."

"Good," Naruto said with a nod before figuring he might have been a tad harsh in making his point. Still though, you couldn't be gentle with Karin if you wanted to make your point stick, "Well, I guess I'll take you for a walk around the hotel Rin-Rin."

"Of course Naruto-san."

The two golden-haired fighters kept their gaze on one another for longer than either of them would have figured the other would have tolerated. Neither of them said a word, but Naruto was certain that he'd gotten his message across loud and clear. Stubborn as she was, Karin was very smart and comprehended things easily enough.

Walking forward to exit his room and escort Karin back to the one she shared with Ibuki he found his way blocked by Karin's arm posted on the doorframe.

She didn't seem to be very keen on moving despite what she'd said. Her stance left no indication that she had any plans on leaving whatsoever.

"Actually, no," Karin said, a resolute look in her eyes as she looked up at Naruto's face, her expression completely serious as she bossily motioned for him to turn around with her finger, "On second thought, you are not going anywhere. Turn around and go back inside. Now."

Something about this seemed to set off… warning signals in Naruto's head. Good ones, if those existed.

Still though, he was not a fan of being told what to do in the slightest… and he had just gone through the effort of putting on a clean set of clothes. Just saying.

"Are you asking me, or telling me?" Naruto asked somewhat challengingly.

"It does not matter-," Karin told him in a voice little higher than a whisper, a touch of an amorous lift in the tone of her domineering demand, "-Because you will do it regardless," This was emphasized by Karin standing on her toes, the tip of her nose pressed against Naruto's, "By all means, move me aside if you feel so inclined. Either that, or let me in."

Naruto swore he could hear her heartbeat in the dead silence of the rest of the hotel. It was like its own language, beating faster than Naruto was used to hearing from her, and it spoke volumes, more than words ever could. Despite her bravado, she was afraid that he would reject her.

"…You're the boss-lady," Naruto muttered in return, "My boss-lady."

He promptly found himself ensnared in a searing kiss. Apparently that little trigger statement was the straw that broke the camel's back in regard to Karin's insecurities when it came to her intimacy issues.

With her foot, Karin kicked the door shut and moved the two of them back to the bed, tripping Naruto over the side of it to send them both onto the mattress in a heap. It simply didn't matter to her though. Where they were didn't matter. Her uncertainties on the homefront didn't matter. What happened in Sao Paulo wouldn't stay in Sao Paulo, but for one night she could ignore all of that.

For one night, instead of scrutinizing her every move with her analytical, business-like approach to everything, she could think using her heart instead. Oh how she had been longing to allow her heart to have control for once.

And he was receptive! He wasn't turning her away or telling her not to! If he had, she probably just would have socked him or given him a titty-twister of death for allowing her to get so worked up and then throwing cold water on her. It was quite the contrary in fact.

Karin froze up and let out a very uncharacteristic squeak when she felt Naruto's hands grab confidently on her panty-clad backside underneath her skirt. She had been caught up in what she wanted to do.

Frowning at her reaction and her sudden stop, Naruto addressed the girl concernedly, "I-Is that too much?"

It took a moment for her to recover, blinking down at her beau in the dark. She testily kicked off her shoes, simultaneously bouncing herself on his pelvis a few times before grabbing a handful of his hair and draping herself back down over his chest, "It probably will not be enough this time."

"Wha-hmph…"

Naruto was promptly shut up. Not that he minded the way that it was done.

"Why are you the one who received their own room?" Karin asked conversationally in between stealing Naruto's breath away with another harsh kiss.

"Rooms. Paired. By. A-B-C order," Naruto said in between light kisses from his domineering partner, "Uzumaki's the last name on the class role, and we've got an uneven number of boys," He concluded hurriedly before Karin kissed him again.

Lemon Start

"How convenient," Karin mused, sitting up and moving her hands to the bottom of Naruto's shirt to roll it up and pull it off. Her slender fingers ran over the solid lean muscles on her chosen's torso, "So would I be correct in the assumption that we will have no interruptions this evening?" She mewled as she felt Naruto return the favor, lifting her red top up to help her remove it.

Naruto wished there was a moon out so that he could see her in the dark. See the white light reflect off of her bared fair skin. See her bedroom eyes set only on him, knowing that she wanted more than just a few chantry touches and the meeting of their mouths and tongues. He wanted to see his devil-lady at her wickedest.

He knew what she had in her, both the good and the bad, and right then and there he wanted to see the bad.

Both hands tugging at the waist of her skirt, Naruto fitfully wanted the crimson-colored cloth off of her and somewhere else in the room. Without warning, he rolled them both over and swiftly pulled Karin's skirt down her legs before finding himself the victim of a sudden blow to the body that knocked him to the hotel room floor.

That was a little too bad, and not in the good way.

Sitting up from where he'd fallen from the bed, Karin's skirt still in his hand, Naruto simply stared at the place where he knew the girl was seated on it, knowing she was looking right back at him, "…Did you just-?"

Karin didn't let him finish, her face an atomic red due to her involuntary actions as she worthlessly tried to conceal her bared body with the covers, "Ahem. My apologies. I am still quite unaccustomed to… intimate activities such as these."

Naruto blew upward to push his bangs up from his forehead, mildly irritated at literally being kicked out of bed, but quickly shook it off and recovered, "Well, we'll work on that," Without much loss of enthusiasm he removed his sandals and pants before standing back up.

Reaching out, the two of them connected hands in the dark as Karin sat up on her knees to meet Naruto up close, "I know that this one is inexperienced, but please take good care of her," She said, requesting this of him in the third person, deciding in her heart to finally put her cards on the table, "She has the utmost trust in you, and she loves you very much."

Instead of a heated, passionate kiss, Karin expressed her feelings with nothing more than a simple peck on the lips. It was all she needed to get her point across.

That word. That damned word. That word that he had never heard directed at him, so candidly, as if she were fully putting herself out there by saying it.

Naruto and Sakura routinely claimed that they loved one another, but that was different. It had been a friendly, platonic sort of love that over time seemed to be stretching into something more intimate, and as such it had never been strange or uncomfortable to verbally admit that one loved the other. Their relationship had always been open; easily understood and accepted by both, even as it grew and continued to grow.

It was not the same for Karin, who was accustomed to a stuffier, less honest and direct approach to everything. Love or other emotions normally had very little bearing in the world she'd grown up in, and it was still strange and scary for her to deal with them directly. The fact that she was choosing to do so really did mean that she had the utmost trust in Naruto.

She was entrusting him with something that she would not, could not, entrust to her family, to her retainers. It was only to him, it could only be to him. He had done this to her to begin with, and he was the only one she could show the breadth of this side of herself to.

God, he wished he could see her better in the dark.

Moving forward, Naruto gently set Karin down on her back, noting the frazzled nerves through the girl's touch. It took self-control not to go ahead and work ahead of what he'd already experienced with other girls, because spooking Karin with something she was unprepared for wasn't on his list of things to do.

Hand resting gently on the side of her stomach, Naruto leaned over her and kissed slowly up her neck. Hearing her breath hitch in her throat, his hand slowly moved down to the waistband of her panties. He had to take his time in removing them from her person. The thin cloth was the last vestige of Karin's seclusion, and she knew this clearly from the way she kept her thighs pressed together.

The fight was gone from her, her inexperience winning out over her normally bossy personality. You couldn't dictate terms in regards to something you had no knowledge of.

'He's kissing me right on the pulse of my neck,' Karin thought to herself, mewling over the attention, legs shifting uncomfortably at the heat she felt between them. Hands running through his hair, she felt him go lower and lavish affection onto the rest of her.

Kissing his way down her body, Naruto stopped and sucked on each of the nipples of the stimulated heiress, rubbing around both with his thumbs as he cupped her lovely breasts. Her physique was fine. A lot of hard work went into crafting a body as fine as hers, free of any overt, unsightly muscle tone.

Karin physically trained harder than the other girls due to her lack of ability to outwardly manipulate her ki, and her body reflected this. Her curves were ample and firm, and the fact that she was still completing the process of growing into her adult body made Naruto wonder what she would look like in three years? Five years even.

Would he get to see the marvel that was her body in three or five years? He certainly hoped so.

"Mmm," Karin writhed fitfully, pushing Naruto's hands and head, further down her body, biting her lip as she felt him kiss and lick around her navel, "Lower, lower, lower Naruto-san. Lower," He was so close to where she wanted him, needed him. But once they went there, going back wouldn't be an option any longer.

She wanted to go so much further, but she was afraid.

What if this? What if that? What if? What if? What if?

No, there would be no more of that. None of it mattered.

Karin fitfully moved Naruto off of her. She grabbed the wrist of Naruto's hand set around her panties and forced him to push them down her thighs until she could work them off the rest of the way herself.

"Now I believe that you are quite overdressed for what I want from you," She said, voice gaining a bit of confidence as she stroked the line of his jaw with her index finger, "How unfortunate that you continue to 'confine' yourself, given our circumstance I mean."

Naruto made a soft noise of agreement and moments later Karin felt the warm, hard appendage against her upper leg, begging for her to wrap her small hand around it. Upon hearing Naruto softly grunt, a smirk came to her lips. So it was that simple to gain control over someone so powerful?

Slowly working her hand up and down, Karin leaned up and whispered saucily into his ear, "Did I not tell you before?" She cooed softly, victoriously, "I. Own. You."

"N-Nobody owns me."

"Oh, but I do," Karin insisted, shifting beneath her lover as she continued to work her hand up and down his shaft, "I have you in quite dire straits darling, and I will force you to admit the truth to me," There was his pretty little devil. She wasn't gone for very long before resurfacing, "Say it. Say, 'You own me Mistress Karin,' and you will find me to be quite gracious."

The evil little-! And just when did she think it prudent to try her hand at turning the tables? She'd wrecked his entire gameplan, and she probably enjoyed knowing that more than she might have enjoyed the foreplay.

Fighting back the urge to hiss at her once she slowed her machinations to emphasize her point, Naruto gently removed himself from her grasp and grabbed onto her ankles, moving to her lower half and placing them up on his shoulders. Kissing the bottoms of her feet and poking the head of his cock between her thighs, feeling her warm wetness as he did, Naruto tried to coax her legs open of her own consent. He wouldn't force such a step upon her.

"Your toes are so pretty Rin-Rin," Naruto said, sucking on each little digit as he rubbed himself softly against her lower lips, feeling the girl's defenses weaken, "There isn't a part of you that isn't pretty though. I've seen all of you to know."

'So sweet,' Karin smiled softly as she gently parted her legs and bared herself to him. If she was serious about loving him, she would have to show all of herself to him. She had already done so emotionally. To do so with her most private of places seemed like a source of pride in comparison, "Make love to me."

A clear demand, but there was no bite to her tone, because she knew there was no need for it.

Reaching underneath herself, Karin guided Naruto to her entrance and allowed him access. The momentary pain that came with it was taken with a modicum of triumph. For someone who made her feel as happy as he had, she would endure the discomfort for as long as it lasted.

Naruto had gone too fast. He'd felt her barrier, he'd felt it break. He knew it all from the expression on her face, but she had been the one to pull him into her. She had been insistent, and she hadn't let him go, "Karin?"

"I am fine," Karin assured him, kissing him greedily to distract herself from the slowly diminishing pain. It had hurt like hell, but even if she was willing to show her vulnerable side to Naruto, she would never allow herself to be seen as physically weak, "Compared to other ordeals, this discomfort is nothing at all."

She was tougher than that, he knew. She squirmed and readjusted herself for a few minutes, truly testing Naruto's will to endure as it was torture to keep from thrusting in and out of her.

Without his mind's consent, his body did eventually begin to move, keeping it slow, just so that he could relieve some pent-up tension at being buried inside the depths of such a lovely young woman. Karin whimpered, but they quickly turned into soft moans.

Arching her back, she found herself pinned down by her shoulder as he pumped in and out of her; otherwise she would have writhed out of position. Such inexperience would be worked out of her over time, but for now she would let the comparably more experienced blond guide her through her first time.

"You should cherish this moment," Karin insisted before letting out a sharp cry, wrapping her legs around his waist and responding to the rhythm he'd set, "Ah! The next time, I will be the dominant partner."

Still so haughty, and it was still so hot.

The steadier his pace became, the more Karin gained confidence of her own, reciprocating with her own motions, rocking into his thrusts. The more she did, the more Naruto felt as if he were about to lose it, 'Shit! So not good!' He couldn't let himself go now. He hadn't done his due diligence in making her climax first.

To Karin's confusion, she quickly found herself upright, sitting on top of Naruto, straddling him after he'd changed their positions, "Ara? Naruto-san?"

"Sorry, I was just getting a little too excited," Naruto responded to her confusion with a sheepish grin.

Oh-ho. Really now? Well that was interesting.

She smiled down at him and stroked his hands where they were locked on her hips, "Well, since you need a break, I guess I will just have to keep myself entertained."

Wide-eyed, Naruto watched Karin slide her hands up from her hips, trailing the tips of her fingers against the faint outlines of her ribs before fluttering along the soft creases beneath her breasts. Her nipples tightened as her fingers pinched and tugged.

Yes, she might have been inexperienced, but when you were bad you were bad, and Karin had always been a little bit wicked. And here he'd been trying to be gentle with her.

Naruto knew he was breathing through his mouth at the sight of her stimulating herself, but it didn't matter to him. His hips twitched upward almost involuntarily and Karin's eyes rounded as she bounced a little, her mouth open in a tiny gasp. The sight made the ninja smirk.

"You're getting kind of cocky Rin-Rin," Naruto said as he set his hands around her hips and assisted his lover in getting off. Seeing her eyes lose focus in the dark, even for a moment, made his confidence swell.

"And you seem to have been born as such," Karin said, continuing to bounce up and down, facilitating her own pleasure at her own pace, "We will have to teach you humility. Yes, lots and lots of, mmm… humility."

"Karin…"

"Yes koishii?"

"You're gorgeous."

"I know."

Karin bit back a loud moan and shuddered as she felt something within her release, a surge of pleasure forcing her to see starbursts in the dark of the room. Both teenagers came to a stop, the exhausted girl on top slumping forward, only being held up by the man underneath her.

She felt satisfied. Naruto did as well, but when she reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on to look at him there was clear apprehension in his eyes, "W-What is the matter Naruto-san?"

Lemon End

"I'm sorry," Naruto said, averting his eyes away from hers, "I should have said something before I-. I mean, I was still inside of you when I…" He fell silent when Karin shushed him and placed a finger to his lips.

"Apologizing is a show of weakness," Karin said with drowsy eyes as she slowly climbed off of Naruto's cock and nestled in beside him, "My beloved is anything but weak, and he should not apologize for the results of our love-making."

Naruto couldn't take his eyes off of her as he draped the covers of the bed over the two of them to give them some comfort in the night. As he did, he could imagine seeing Karin in a similar fashion between her own sheets with him, or his own. She let out a soft yawn and received a slight peck on the forehead, drawing a wide smile out of her.

Her smile lessened somewhat, in a touch of concern as she clearly had something on her mind. Turning her sharp brown eyes up to Naruto, vulnerability in them quite clear, she felt the need to ask, "Do you… do you think you can love me the way you love Sakura-san?"

Naruto's first instinct was to suck air through his teeth, but he was able to avoid doing so. What a serious question, and it had merit. She had been nothing but candid with him for months after revealing how she felt about him. The least he could do in return was be a man and answer her to the best of his ability.

"I can't love you the way I love Sakura-chan," Naruto said, and immediately he could feel her emotions drop as she turned her eyes away from his. No, he was not going to make her cry after what she had given to him, "…I can't love you like that, the same way I can't love Cam like that, or Ibuki, because it's not fair and because you're all not the same. You're way too special to treat like someone else."

Tears that had been welling up behind her eyes suddenly faded away, "I just want you to feel the way about me that I do about you?"

"And I'm pretty sure that's nothing like the way I feel about Sakura-chan, or how she feels about me. I'd bet anything on that," Naruto assured her warmly, "I've been around you girls a lot, and you're all so different, you can't love in the same way the others do and you can't be loved like others are."

Where was this coming from? Naruto didn't know. Truthfully though, he had been thinking about how he felt about all of his girls – His girls? Yeah, his girls. – for quite some time. All of them really were so extraordinary. As they all grew into adult women they would be amazing people in the world.

Their feelings, their strengths, their flaws, everything about them. All of it was different, all of it was special. In his mind's eye they all shone like marquee stars in the sky. He had deep feelings for all four of them.

"We fuss, we fight, we disagree. We butt heads over… almost everything really," Naruto said, smiling at her wide, teary brown eyes as he ran the back of his hand softly over her cheek, "You're an evil noble-," She then bit him on the shoulder at being called 'evil', "- And I'm a low-class ninja punk. We're kind of supposed to be at each other's throats, and not in a way that leaves hickeys either."

Karin felt awful, remembering how she used to embrace that mindset until she started to realize how much he and the others that she now found life impossible to live without meant to her. She had treated him like an asset because he had been hired help.

She was not an easy girl to love, this she knew about herself.

Then again, when had anything Naruto had taken part in ever set itself up to be easy?

With the kicking and screaming, scratching and biting, through the inevitable glares and snarky attitudes of them both. It would be done.

"You're my boss-lady Karin, and I'll love you the way you deserve to be loved."

It was then that Karin decided that she would not let Naruto go. Not without any sort of grandiose fight. She would take him any way she could. Just as long as he would keep looking upon her the way the he was at that exact moment.

He was right; she was his. She had been for quite some time.

"It seems I have a new avenue to challenge you in," Karin stated with a tired, yet brazen smirk as she rested her head on the inside of Naruto's bicep, "As always, I intend to prove myself your better, but I am afraid that such a thing will have to come with... much experience," She concluded with a throaty chuckle.

Naruto rolled his eyes and held Karin in his arms as she got comfortable and set to sleep.

XxX

(Later in the Week)

The school vacation came and went, for better or for worse, and the Aohura City students had long since boarded the airplane that would send them home.

It had been quite the experience for the youngsters, for multiple reasons, some more important than others. Like all things though, it couldn't last forever, and the homestead awaited. Last exams for the year, and the pending summer vacation awaited them. The normal fare to be certain.

Well… not so normal.

There would be one extra passenger on the flights back to Japan, unbeknownst to them.

"Hm," Oro said, standing on the roof of a soon-to-depart liner, smiling to himself as it set itself up on the runway to take off, he simply prepared himself for the force of the ascension and had his next move in mind, his eyes on the horizon, "It's been quite a long time since I've been to Japan."

What could he say? Those kids intrigued him.

Young fighters that strong didn't come around very often. He knew this full well.


Alright, so things are about to get really serious again very soon. It's time to get into the (maybe) last few arcs of the story, and I hope that the fruits of my labor entertain you; the masses. It'll entertain me, that much will be for certain.

I would have released this one a few days earlier, but I kept getting sidetracked by life. I'm a step away from getting my foot in the door and writing for one of the TV news stations in my town. It's so damn cool to think about, and the interview and all that has been what I've been most preoccupied with over the last week.

So yeah… life.

Anyway, enter Oro.

Next chapter, enter all sorts of chaos. Trust me.

Kenchi out.