Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Street Fighter. If PS Vita had Street Fighter available on it, I'd have bought one and I wouldn't even have flinched. As it stands I'm not buying an f'n Nintendo 3DS even though it has that game and even though I want to check out Pokémon, because Street Fighter on the 3DS can only disappoint me.

Chapter 53: Of Sound Mind

Karin seemed to be floating on air ever since their class had returned from the trip to Brazil two weeks ago. Everything she did or said seemed to be uncharacteristically sugary, enough to unnerve those that had long since labeled her frigid, or at worst; bitchy.

It was incredibly annoying for those that spent a lot of time around her. And it was exam season. It was a bad time to be put off by other things going on around you.

Who would have ever thought it though? A pleasant Karin was rather annoying. That was ironic. Talk about a monkey's paw. She was finally nice, but it was so out of character and against what was expected that it was hardly tolerable.

"Err…" Ibuki started, blinking as she found herself inside of Karin's town limousine for perhaps the first time that she could ever recall, "Not that I'm complaining about the cushy ride, but you seem unusually nice lately."

"Oh? How so?" Karin responded with a dazzlingly amiable smile.

"Well for starters you never offer any of us a ride anywhere after school. Ever," Ibuki pointed out, "Even Naruto when he has a job that you want him to do. You make him go to your place on his own by a deadline later instead of just bringing him while he's near you."

And that was to say nothing about the rest of them whenever they had to head that way. It was troublesome getting out there to Karin's mansion grounds if you didn't have a car! And then you had to wait outside of the gate and get cleared by security. It was just a big hassle.

…Not that it wasn't completely worth it in order to hang out and have free reign in the abode of the richest girl in all of Asia.

Karin's light brown eyes affixed themselves on the kunoichi firmly as she crossed her arms underneath her chest, "Well I certainly have no excuse to treat you all as any less than trusted friends any longer, do I? After how hard all of you fought for me, how could I look at myself in the mirror if I did not extend my deepest gratitude to you all? Naruto-san was not the only person present that night."

About Naruto…

Ever since the class trip to Brazil had ended, Karin had been more openly affectionate to Naruto in public. Whereas beforehand she merely spoke to Naruto with a respect that she didn't even reserve to the rest of her friends, she was more prone to gentle touches and reverent looks his way. She even referred to Naruto out loud as her 'beloved'.

Not in front of him for some reason, but whenever there was a need to reference him out of his earshot she had no problems declaring him as such.

"-Though my beloved did engage that horrid creature Seth in order to reach me," Karin looked out of her tinted windows with a wistful sigh, "I can think of no better modern day comparison to the valor of knighthood from centuries past. Perhaps in a past life he and I..." She trailed off with a blush on her face, "My family has been noble for centuries. Perhaps a reincarnation cycle-."


Any point she was going to try to make was silenced by the sound of an appliance in the back of the vehicle being destroyed, "Did… did you just break my refrigerator?" Karin asked, seeing Sakura seated next to where the limousine's mini-fridge rested, now with a brand new fist-shaped hole driven straight through it.

"I don't think so," Sakura replied, sitting with her hands in her lap, one knuckle conspicuously coated with debris from a refrigerator casing, "Why would I do that?"

Because she had an extremely powerful suppressed dark side that seemed to be making its appearance in bits and spurts more and more often these days. Because one of the triggers to said dark side was a teeny-little possessive streak over Uzumaki Naruto. Because as of that day, Sakura had been the only one of the Aohura City battle babes that had yet to have her chastity compromised by her bestest friend in the world and eventually no matter how much of a saint you were, everyone's patience ran out.

…Take your pick really.

Ibuki rolled her eyes, less afraid of Dark Sakura than she used to be but still wary, "Sakura-chan, you're too tense and all of this repressing just isn't healthy. Just jump Naruto's bones already and get it over with. He won't say no."

"She will do no such thing!" Karin protested spiritedly while Sakura seemed to want to be almost anywhere else at the moment, "Sakura-san has more honor than to do such a thing with another woman's claim."

"You didn't 'claim' him," Ibuki deadpanned, using air-quotes for the word 'claim', "You did what I did, and technically what Cammy did even if she didn't or doesn't know it. You backed him into a corner and got him to bang you. What was he going to do, turn you down?"

"Yes/Of course not."

Both answers came from Sakura and Karin respectively, only prompting the two old rivals to glare heatedly at one another. Apparently they were just close to reverting back to the days when they were at each other's throats. Ibuki figured that she needed to start carrying around a squirt bottle or something.

Ibuki just sighed and leaned back comfortably in her seat, "Yeah, no. First of all, Naruto is as red-blooded hetero as they come. He thinks we're all hot. If you'd been paying better attention you'd catch him getting looks at all of our butts in school. "

"I knew it," Sakura muttered.

"He doesn't even go out of his way to do it really," Ibuki shrugged, knowing for a fact that she herself had propagated several incidents where Naruto managed to get a peek just so she could gauge his reactions, "Between the uniform skirts, gym class, oh and then there's Cammy. But either way, he's around at least one of us almost all of the time. Do you really think he's not looking? We look. I do and I know you both do."

Theoretically the good girl, Sakura looked away, blushing in embarrassment. Karin didn't, instead only raising an eyebrow as if to ask, 'So what?' Admittedly, Ibuki was with her on that front.

"That's not even the big point," Ibuki continued before this could devolve into another argument and potentially hair-pulling. That would have been hilarious, but not with her in the car with them, "The real thing is that he'd have never said no to any of us. He'd never hurt any of us if he could. Karin, if Naruto hadn't let you in that night in Brazil, it would have broken you."

Karin scoffed and looked away, "What kind of person do you see me as? No mere trifle such as that would break me."

Yes, it would have. She knew it. She'd never put herself out there for anyone so far before. If she had done all of that, and he had sent her away instead of accepting her advances the way that he had done, she probably never would have gotten over it. At least not for an extended period of time, as in years.

As tough as she was on the outside, she was alternately vulnerable on the inside, at least as far as Naruto went. He was the only one who seemed to be able to get past her defenses, either to heal or hurt her.

Having spoken her peace and figuring that she'd made her point for the most part, Ibuki realized something that had been forgotten in her haste to actually ride in a real-life limousine for the very first time, and the subsequent girl talk episode that followed.

"…Come to think of it, where is Naruto anyway?"


(With Naruto – Highway Outside of Aohura City)

"This isn't exactly the best mission to take on short notice Naruto!" Cammy insisted, hanging out of the passenger's side window of a semi-truck while Naruto stood on its roof, looking out behind them, "You're still dressed in your uniform!"

"It's a delivery from Aohura City to Tamano! We can knock this out and get back home by dinnertime!" Naruto yelled over the wind while crouching and holding kunai in his hand, the other planted firmly on the roof for stability, "Plus the check is fat!"

Gunfire erupted from a man leaning out of the passenger's side window of the car pursuing their truck. Naruto went belly-down flat on the roof of the trailer to avoid being hit with a lucky shot while Cammy nimbly slipped her body back inside to do the same.

"What are we moving anyway?" Cammy asked, yelling out of the window loud enough to be heard by Naruto.

"Rule number three of transporting: Never open the package!" Naruto said, grinning as he pulled out a Jason Statham line.

They didn't know? That wasn't any good, "What if it's a component to some kind of super weapon?" Because… you know. It would have been just their luck.

"Well then I guess we'll just wind up having to blow it up later or something," Naruto answered, leaning over the side of the trailer top to throw down a series of makibishi spikes that burst the tires of one of the pursuing cars, sending it into the water-filled safety barrels by a highway exit.

Cammy sat back down in her seat despite the driver's tumultuous driving and puffed her cheeks out indignantly. For a powerful warrior, her master was such a rube sometimes. Wait, her master? She didn't even block the thought this time like she had so many times in the past, 'He'd be rather cross with me if he ever heard me say that.'

And Cammy didn't see why. It was only a measure of how much she respected him. For some reason she felt the urge to label the one that she saw as ultimately superior to her as 'master'. It was why the thought only came to mind when she thought of Naruto. Not Gouken, not Ryu, not Sagat even when she fought him during the tournament.

…Even though they were arguably stronger, it didn't matter because she didn't respect them nearly as much.

The pop of semi-automatic gunfire caused the hapless security driver of the truck to wince with every shot. Cammy's eyes warily eyed the steering wheel jerking in his grasp every time. If this kept up she'd have to kick him out of the front seat and take over driving before he crashed the damn transport.

Apparently their client put all of their money into paying Naruto and a commercial driver instead of an actual team of trained professionals complete with a competent driver used to navigating his way through tense situations. She and Naruto cost less by a significant enough margin for their services to be requested, along with some poor, hapless truck driver who apparently didn't know what he was getting himself into.

"S-Should we pull over?" The driver asked Cammy. He couldn't understand how she was cool as ice. Between his driving and their being shot at by pursuing cars he figured a tiny girl like that would have been at least as scared as he was.

"Not if you want a bullet put into your head," The twin-braided blonde said before grabbing for the open window, "They started shooting the moment they saw us. I'd tell you to pull over so we could just fight them if I thought that you wouldn't be in danger."

The sound of another crash came from behind, followed by a whoop of victory from Naruto, "Edge can bite it! I'm the throwing knife champ! Bow down!"

Cammy felt a tugging desire to do more than sit down and wait, choosing to swing herself outside after bidding farewell to the driver, "I'll be right back," Ignoring his cries of warning and fear that she'd hurt herself, she went right ahead and made her way to the top of the truck while guns were still being fired, "Three left. Okay."

Analyzing the situation to the best of her ability, Cammy calculated how fast the truck was going, the speed of the pursuing cars, the ability to shoot that their enemies possessed, and exactly how Naruto would react to what she was about to do.

Without even blinking, she sprinted down the length of the trailer, getting a good running start as she ghosted past Naruto and leapt into the air, her left behind Psycho Power being channeled to her painted legs in purple spurts, "Cannon Strike!"

Dropping herself down from the sky like an anchor, Cammy completely crushed the front of first car she'd targeted. The looks on the faces of those driving were priceless once their car flipped front over end. By then Cammy had moved on to the next car in a single motion, spinning on the toes of her boots as if she were ice-skating across the road.

"Axle Spin Knuckle!"

The sight of a little European-looking teenage girl smashing through the front side end of a car with nothing more than one super-charged spinning backfist was something that would be ingrained in the minds of motorists who bore witness to it from that day forward.

Pieces that flew off of the car that Cammy had effectively torn apart caused the last remaining one to slide to a stop. Stopping on a dime at that speed caused it to roll over upside down. She didn't even have to touch it, only tilting her head in confused interest at the catastrophic crash.

Well, that solved that problem.

Looking back over her shoulder at the departing truck, Cammy gave a little smile and held up a peace sign to Naruto. She'd catch up at the rendezvous point and they could find a way home, as they had not worked that out prior to leaving town.

Still on the truck and able to see everything Cammy had done in under ten seconds, Naruto yelled out in appreciation, "Alright! Go Cam!" He didn't know if she could hear him or not, but he would have been remiss had he refrained from saying such, "…Best roommate ever."


"Goddamn!" Naruto exclaimed after throwing open the doors to the truck trailer. Of all the things to transport, a car seemed a little too pedestrian for what he normally found himself doing, "They were shooting bullets at this!?"

This car however… was a Jaguar. An old-school Jaguar.

That was on par with a Karin-level car, and that was not a class of transportation to be taken lightly.

Cammy however, stood with one hand on her hip as she looked at the pristine, white classic vehicle, "Our payment is probably a quarter of what this car actually costs," Which was still probably pretty hefty.

"You're right," Naruto said, daring to walk closer to the vehicle, "We should get to drive it up the jetty onto the ship. That's good, right?" Cammy didn't answer, only for Naruto to locate a set of keys under the dash that he held up for her to see, "You can drive~," The bait was dangled as he walked back over to her.

Ah, finally. There was a slight shine in those blue eyes. Shifting about in place bashfully as Naruto and the keys got closer, Cammy spoke up in a mumble, "…Well if you really think there's no harm in it."

Even if it was only a few hundred feet onto a cargo ship, who didn't want to drive a Jaguar at least once? It was a damn Jaguar!

"I would prefer it if you refrained from touching my father's car. After you have come all this way to return my prized possession I would hate to find purpose to resent you."

The smooth remark came in cultured English that both Naruto and Cammy understood. Turning around as if they had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, both blonds saw who they presumed to be their client.

He was a tall, well-built dark-skinned man with tidy black short hair styled into a part and a dandy handlebar mustache. He wore a white dress shirt barely able to contain just how muscular he was, and a pair of green suspenders that connected to a fancy pair of green suit pants and polished black shoes.

He also wore a pair of blue boxing gloves. Weird.

The man moved past the two of them to touch at the car as if he could hardly believe he had it there in front of him. If it hadn't been so dark inside of the container Naruto could have sworn he'd seen a tear come from the man's eye. Cammy tugged at his sleeve to get Naruto's attention, but he just shook his head.

This was more than just a badass car to that man.

Well, since it was his car, Naruto threw the keys his way, only for the man to easily catch them out of the air. Again, weird that he could grab anything wearing those gloves, but also cool, "Your efforts are very much appreciated Uzumaki Naruto."

"You know who I am?" Naruto asked before remembering himself and swelling up, "I mean, of course you know who I am. Right."

"I know of your companion as well," The man stated, looking over to Cammy who stood almost at attention as if anticipating her next order, either that or an attack. Oh how cute. She was like a little guardian for Naruto. She didn't know what to make of him, because client or not she didn't know him, "Ah, of course. My apologies. With the excitement of getting my father's Jaguar back I forgot to formally introduce myself. How rude of me."

Perhaps introductions would soften the little soldier's stance?

With a sweeping bow, the large black man lowered his head and spoke aloud, "You may refer to me as Dudley. I would like to personally thank you two for returning my property to me after I managed to procure it from those it had been lost to."

"Well who took it in the first place?"

"…It would perhaps be best if you didn't concern yourself with that." Dudley said, turning away dramatically, the sunset enhancing the drama of the situation. It simply made sure that this could not be glossed over or ignored altogether.


Ominous indeed, but when someone presented you with a statement like that you just didn't walk away from it. Not when you were Naruto. He had to know. No one said anything to try and get past it, therefore the question simply hung in the air. It was causing him physical discomfort that was visible in his shifting stance to not say anything about it.

However there were two of them present, and following the old adage of curiosity killing the cat, Naruto was effectively kept from asking anymore questions on the matter by Cammy dragging him by the arm out of the container. Seriously, if they got even the slightest inkling of what Dudley had been referring to, they would have been neck-deep in it within three days.

It always seemed to happen that way. She was a smart girl to try and dodge it, even if it was temporary.

There were enough problems coming their way as it was already, even if they didn't know it.

Dudley merely watched his hired help depart and shrugged at the odd exit before returning his attention to his late father's beloved car, most specifically the default license plate that only had the insignia of a two segmented pyramid with the all-seeing eye on it, "Well this just will not do. It must be swapped out post-haste."

Yep, that can of worms had effectively been prevented from being opened.


(That Evening – Aohura City)

Ryu did not agree with what Sakura was trying to do at all. Control over both the Satsui no Hadou and the Chikara no Hadou. That was impossible.

Even as he sat and watched her peacefully meditate in the junkyard that she and Naruto used for heavy training, he couldn't understand how she figured to do this. Were she to lose control he would have to step in to stop her. It was his responsibility. It was he who had given her the building blocks to learn. When he'd trained that one time with that fourteen year-old girl who'd traveled from Japan to seek him out for it, he never thought she'd take what he taught her in one meeting and do what she'd done with it.

But when he met her again years later she was completely different. A confident, skilled fighter that someone like Naruto, who he could clearly see had talent and experience, deemed capable of walking along with him… right into the Shadaloo mess in Thailand. Even there she had shown what she was made of.

That episode prompted him to give her more, and he gave her notes on mastering the Shinkuu Hadoken, something he'd expected would have taken her years. It took her less than one.

He didn't want to throw around the term prodigy, but there was something about her abilities that he couldn't skirt past. He'd never expected nearly this much out of her, and yet she'd shattered his absolute lack of foresight as to her growth. Then there was the Satsui no Hadou trouble. She'd already had three separate episodes in less than a year.

From his place resting on the roof of an old car, because he could literally sleep anywhere, Ryu looked over at the calm expression of focus on Sakura's face. Normally she would have been asking him something about techniques, and he'd expected her to ask him about the Satsui no Hadou, but she hadn't brought a single query to his attention since he'd come back around.

"Why do you want to master the Satsui no Hadou?"

He finally asked after hours of sitting and watching her. Sakura calmly cracked open one of her brown eyes and looked up to where her idol had spoken from before gifting him with a smile, "It's complicated, and it's personal, and it's kind of embarrassing. Sorry."

Ryu let out a sigh and sat up on the rooftop. He wasn't as patient as Master Gouken, but he was still a patient man, and if anything Sakura deserved the chance to speak her side of things. He was also better equipped to try and grill a teenage girl than Gouken was, but not by much unfortunately.

"Perhaps you could try," Ryu ventured to ask, "I may not be able to understand, but that doesn't mean I can't make an attempt to."

"Well," Sakura said, frowning as she thought about how much she could tolerate to divulge, "…I guess I can say something about it. I know the real reason I did so much to try and be a good fighter after I met Naruto. I'd always liked fighting, and I knew a little bit about it when we met, but for some reason I just wanted to find a way to walk with him."

Things were much bigger than that inside of her heart now, but that had been the gist of it at the beginning.

"I heard about all sorts of adventures that he'd gone on before, and I didn't know that it'd been in a completely different world, but it made me feel like I could do it too," It had been the reason that she'd gone on her first search for Ryu on her own instead of bringing Naruto, something that he still bemoaned her for to this day. She apologized and made excuses for it, but she felt like bringing Naruto would have been cheating, "And now things are getting so much bigger. If I can't keep up, I'm afraid he'll leave me behind."

If she treated her power like a curse it would only hold her back. The person it mattered to her the most that they accepted it had already experienced her darker side, had known what she was capable of, and declared nothing but support. He didn't see her as anything scary.

"It doesn't matter if it's you or if it's Sunburned Sakura-chan. You're both the same and I love you."

"This isn't the kind of power you can harness without losing yourself to it," Ryu expressed, "I… would never want that to happen to you. You're so young and talented. The amount of potential you have to do anything you want, it's incredible."

Sakura blushed bashfully at the praise. She'd wanted to hear it from him for years and finally had. It felt good, if not a little empty. Strange, she always felt that hearing something like that from Ryu would validate her efforts in trying to improve as a fighter.

When did she stop caring about that so much?

She didn't have time to ponder such a thing as Ryu continued trying to make his point, "Every time I fight, in the back of my mind I worry about something breaking. Losing control. I don't know how I could possibly ever prove myself as the strongest if every time I fight an enemy that could defeat me I lose myself. Once I find a way, I will become the best."

There it was. The little something that had come to bother her whenever her thoughts drifted to Ryu as a role model.

Sakura frowned in thought, something finally coming to light for her, "…And then what?"

"What do you mean?" Ryu didn't understand.

"After you become the best, and after you become the total master of your style, what then?" Sakura asked, earnestly interested, "Isn't there anything else you want to do?"

Something else? No. There wasn't anything else. The only thing that mattered was being the best. It was the only reason he existed to fight for. Everything Gouken had ever done for him, it was all with the express purpose of ensuring that he became the best possible example of their style's might.

Ken had a family, and other responsibilities. It was him, and only him. The full continuation of their art rested solely on his shoulders, and he could not, would not fail.

"There's all sorts of things I want to do," Sakura expressed, holding her hands to her heart and closing her eyes in thought, "I've got university to look forward to. Ibuki-chan says she's going too, and that'll be amazing! And then all of my friends. They've got goals of their own. I want to help them," Just thinking about all of the things she wanted to do put a smile on her face, "I want to teach martial arts to kids one day, and show them the best sides of it. And… I want to have a family someday… I think."

It was still way too soon to think about anything like that. Still, she didn't hold any hatred for the idea.

And if somehow along the way someone saw her as the absolute best for some measure of time, well that would have been pretty damn sweet as well.

By the time Ryu had processed all of this along with his own thoughts, the sun had set, and he was there alone. Sakura had bid him farewell to no response quite some time ago, and he hadn't noticed at all.

He didn't understand. How could someone who didn't have their fighting prowess as their top priority be influenced by the Satsui no Hadou? It was the rawest, darkest desire for achieving success at all costs that there was. It didn't make any sense.

Either Sakura was lying, or there was something about that twisted power that he just didn't get.


(Downtown Aohura City)

Aohura City, it was so peaceful at night.

Sure, in the daytime you could find any gaggle of violent, overly aggressive teenagers stomping down the street with maybe one or two ki-users potentially mixed into the bunch, but there was a tranquility to the town that was lacking when one headed toward the more metropolitan areas of the country to the west.

It was quite the place. Chaos in the day to build up one's body, and tranquility of its comfortable nights to strengthen one's mind. It was a fine balance.

When he thought about it that way, it was no wonder so many special children called this place home.

There was something foul in the air however. It was as if there was something around the modest town that found the quiet and calm of the night to be disgusting. Gen didn't have to even try very hard to seek such a malicious presence out, he was so used to being able to hone in on the darkest intent of mankind, but why do that when eventually it would come to him of its own volition?

…Whether he wanted it to or not.

Standing atop a business building downtown, Gen stood on the ledge overlooking the streets below. There was no need to keep the bastard close to Genhanten and make his search for whatever he was looking for too easy. It wasn't as if he actually wanted him to succeed in whatever destructive notion he wanted.

Speaking of the devil, it didn't take long for Gen to feel himself bathed in the angry, spiteful presence of the man/beast incarnate, "A fine evening, wouldn't you say Akuma-san."

Akuma didn't even bother coming into the light. The dark was where one such as he felt more comfortable. Besides, he didn't feel like gracing that ancient, broken-down old fool Gen with getting sight of him anyway, "Tell me where that simmering power is. I can feel it even now, being held back, but I can't pinpoint where without being close enough. Now be quick about it and do not lie to me old man."

Gen sneered maliciously, and turned around to face the dark destroyer of men, "Know that the only reason I tell you this…" Gen said with a wily grin on his face, "…Is because what you're going to do is spark something that has long been needed in this world in my opinion."

"And what would that be decrepit one?"

"Progress," The white-haired man explained simply, "For better or worse, you're going to finally do something that no one has seen as necessary since the times of open conflict that warriors can only dream of. You're going to give the people that truly have the potential to excel a reason to beyond something as petty as money, or mere validation of one's strength."

When was the last time a truly great fighter came along? There was a reason why the big legends were all old. Gouken, Oro, Gen himself. Sagat had been the closest to breaking through, but he lost his true drive to be better than the best to go chasing the shadow of one man who defeated him on a fluke.

The days that created Gen, created Oro, created Gouken. Those days you had to find something beyond yourself and your petty self-reasonings to fight for. You had to have a task greater than just overcoming the next opponent that drove you.

So many of these children today, so many that he'd seen since he ascended. They were so talented. They had all of the tools. Some had hit their ceilings already, others had not. Some still had yet to earnestly come into their own. But they were missing that last great push to make them truly great.

This man turned monster, he would give it to them. He would change lives, and force them to make the decision that all of the most powerful throughout the history of the world had to make before they realized just what they were capable of.

…The decision of just how badly they wanted to improve in order to destroy an impossible challenge, AND WHY WERE THEY SO DRIVEN TO DO SO?

"There is nothing more important than the proof of one's own strength," The shadowed figure growled, a dark red outline radiating around his body, giving his solid red eyes a demonic glow, "It seems that you've grown even more senile since we've last met, and you've forgotten such a truth. It's a pitiful sight."

"Killing me now means just as much to you now as it did when you defeated me last," Gen waved off the demon's insults with a casual air, "You won't strike me down because I've not angered you, and you find my disease-ravaged body too frail to give you any real satisfaction in victory."

True. Killing Gen in battle would have only been speeding up the inevitable and giving him what he wanted, "So tell me where the newly awakened host of the Satsui no Hadou is!? I need to find him now!"

Tch. So sexist. Well hopefully this would blow his mind.

"Not him. Her."


(Elsewhere in Town – Saikyou-Ryuu Dojo)

Gouken returned from a day watching the young fighters of the town at practice. It was intriguing to say the least. With the way things were in Aohura City it was no wonder children like the ones he found himself gravitating around lately developed the way they did. They probably had a treacherous battle at least once a week until they outgrew the challenge, which was impressive in and of itself.

"They certainly grew up in an interesting way," Gouken mused to himself as he reentered his estranged student's place of business and let out a sigh, "I thought I felt your ki slinking all over this city, but I thought it was my old age playing tricks on me."

Saying this, he walked into the back room that Dan used as his sleeping quarters to find a golden-skinned old man enjoying some of the bounty of Dan's instant ramen. When Dan found out he was probably going to blame Uzumaki Naruto, pick a fight with him, and get destroyed.


"Oro, I thought you'd resigned yourself to that mountain of yours in Brazil last I'd heard of you," Gouken said, sternly crossing his muscular arms over his broad chest, "Something about being tired of the level of martial artist that the world considered skilled."

Oro finished slurping up the noodles in the broth-filled cup and turned around from where he was sitting on the floor, "Well let's just say I was bored. And I found something rather interesting that grabbed my attention."

"Oh really?"

"Yes, really," Oro declared, narrowing his solid red eyes at Gouken, "You're as much of a buzzkill as you ever were. I see that hasn't changed since we've last met."

"I hardly consider a sense of discipline and responsibility a 'buzzkill'."

"Of course you don't."

The two ancient old warriors stared at one another, an impasse of sorts reached. The tension was then quickly broken when Oro cackled madly and turned back around to watch the small TV that had been playing, "So this is Japanese television? Why do people watch these 'game shows'? Something I'll never know I guess," And yet he remained on the same channel.

Gouken rolled his eyes. The Senjutsu master truly was an oddity, "Where is Dan?"

"He was noisy about me coming in, so I sent him and his jungle ally on a little trip," Oro confessed without scruples. Such an admission put Gouken on alert. Dan might have been estranged from his teachings, but that didn't mean-, "He said he always wanted to go to Italy, and I had money that I wasn't going to use so I said go nuts! He probably wouldn't want to be around here for what's about to happen soon anyway!"

About that, "Why are you here now?"

"A very special set of children. I've been watching them for quite some time now. A few weeks," Oro admitted with a nigh-toothless grin, "They're so close to getting there. You can see it as clear as day on some of them. Their energies are just short of breaking through. Of becoming something regular humans can't comprehend."

Gouken harrumphed like a grumpy old man, quite out of character for his normally dignified manner, "That's what I fear. The girl, her emotions cloud her judgment. She's really willing to try and master the Satsui no Hadou and the Chikara no Hadou."

Really now? How ambitious. Oro was beginning to like these children even more, and not just because a good number of them were cute girls, "I knew the energies of that short-haired girl felt familiar. I should have known she had some kind of ties to your style. There's a very particular signature that you types possess."

"And what do you think of her?"

"Hmm. She still has some growing to do."

"I agree. She is a very talented young fighter though."

"Wha-? Oh, yes! Her martial arts. No, I didn't see her fight."

Gouken just gave Oro a dry stare, wondering just if being a hermit cut off from most human contact turned the old man into something of a pervert. That would have been just his luck; that his only remaining living 'friendly' rival was now a deviant.

"Honestly though," Oro said, getting completely serious for a change, "She wouldn't be the one I'd be concerned about going down a dark road."

Confused as to what he meant, Gouken raised an eyebrow to his contemporary, "I don't really understand. The boy she spends time with has a dark power of his own, but he seems to have it under control for the most part."

Who, Naruto? No. Oro actually liked him, "That's not who I meant."


(With Naruto – Elsewhere in Town)

"Aw, man Batsu, you're terrible at this," Naruto said, headset on and controller in his hands as he sat in front of his newly purchased TV with the absurd amount of money Dudley had paid him and Cammy to return his Jaguar. They caught a ride home and bought it before heading back to the apartment, "We're gonna lose another match at this rate."

"I'm used to Call of Duty! You're the one who said we should give Battlefield a try!" Batsu irritably shouted at him over the headset, "There's an adjustment period! You can't reprogram eight years of-, oh fuck I was behind cover that time!"

"And automatic gunfire sliced it up like sashimi. What's not to get?" Naruto asked, eyes on the screen as he maneuvered his game avatar through a war-torn city, "Cover doesn't last, keep moving when you can, and run and gun ain't that effective. Take your ranged Striker bullshit back to Infinity Ward. That seemed to be the only way you ever got kills."

"Fuck you!" Cursing: the last resort of a limited vocabulary.

"Fuck you! Learn to aim down sight bitch!" See?

Cammy was in the shower, they had money in the bank, no lunatic was after Naruto or his loved ones that he knew of, and for the time being life was good. The universe seemed to be putting everything in his favor. Even Cammy's yellow-colored little cat saw fit enough to curl up on the couch next to Naruto's leg to be lazy.

Things hadn't been this pleasant and peaceful in a long time.

The door flew open with enough force to shake the wall and dislodge the wall-mount that held up his newly bought television set, causing it to fall and crash down onto the floor. Standing in the doorway, Ryu's eyes locked firmly on the man he'd come to see, "Uzumaki Naruto. I need to talk to you."

Naruto simply stared at where his TV had been and turned around to look over the back of his couch with a listless expression, "…That was a 330 thousand yen… 70-inch… plasma widescreen TV," He said, taking off his headset and throwing it aside with a click of his tongue before pasting a pleasant expression on his face, "So! How can I help you?"

If Cammy hadn't been in the shower she probably would have gotten spooked and tried to twist Ryu's neck off out of instinct the moment the door flew open. At the moment, Naruto honestly couldn't have said he would have done anything to stop her. Thank goodness for small miracles. Apparently Ryu didn't knock on many doors traveling the world and training every waking moment.

He didn't get a response from his question at first. He understood why Ryu was there though. He'd said why already.

"What's going on?" Naruto asked, glad that he'd gotten the warranty for that TV now. Chalk one up to Cammy and her practicality. She'd been on the damn ball lately like nobody's business, "You've been here for a while, but we haven't really talked since I came back from Brazil."

"I was thinking about things," Ryu said, "A lot of things. Can we talk, outside?"

Well didn't that sound like a dandy precursor to a nightfall showdown?

But this was Ryu. He was the markedly more reasonable and seemingly humble of the Gouken apprentices, much more so than Ken, so perhaps he really did just have some things to get off of his chest and talk man-to-man about? The guy deserved the benefit of the doubt anyway. He was Sakura's hero and he'd helped pull their asses out of the fire in Thailand. Naruto had never forgotten that.

Looking down the hall in the direction where he could still hear water running, he figured Cammy would be fine by herself for the time being. She usually was anyway. And it wasn't like they would be going very far. Naruto simply led Ryu to the roof of the complex, no farther.

Ryu looked around Naruto's new surroundings and commented amicably, "So I see you moved out of your old neighborhood," Farther away from Sakura. That would be a point that would come into play later.

Naruto nodded and pointed back in the direction his old place used to be, a mile or so away, "The only other apartment complex around got obliterated by S.I.N. This was the only one I could go to if I wanted to keep going to school with the others."

An uncomfortable silence reigned between the two for way longer than either thought was reasonable. Naruto didn't know what about this meeting was raising the hair on his neck right out of the gate, but he knew that he wouldn't have been feeling that way for no reason.

"I've been thinking long and hard about things," Ryu started to say before suddenly clamming up, having apparently not found the correct words that he'd been looking for to explain himself. Naruto was uncharacteristically patient, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He could take his time, "I don't know how to ask this or to even broach this topic with you."

Naruto dangled his leg over the ledge of the roof, his other leg pulled up to his bare chest, "Well just be blunt. You usually are, so why stop now?"

Point taken. The best way to do this was probably the fast way, like pulling off a band-aid, "Naruto, I'll just say it then. The catalysts to Sakura's Satsui no Hadou are her strongest desires. It feeds on her wants, and manifests the darkest aspects of her character in response."

"I already knew that," Naruto said, blushing for a moment before fighting it down with a cough, "We kinda went through this a little while back," It hadn't even been a month since they had.

"Then you know what I have to talk to you about," Ryu said, his eyes turning stony and serious as he regarded his younger ally, "For Sakura's own good and for the good of the world, she has to give up her sense of attachment to anything tangible. I need your help in finding what these things are so that we may do something about this."

Naruto's eyes went wide, remembering one of the most important conversations he'd ever had with the girl over her dark impulses.

"I'm passionate about you. Ever since we were little I was."

It was him, and nothing else. Nothing tangible anyway, like Ryu alluded to. And whether he knew it or not, the man was asking him to sever his ties, ties that he'd spent years creating, ties that he didn't think he could sever if his own life depended on it.

"I can't," Naruto said, shaking his head, "I won't."

Just like that, Naruto could see the judgment in Ryu's eyes. It didn't matter if it made him weak. It didn't matter if it made him less of a fighter or something like that. He'd made his choice; that he'd stay with her and stand by her even if she did have a scary dark side. Dark Sakura had yet to attack a single person incapable of fighting her back or hurt anyone that didn't have it coming.

What Naruto didn't expect of all things, was to be slugged right in the face and knocked flat on his back, looking up at the night sky.

…Did Ryu just hit him?

"This isn't a game," Ryu said to Naruto, clearly finding it hard to keep his cool, "This isn't something you can just ignore and hope it will go away. It will get stronger if it's not dealt with in some way. I need to know what she loves so that I can try to convince her that it's better if she lets it go."

It was cold. Cold to the touch to think about. No more Sakura. He couldn't be close to her again, he couldn't see her look at him knowing that he was as important and precious to her as anything in the world. To think of that being ripped away, to think of the tears she would shed trying to do what Ryu asked of her. To think of the fact that when it finally did happen, her eyes would never look at him with the warmth of someone who had been through thick and thin with him, the warmth of a lover.

"No," Naruto grounded out. And that was that. There was no changing his mind, nothing Ryu could say to convince him. He would never let Sakura lose herself as long as his body drew breath. If something happened to put that 'plan' out the window… well he'd burn that bridge when they came to it. But otherwise, just- "No."

The older fighter didn't get it. This wasn't some childish sort of tantrum or refusal to acknowledge that something was bad or dangerous. This was a resolute declaration from a man that it simply didn't matter to him whether it was or not.

That was deeper than some sort of attachment of friendship. And Sakura's outright refusal to rid herself of her attachments to Gouken, to the extent that she declared that she would do the impossible, something that hadn't been done since Gouken's master Goutetsu, mastery over both the light and dark sides of their style, that was not something that a schoolgirl in over her head would say and swear she would do.

It hit Ryu like a ton of bricks hanging overhead that he should have seen all along. It made him feel silly that he hadn't. How out of touch was he?

"She loves you," Ryu realized with no small amount of shock evident. That explained it. She had attachments, or an attachment. A big one. Someone like Sakura, when she loved something, she loved it hard. It showed in her dedication to the martial arts, reaching a world-class level from that of a recreational practitioner in a matter of five years.

She loved the fight. She loved the rush of combat. She loved the complexity and the diverse nature of fighting. She loved it enough that she wanted to teach others to perhaps see things the way that she did. That was commitment and enthusiasm.

She loved Naruto more though.

Naruto didn't say anything, simply wiping at the new red bruise on his cheek. It wasn't his business how Sakura felt, or how he felt. It was between them.

Ryu stared down at his fist, regretting his rash course of action in hitting Naruto. But what had happened had already transpired. There was nothing he could do to take it back. All he could do was move forward with what he'd done.

"If I defeat you, you'll end things as they are. You can never allow anything past what you currently have," Ryu said firmly, "To detach oneself from a friend is far easier to detach oneself from a lover. If Sakura does not, I'm telling you now that the Satsui no Hadou will devour her whole."

The easiest way to decide things when there was a clash of ideologies was a fight. That was the way the world worked in martial arts. Unfortunately, this had little to do with martial arts in the mind of Uzumaki Naruto.

Naruto stood up straight out of his stance and gave Ryu a look that until then had only been sent Naruto's way by others for various reasons; the infamous 'are you stupid' look. For someone who didn't back down and didn't run away, this had nothing to do with adhering to that self-promise.

"No," Naruto said plainly. There was nothing more to put behind it, "No! You hear me? No! Fuck you!"

"It has to happen this way," Ryu said, shutting his eyes tightly, knowing that what he asked was difficult. He didn't realize how difficult it was for regular people though, let alone for someone like Naruto. Even if he did understand, he still more than likely wouldn't have done it, "Her attachment to you is only going to make the Satsui no Hadou stronger. She'll become no better than Akuma!"

As good as his intentions were in context, as far as fighting words went, Ryu might as well have brought up Naruto's mother in a salacious, unsavory manner. It couldn't have possibly brought up a worse result.

He didn't realize what had happened at first, only knowing that Naruto had gotten in his face and had grabbed tightly at the front of his gi.

The moment he realized something was wrong was when he heard the whistle of the wind in his ears, felt the fact that his feet were no longer on solid ground, and became aware of the fact that the two of them had been flying through the air over four blocks' worth of residential homes.

Then he felt a fist sink itself into his jaw hard enough to send him flying through the air for two more blocks. Receipt delivered.

Ryu hurtled through the air before landing hard at the foot of a grassy hill in the neighborhood park. He rolled out along the grass until his momentum finally came to a stop and he pushed himself back up, 'That was a very good punch.'

Moments later, Naruto landed right in front of him, still barefoot and shirtless from having been coaxed out of his evening settle-down time to talk. There wasn't any more talking that he wanted to do. He wanted to hit something, and that something was dressed in a weathered white gi.

"I don't care if you're Sakura-chan's hero or not," Naruto growled, "I don't care if every fighter in the world bows down and sucks your balls just for beating Sagat one time! Don't you ever say anything like that again or I'll break your damn jaw!"

Well the answer did lie in the heart of battle after all. If Naruto wouldn't see reason, Ryu would force him to see it with the power of his fists.

This was something that didn't need to be said blatantly. Naruto felt that way as well.

"I guess we have nothing more to talk about then," Ryu said coolly, pulling a pair of red gloves from the inside of his gi tightly onto his hands. Naruto just nodded in return.

The winner was right, the loser was wrong. The strongest would be the one to write the rules on this night. The loser had no right to demand anything of the winner, nor could they stop them from enforcing their directive.

Using a Shunshin, Naruto vanished from the sight of what normal humans could see, but Ryu was able to follow Naruto's high-speed movements based on the sound of the grass underfoot and ducked a side-kick aimed at his head from his blind spot.

Gritting his teeth, Ryu rose with an uppercut that Naruto leaned back to evade. The two met eyes, acknowledging that this was no spar, no good-natured exhibition. Every punch would be thrown with a point to make, and it wouldn't end until the other lacked the strength to dispute the other.

Both exploded into a blur of fists and feet, each one blocking and avoiding each punch thrown the other's way. The sheer speed of their collective barrages caused the grass around them to wave as if a healthy wind were blowing.

Ryu found his opening, moving his head past a punch, grabbing it with one arm as he turned his body to throw Naruto over his shoulder. Naruto went flying but with a casual handspring he landed in a crouch and threw himself back at Ryu. He had no weapons. He had to do this with his bare hands and his chakra.

-Which suited him just fine.

Just before getting close enough to Ryu to reengage him in a rush of melee, Naruto crossed his index and middle fingers, stunning Ryu with his sudden audible, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Jutsu)!" In a puff of smoke, two clones managed to get the drop on Ryu and nail him with simultaneous punches straight to the face.

His enemy knocked back, Naruto leapt into the air off of the backs of his clones who surrounded Ryu and prepared to follow up. In the airborne original's right hand, a devastating blue orb of spinning chakra formed, his eyes locked on the headband-clad roaming warrior.

Ryu saw both Naruto clones surround him and allowed them both close enough to destroy them in one move. Digging his feet into the dirt beneath the grass, he unleashed a devastating rising uppercut that turned his entire body into a ki-enhanced missile, the tip of his fist more dangerous than any weapon mortal man could wield in-hand.

"Shoryuuken (Rising Dragon Fist)!"

"Rasengan (Spiraling Sphere)!"


(Meanwhile – Sakura's House)

Sakura's ability to sense that she'd learned from Gouken was both a gift and a curse. A gift as it allowed her to locate things and gauge the potential strength of her enemies. A curse because it allowed her to at times sense things that she would rather have not.

A clash of energies that she knew very well happened to be occurring a matter of under two miles from her home. It was a fight she never would have wished to happen, not for real.

"Naruto," Sakura whispered to herself, almost jumping straight off of the couch and scaring the daylights out of her little brother, "…Ryu."

Her brother didn't even have time to ask her what was wrong, nor did her mother have any time to ask where she was going before Sakura's shoes were on and she was out the door. This was bad. They were using too much power for this to be something as simple as a friendly match.

She had to get there, to try and stop them. Naruto was angry, Ryu was angry, and neither of them would back down from their point if they believed that they were in the right. Even if they weren't pissed off, which they were, whatever fight they had would probably escalate until it became dangerous anyway.

Damn it! Why was their fight moving away at such a fast pace? Damn Naruto and his stupid mobile fighting style. Then again, training with her would have gotten him used to avoiding Ryu's attacks, and taking that man head-on in a fight was perhaps the worst thing he could do.

Every step she ran hit the ground with a focused fervor until she felt something move behind her so quickly that she almost felt paranoid at thinking something had. But there was something there. She turned her shoulder on a whim and nearly fell over in the street at the inhuman thing she saw.

A battered black gi, death-red eyes, brown prayer beads around his neck, tan, nearly dark skin, spiky red hair in a topknot ponytail.

She couldn't even bring herself to say his name. Her mouth made the motions, but no voice came out, 'A-Akuma.'

"It's you," Akuma said lowly, pointing one rope-wrapped hand at Sakura, "Standing here now, there's no mistake. That old fool was right," He never remembered seeing her before at all. He thought he'd seen all of the current practitioners of their discipline. He hadn't expected there to ever be a new one so soon, let alone a possessor of the Satsui no Hadou that was so young… or girly, "Do you know who I am?"

Sakura gulped down her fear to no effect of relieving it and nodded, "W-What do you want?"

"Bring it out."

…Excuse her?

"Girl, I know for a fact that Gouken hasn't gotten his traitorous, blasphemous claws into you yet. At least not entirely. The darkness in you, I want you to use it," Akuma demanded, "Stop whimpering and show me!"

Sakura felt her knees buckle simply from the sheer malice being sent her way, but remained upright. Naruto and Ryu's fight was forgotten. This man, who was able to decimate the two young men who went on to reach the final round of the World Warrior Tournament at the same time, who even Ryu feared. He wanted something from her.

That something would lead to a fight against him if she were up-to-date enough on the kind of person Akuma was.

"You hurt Master Gouken because you were angry. You hurt Naruto, just to get some sick challenge," Sakura challenged in a shaky voice, "And you think I'm going to give you what you want?"

"You will," Akuma said, sounding entirely sure of himself in his harsh tone of voice, "You have no choice in the matter. The fact that you would willingly deny yourself the chance to reach the limits of your ability is disgusting. If there's something keeping you from reaching my level, from taking the god-worthy step of challenging the Supreme Master of the Fist, you remove it from your path!" Akuma bellowed, the pebbles on the street shaking and the sidewalks cracking at the volume of his mere presence, "Or perhaps I should remove it for you?"

Her entire body shook. This was too much. It wasn't like Seth. It wasn't like Bison. It wasn't like anything she'd ever stood face-to-face with before in her entire life. This power would devour her in an instant. She wouldn't even have been a speed bump.

This wasn't some devious lunatic, or some maniac with delusions of grandeur. This being was completely willing to back up every word he said with his fists. All he wanted was to destroy, to crush those that he felt were powerful enough to interest him.

There wasn't a word in any vocabulary of any language that she could come with that would stop him. Words were worthless.

Her silence did nothing to soothe the savage monster in front of her. In fact it did the exact opposite. It only enraged him, "If I wanted a sniveling coward afraid of the power that their enemies should fear instead, I would be after Ryu right now!"

Sakura flinched and stepped back. She felt more like a mouse than a warrior. A mouse in front of a tiger. Anywhere in the world other than there, that was where she wanted to be.

His rage tapered off however, seeing her resolve close to breaking. If he wanted to break her, doing so with his fists would have been far more suitable to him than doing it with his words.

"Fine," Akuma relented with an annoyed snort, "Like I said before, if there's something in the way of you reaching my level, I'll simply remove the problem," His head turned up and away from Sakura as if he could smell the power of others drifting through the night air, "…Interesting. The boy had a breakthrough, even after taking the Shun Goku Satsu."

Oh no.

Turning around, Akuma spared one last disgusted glance at Sakura, "At least I can count on one of you whelps to be willing to try and provide me sport. He won't survive twice."

He meant that. The only time Akuma would move from his places of training was when he wanted to get into a fight. His fights ended with the deaths of others.

Before Akuma could speedily slip away with Ashura Senku and travel to insert himself into the fight between Ryu and Naruto, he was stopped by a massive crack that had come from straight behind him, trailed beneath his legs underneath, and continued on straight down the road.

As if being bothered by a gnat that continued to fly around his head, Akuma turned around, prepared to decimate the foolish little girl impeding him from finding a real challenge. When he did though, he stopped cold with interest.

Sakura's body had stopped quivering. Her stance stiffened into something resembling defensive instead of a jello-legged excuse for a combat posture.

Her head lowered enough to hide her eyes underneath her bangs, she reached up to her forehead and removed her white headband, dropping it to the ground and stomping on it hard enough to crack a second, deeper fissure into the street, only compounding on the damage of the first.

"I think I've said this once before to someone else, but if I haven't I'll say it anyway," Sakura said darkly, holding up one hand in front of her body, slowly clenching her fingers into a fist as her skin color began to change and a dark red ki radiating off of her caused the very ground around her to quake, "If God himself ever reached down to try and take Naruto away from us-," Sakura disappeared from sight only to reappear in an instant right at Akuma's side, her fist "-GOD'LL BE MISSING AN ARM!"

She had never punched anything so hard in her entire life.

His body having crashed through three whole houses, rendering them to condemned hovels, Akuma sat in a trench dug ten feet deep into the street by his very body, watching blood pour from his shoulder like a faucet. His entire left arm felt like it was hardly hanging on by a thread. He'd easily blocked her blow, but it dislocated his shoulder and tore most of the tendons in the arm just from the impact.

And still, he grinned. A true grin, for the first time in decades, maybe even longer, "That hurt."

It actually hurt. She hit him hard enough to hurt him.

So much hate.

So much spirit.

No reservations about using all of her power, dark or not, to outright murder him. To be selfish and use her power to protect what she felt was hers.

She was perfect.

And he would have her. Her opinion on the matter meant nothing.

She was raw and inexperienced, true, but with some attention, some coaxing and guidance, she would be the one to give him the fight to the death he truly desired.

"Child," Akuma said, standing up out of the trench and walking back Sakura's way as he watched her stomp through the holes in the houses she'd punched him through, "Let me show you just what you'll be capable of by the time I'm through with you. Your pitiful imitation of Ansatsuken is an insult to the power you possess!"

This would be her first lesson under her new master, and it would be painful. That was fine though. Pain was just weakness leaving the body.

Sakura was pissed. Too pissed to be afraid. Too pissed to know that she was overmatched.

Instinctually using Ashura Senku to speedily move forward, she stepped into another crushing punch intended to splatter Akuma's innards all over the neighborhood. This time however, she missed and fell victim to three hard punches to the body that doubled her over his fist.

"That didn't break you in half," Akuma mused, interested that she was still able to stand up, "You have potential."

Sakura pushed herself off of his arm and backhanded Akuma across the face, only getting him to turn his head for all the trouble it was worth. Pushing herself away, she jumped right back at him and aimed both of her fists down at his collarbone in a double-sledgehammer strike, "Sakura Otoshi (Cherry Blossom Drop)!"

Akuma blocked her attack with both arms, even as the road crumbled beneath his feet. Snorting like a bull he prepared to push her away when he saw one of her arms free and drawn back with a bolt of ki in her hand, "A one-handed-?"

"Gadoken (Self-Taught Fist)!"

Dan's principle of a low-charged, one-handed Hadoken had finally found a productive use. It was no damn good for a ranged attack that went any farther than three feet, but it was a pretty nice how-do-you-do up close and personal.

Sakura landed right in front of Akuma and threw a high front kick as hard as she possibly could, landing it right under his chin. It was like a normal person kicking an anchor however, as he hardly budged. The smoke from the Hadoken cleared only to show tiny singe marks on his face, and the bottom of her shoe dug in under his chin.

"You're vicious," Akuma said with no small hint of appreciation, "An attack like that, either of them, would have decapitated any other weakling. Keep going… if you can," He demanded.

"DIE!" Sakura cried out spitefully lowering her leg and immediately going for her version of the Shoryuuken. Seeing her twice bastardized version of his purest version of the technique only angered him. He stopped her fist from ever even rising, instead spinning her around and shooting a knee into the small of her back to send her flying.

Sakura landed facedown on a curb-parked car and rolled off of its dented hood and broken windshield to stand back up, "You think we're scared of you? We'll show you how scared we are!"

Her hands were set to charge her most powerful Hadoken, the pink ki of the attack forming between her palms and fingers, but before she could even begin to do so in earnest, Akuma appeared in front of her in the air with a kick prepared, "I've seen enough girl!"

With one booming roundhouse kick he sent Sakura soaring into the air where he quickly followed, spinning dangerously with his air-tearing version of the Senpukyaku, locked in perfectly on her.

"You're still too green to match strength against me! I'll show you just a taste of real power!"

Sakura didn't even have time to recover before Akuma careened up to her with deadly speed and accuracy, his kick moving past her with such force that she felt as if she'd been cut in half. Everything she could see was in distorted black and white. Almost literal blinding pain.

"Tenshou Kaireki Jin (Heaven Piercing Sea Crashing Blade)!"

Once again, he hadn't broken her in half.

She would do just fine.


(Meanwhile – With Naruto)

Something was wrong.

Ryu didn't understand.

This didn't make sense.

He wasn't this close the last time. He didn't hit this hard the last time. His reflexes weren't as crisp and as sure of themselves the last time. He didn't know those moves he attacked him with the last time. He wasn't so fast the last time. Not even close.

Slowly but surely Ryu was losing to Naruto, and he knew it.

Lightning quick jabs flew from Ryu's arms as he kept his other arm back for a secondary attack, but Naruto dodged it all, constantly backpedaling as fast as his feet would take him, no matter what the terrain demanded of him. Be it grass, concrete, water, asphalt, nothing slowed Naruto down.

Ryu's eyes went wide when he felt one of his jabs make contact. Without hesitation he brought forward his other hand in a wicked downward punch but felt the feeling of wood shatter as a log took Naruto's place for the second attack.

Confused, he felt his arms bound from behind, noting that a Naruto had grabbed him in order to hold him in place as the original stood right in front of him holding a hand-seal, mouth open with a blue glow forming in the back of his throat, 'No!'

"Chou Ikitaihou (Super Breath Cannon)!"

Ryu was able to break free and escape, leaving Naruto's clone to be decimated by the destructive blast of pure energy. With no fear, Ryu rushed forward, just out of the way of the blast radius and delivered a punch to Naruto's stomach that stopped the chakra flow and shut his mouth.

Standing up straight he dropped an elbow down on the bent Naruto's neck only for Naruto to cartwheel forward and kick his arm away before it could hit him. Growling in annoyance at being thwarted every time it seemed like he would get in a finishing blow, Ryu grabbed Naruto by his shoulders and rolled backwards, taking Naruto with him before kicking him away and sending him flying.

Naruto was flipped thrice before landing on his belly, but he didn't let that keep him down, getting up immediately with the momentum of the throw. With a bull-like snort through his nose, Naruto created more clones that rushed and surrounded Ryu.

One remained back with Naruto and transformed into a large shuriken. Ryu realized that Naruto was compromising his ability to dodge and prepared himself as the clones closed in. As he anticipated, the clones feinted a move on him only for Naruto to throw his shuriken at him. He could have shot it down, but it would have only left him open for a clone counter, so he simply dodged.

The moment it flew past him, it transformed back into Naruto and took a swinging kick at him from behind, nearly taking his head off had Ryu not grabbed his leg out of midair. The other clones pounced, but the captured Naruto was used as a weapon to destroy the others in one motion, "Damn! Really?"

Not allowing a moment to lapse, Ryu managed to reach Naruto's right side with a single speedy movement. Ryu placed his hands together and pushed them outward, expelling ki from his body with burning force, "Shakunetsu Hadoken (Scorching Heat Surge Fist)!"

Naruto managed to turn his shoulder, keeping him from taking the full force of the attack on his entire body. Instead his left shoulder felt the burn of the flaming Hadoken as he fell to the ground to avoid the rest of it.

Wiping off the parts of his left shoulder and upper chest that still had stray flames burning on them, Naruto looked up at Ryu looked upon him with a distinct lack of pity.

"I hate to be the one that has to do this, but you kids need to grow up one day," This attempt to defend the sanctity of material possessions, it was only going to end badly. Why was he fighting this so hard? Ryu thought Naruto had grown up, that he would understand why this had to happen, "You have to learn how to let go. You can't have everything you want!"

Let go?

"What about you?" Naruto asked, "You're attached to something, even if it's not a person. You want to win more than anything else! You want to be the strongest more than anything else! It's all that matters to you, and you won't let that go! You won't put that aside! So what makes what you're attached to so much more goddamn grown up than hers!?"

At least Sakura could see Naruto, touch him, know he was there. She could have what she wanted and know that she did. How would Ryu ever even know he was the best? That he was some kind of true master? Tournaments, what everyone thought was the best marker of who the strongest happened to be, meant absolutely nothing. That had already been proven time and time again.

There was something for Sakura to apparently reach for. Something in sight. The moment Ryu reached a new peak, it would only give him a better view of the next mountaintop to climb to. Nothing more. It would never be enough, because there was no such thing as a definite end to such a path.

It was like Akuma's goal of finding someone powerful to fight. If he did find someone to give him such a fight, but he still won it anyway and lived on, what else? He would only keep getting stronger. That ambition could only move further and further away.

If someone asked Ryu to give up on what he wanted though or made any sort of comparison between his goal and Akuma's, Naruto would have bet his entire mission payment that Ryu would have responded in the exact same way he did; aggressively.

Ryu wanted to say that it was because he didn't covet any physical possessions. He traveled the world only with what he could carry on his back, and it was all expendable. What he was driven to achieve was beyond the materially obtainable. But Sakura loving Naruto wasn't a simply material situation. Loving someone was only partially a physical ideal.

"This ends now," Ryu said, clasping his hands together and drawing them back to build up his power.

"I agree," Naruto said, creating a wall of dozens of Kage Bunshin between the man and himself, "…What is this again?"

The moment a single Naruto clone even twitched to try and build chakra, Ryu released his own. His control over his ki was more finely tuned, making it easier for him to build it up, "Shinkuu Hadoken (Vacuum Wave Surge Fist)!"

A beam of pure ki three times Ryu's size flew from his outstretched arms and tore apart Naruto's ranks. Some savvier clones around the edges were able to survive, but those closer to the middle found themselves thoroughly obliterated in an instant.

The ones who survived the initial blast knew they only had a matter of two or three seconds before they too met their ends. They weren't going to dodge anything. Thus, resigned to their fates they sank their hands into the ground and used their chakra to swirl the asphalt underneath them, causing something of a controlled earthquake, "Rasenshinsen (Spiraling Tremor)!"

Ryu's balance was thoroughly compromised as the street fell apart around him. Windows cracked, foundations of buildings buckled, and he very nearly felt the full force of the real Naruto's Rasengan while he was off-guard.

Crashing through the brick wall of a nearby property limit, Naruto came so close to striking Ryu with the dangerous jutsu that the front of the man's gi was shredded.

He dodged by a hair, and Naruto flew past him, slamming the Rasengan into the ground. The moment it touched, he forced his control over it to go unstable, causing it to burst and send him back the way he'd come; Ryu's direction.

A full body check from Naruto sent Ryu into the remains of the wall Naruto had just obliterated to ambush him, where Naruto proceeded to pin him with his forearm to his throat and hit him with three heavy punches right across the face.

Sick of taking punches, Ryu snapped his arms upward and removed Naruto's forearm before delivering a nice little surprise to Naruto in the form of a close-range ki blast, "Hadoken (Surge Fist)!"

"Gaaaah!" Naruto cried out as he was thrown off of his adversary and knocked down on his back. The pieces of broken road and glass in his back hurt like hell and he'd probably had the mother of all road-rashes, but it was just a little pain.

Ryu winced at the punches that Naruto had delivered, having almost been beaten into an imprint on a wall before he'd gotten the energetic ninja off of him.

Naruto could create an earthquake. An honest to goodness earthquake with nothing more than his own energy. He didn't have to transform it in some way, or bond with the earth itself. It was the pure brute force of his power, being manipulated within the ground.

The kind of determination it had to take to even decide that you were even going to learn a move like that was staggering to think about.

'He's not going to give up on this,' Ryu understood with a grim acceptance, 'I really am going to have to beat him so badly that he can't challenge it.'

Before Naruto could get up, Ryu ran over, smoothly spinning around before delivering a spinning ax kick/stomp that put his foot through the road. His blond enemy rolled out of the way, gaining more cuts and scrapes for his troubles on his bare arms, chest, and back.

"Ren Hadoken (Chain Surge Fist)!"

To Naruto's surprise, rapid-fire Hadoken's flew back-to-back from Ryu's hands, causing him to hightail it out of there, "How long's he been working on that one!?" Naruto yelled rhetorically.

Dodging as many as he could on the street, Naruto jumped up onto the side of a building and sprinted on its wall until he reached its end, dodging blasts all the way. Ryu was done playing around if that hadn't already been painfully clear.

Taking a chance, Naruto leapt high into the air over Ryu's head, avoiding his shots until he could no longer aim at him. Whatever he originally endeavored to try from his elevated position backfired, as Ryu spun in place to the direction Naruto was flying towards and jumped into the air as high as he could go.

"Shoryuuken (Rising Dragon Fist)!" Naruto took the punch straight to the chest and felt as if his organs had been ping-ponged off of his rib cage. Blinking back the pain and fighting down the bodily reaction to push up blood, Naruto took a chance.

Going limp on the end of Ryu's fist, Naruto's descent began before Ryu's. Hitting the ground first, Naruto ignored every signal his body gave him to take a moment and lie down, that he didn't need to try and stand so quickly. Bouncing and putting his feet underneath him, Ryu was at his mercy, still finishing the spin motion that went with the Shoryuuken.

Jumping back into the air, Naruto pressed both of his knees down onto Ryu's shoulders around his neck from behind and grabbed onto the top of his head by his hair, "Eat the road! Chiruochiba Osu (Leaf Falling Press)!"

Naruto slammed Ryu face-first into the asphalt hard, dragging him across the ground until he could hold on no longer. He fell forward off of him in a heap and collapsed twenty feet away from where Ryu lay.

Breathing heavily on his side, Naruto looked over at Ryu who slowly pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He could see the blood dripping off of the man's face even with his head lowered. He didn't seem ready to surrender at all though.

Sitting up, Naruto began to stand again in time with Ryu's attempt to rise.

Ryu had wasted so much ki in such a short amount of time with the Ren Hadoken, this short breather was just what he needed to recharge. He knew that Naruto didn't need any downtime either. The kid was a machine.

He wasn't the strongest though. And that was what he needed to be if he wanted to beat Ryu.

Once again at a standoff, the two wordlessly charged forward in a mutually understood attack.

A bulky figure forced its way between the two of them before they could clash again however, sending them both flying into the sides of adjacent buildings.


Pulling themselves out of the mess they'd been smashed into, Naruto and Ryu saw a livid Gouken standing where they had been about to meet for another smackdown. They both seemed ready to continue at the drop of a hat had the old man not been there.

"You're both putting out so much ki over so much distance I can't sense anything past the two of you! Look around!" Gouken demanded, ordering Naruto and Ryu to note what they'd done over the course of their fight. Indeed, they had ruined several city blocks and had traveled at least five miles from where they'd begun, "What is the meaning of this?"

Ryu didn't say anything, instead putting on a calm, cool, air, detaching himself from the situation despite the bit of a beating he'd just endured.

Naruto didn't say anything, still glaring at Ryu. Instead of acknowledging anything about the fight at all, he wiped the blood, dirt, gravel, and glass off of his arms and turned his back before jumping off to return home.

Such a bitter look.

That was the face of a man who would not be cooling down anytime soon. Gouken didn't know Naruto could actually hold a grudge like that against someone he didn't intend to kill.

Turning back to Ryu, Gouken decided to address the only person who was still there, "What happened?"

"He wouldn't accept what I had to say," Ryu said, dabbing at the bloody marks all over his face, "The Satsui no Hadou will devour Sakura, and he doesn't care enough to do what is needed to keep that from happening!"

He was trying to regain his cool, but he just couldn't! Aside from the entire mess with Sakura, Naruto had fought him differently than he had the last time they'd faced off in any particular manner. There was no tentative approach. He was entirely sure that he could have beaten Ryu.

As loathe to admit it as the proud former champion was, he possibly would have. Naruto was notoriously durable, and he hadn't even tapped into his extra power.

Thinking about that put a grit to Ryu's teeth, 'He was still holding back,'

They had done all of the damage that they had, and Naruto had still been holding back from letting loose with everything he had. Granted, Ryu had too, but he'd come close to giving everything he had. He wasn't so sure that Naruto had. He'd heard of what a full-power attack from the boy could do. He'd seen the aftermath.

This was nowhere near that.

"Be at ease," Gouken said in a stern voice, "You were right in your intentions, but your approach in the matter was shortsighted. Did you really think going about it in such a manner was intelligent?"

"I expected him to be more reasonable than that," Ryu admitted, "I can see how wrong I was now."

Gouken just gave Ryu a hard stare. His efforts of raising Ryu at his dojo alone, it was clearly making its unintended effects known now. He really didn't understand, "You more or less asked that boy to do the equivalent of asking Ken to help you get his wife to forget about him. There was no other reasonable way for him to react."

"I… don't understand," Ryu didn't get relationships with others past that of a master/student dynamic, or at best a friend dynamic. He knew he was still angry though.

He wouldn't have lost that fight. There was no way he would have lost that fight.

"And that is my fault," Gouken said, "Now I'm going to find that boy and maybe do something to salvage this situation before he sees us as enemies." That truly would have been a shame if that wound up being the result of this, "If he doesn't already."


How engrossed in his fight had Naruto been? The destruction that covered a few blocks in a residential area not too far from his apartment hadn't been anything that he and Ryu had done.

It couldn't have been. They didn't even start cutting loose until they'd stopped nearer to the downtown area.

Finding Sakura lying on the ground motionless, Naruto tore chunks out of the road as he ran over to her downed form. He could see the vile bruises on her body underneath her shirt, even on her darkened skin, causing him to take great care once he pulled her into his arms.

She was breathing. That much was good. She was in fierce pain though, as just touching her caused her body to quiver something awful. Who could have done this to Sakura under normal circumstances, let alone if she'd actually been drawing upon the Satsui no Hadou in her.

Her eyes opened from her wince and suddenly the solid red orbs that came with her normal use of the powers didn't seem to glow with the usual fierce intensity that Naruto had been accustomed to seeing from them.

"Oh…" Dark Sakura said, smiling at him in relief despite her wounds. She couldn't have cared less about them, "You look like you just got beaten up."

Despite the situation that he still didn't understand, Naruto couldn't help but smile back at her, "Look who's talking. Who'd you let kick your ass like this?"

Being presented with that reminder, Sakura did her best to try and get back up, even with Naruto doing his best to keep her from moving around and hurting herself more, "No, no, if I don't… he'll kill you."

Naruto raised an eyebrow until realizing that they weren't alone. With as much stagnant dark power that lingered around the neighborhood after Sakura's latest donnybrook, it took him longer than it should have to realize that they had a spectator.

Standing, arms crossed on the top of a light post that had remained undamaged, Akuma looked down on Naruto, his gi waving in the night wind, "So it's you; the tether of her inhibitions that she refuses to let go of," Had he not been, Dark Sakura wouldn't have let something as simple as being held keep her from getting up to keep fighting.

'He did this?' Naruto thought in horror, thinking of what Akuma had done to him, and imagining that being done, or worse, to Sakura, "He did this…" Naruto growled, his canines sharpening and his eyes reddening in rage, all the while his dark side whispered its demanding request to him, 'Kill him!'

"Naruto!" The Kyuubi snarled inside of his head, "You're past this! Past using my power like some ravenous beast! THINK!" It had been a long night, and there had been enough on Naruto's plate to set him off without this being one of them, "If you slip up over something so foolish I will take your body from you!"

That snapped Naruto out of his enraged state. Who knew that he'd get such a warning from the being inside of him? The thought of him actually showing some measure of concern over his state of mind put a smile on his face, 'Thanks Kyuubi. I almost went right at him.'

The grand fox snorted inside of his head, "I've seen you overcome too much to have this get the better of you. It would be embarrassing to garner my freedom like this."

Besides, bluster aside, this man was far too dangerous to play that game with. The Kyuubi had tried it before, taking control when Akuma forced Naruto's mind out of its normal state, and it hadn't ended very well for either of them.

Taking a deep breath, Naruto fought back his desire to tear Akuma apart and set his chakra back to normal. The red faded from his eyes and the blue returned, only with an icy-cold tint to them, "You're gonna leave her alone now."

"DO NOT GIVE ME ORDERS YOU POWERLESS WRETCH!" Akuma's voice boomed through the air.

The ground itself shook from the angry rebuttal, but Naruto didn't flinch or register than anything was amiss from the expression on his face, "Are you done? Why'd you come and tear up my town?"

Tearing up his town? Tch, this was nothing, "You know why I'm here," The demon of a man stated, gesturing to Sakura, "You're not fool enough to miss just how much of my power she has within her. I could never ignore obvious potential like this. All she needs is the proper direction."

Naruto looked down at Sakura in his arms who seemed to be looking at Akuma with as much hate as she could muster, which was actually an impressive amount given her current state of being, "You won't touch her again."

"If you really want to stop me that badly, do it with your own two hands," Akuma said with an almost amused expression on his harsh face, "You have until the next full moon. Either I'll be given a challenge great enough to satisfy me, or I'll make my own."

Akuma would get the battle he desired, and he would get it two times over. Naruto at his most determined would be a worthy challenge. One that he would crush. Even then however, he would still have Sakura to take and warp, and she would already be motivated to kill him after he'd killed Naruto.

He could have his cake and eat it too. There was no downside to this proposal. He would get the chance for two worthy battles, one in the near future, and one he could invest in for later. It was just smart dealing to get what he wanted.

"Reach your true potential so that I can take a measure of pride in destroying you," Akuma demanded, the air around him distorting into red and black colors, "Do it and kill me if you can, or the girl's future is mine."

Setting Dark Sakura down carefully on the ground, Naruto burned in rage, his chakra visibly flaring around him and quickly turning blood red as it engulfed him, "If you put a hand on her or anyone else I will rip! Your! Arms! Off!"

For emphasis, Naruto shot forward a chakra claw and tore the light post Akuma was on out of the ground before bending it in half in his grip. Unfortunately, Akuma had moved by the time he'd removed it from the ground.

Still, that was what Akuma wanted to hear. A true fighter could stare death in the face and lash out in anger against it. Even being crushed once by Akuma did nothing to stanch his courage, or his hatred.

"I look forward your pitiful attempt boy," He sneered at Naruto before vanishing in the Ashura Senku, like the specter of rage that he was.

Three weeks. That was all he'd have to wait before getting either the battle of a lifetime, or the apprentice to eclipse any future challenge he could ever possibly face.

…Maybe even both.

Naruto watched as he disappeared in the blink of an eye. He couldn't even sense him anymore. How someone so powerful could hide themselves in such an effective way, Naruto didn't know. He could take solace in the fact however, that Akuma would never do anything other than the straightforward way. When he said three weeks, he meant three weeks.

That being said, it was only three weeks.

Naruto looked over to Dark Sakura who had already returned to normal and passed out. Picking the sweet girl up into his arms, he decided to take her to the hospital just in case.

Ironic. She'd carried him off tons of times when he'd managed to overdo things in the past, like during training or some of the fights he'd had back when they were younger.

Well it looked like in less than a month Sakura would probably have to carry him home one last time.

Either that or it would never happen again for either of them.

As he left, he missed a deep void of ki that he wouldn't have been able to find even if he knew what to look for.

Gouken walked through the site of the battle that Sakura had waged futilely against Akuma, slowly and in thought.

Only one thing kept coming to mind as the old man wandered the darkened streets; that this was not good at all.

Omake: Intervention

"This is an intervention," Batsu declared out of the blue, setting his glass down on the table of the restaurant he and Naruto had been eating in. They'd gone to grab a bite to eat after training for the entire afternoon and most of the evening.

To Uchiha Sasuke's chagrin they had then chosen to close down Genhanten with how long they stayed there, eating and drinking. And now apparently there had been an ulterior motive for at least one of them as to why that place had been chosen.

"Here?" Sasuke asked, sitting in a chair not too far from Naruto and Batsu's table. He'd wiped down all the rest of the tables for the night and closed the kitchen after sending his staff home, "Do this somewhere else," 'Paying customers' his ass, he could kick them out of he wanted to.

Naruto ignored Sasuke and sipped casually at his drink, his eyes closed to slits, "Err… what? Intervention?"

"We're not leaving this place until we make you pick a girl," Batsu said, emphasizing this with five hard pokes to Naruto's chest, "It's what friends are for."

"I'm not your goddamn friend," Sasuke rebutted, "Get the hell out of my restaurant! We close in ten minutes. Take this to the dobe's apartment or something."

"Right, his apartment, where Cammy lives. One of the girls we're talking about," Batsu's tone clearly indicated how stupid he thought such an idea to be.

"I don't care. Leave."

Sasuke was not amused.

His suggestion however, was gleefully ignored.

"Okay, we're going to break this down into categories," Batsu reasoned, taking a swig of his drink before writing down all four girls' names on the back of their receipt, "There's got to be one of them that can win enough of these damn things to narrow down what's going on in his head."

Sasuke rolled his eyes but really couldn't think of a better idea aside from just ignoring the girls altogether. That was more his style though. Naruto would probably give himself gray hairs trying to ignore anyone he felt strongly about, "…Sounds reasonable enough I guess."

If he wasn't going to get them out without destroying his place of business, he could at least make this hurry along so he could get them out faster.

Naruto frowned, but nodded his consent. Batsu probably wasn't going to let up until he at least gave it a try, and how bad could things really get anyway?

He had clearly forgotten that while his friends were all good people to various degrees, they all had their own jerk-like tendencies. Ichimonji Batsu's just so happened to be a propensity for fucking with his head.

"Okay, who's the best lay? Sakura is out on this one by default since you haven't done her yet," Batsu said, eliciting a palm of the forehead from Sasuke. Why did he let these idiots close down his restaurant?

Naruto stared at his older friend openmouthed until he found the appropriate words to react with, "I can't believe you think I'd actually tell you that."

"It's to help you," Batsu said, and Naruto almost believed him. Then he remembered who he was talking to. This was for shits and giggles, nothing more, nothing less, "Now go on."

"Ibuki," Naruto grumbled, sinking down in his chair as if he'd turn into a puddle of some sort. Cammy deferred too much in the bedroom to win out, and while Karin was eager she was too unused to intimacy to beat out the kunoichi who was far more confident and loose with her lovemaking despite her original inexperience, "Yeah, definitely Ibuki, 'ttebayo."

"Nicest eyes," Sasuke said, pitying Naruto enough to throw him a softball. Batsu glared at him for breaking the more adult-oriented questioning, but apparently he didn't realize who he was trying to mad-dog with. In this world, Sasuke was probably the undisputed champion of the stare-off.

Sighing in relief, Naruto thought about all of the times he'd been close enough to admire the girls' eyes, "Mmm… Cam's are the prettiest, but there's just something about Sakura-chan's. I pick Sakura-chan."

"Best rack," Batsu asked demandingly, "Rank them from top to bottom," It was more of an order than a request. He was not letting his chain of questioning be hijacked. Sasuke could play good cop with his deeper questions all he wanted to, the name of the game for Batsu was finding out which one Naruto thought was the hottest.

In his simple mind, that would make things far easier in helping him pick one of them.

Blushing despite himself, Naruto swallowed his shame and quickly came to his conclusion, "Ibuki's are the best, then Karin's. Sakura-chan's and Cam's are a tie." There was no argument; Ibuki's were top of the class.

"Alright, Ibuki's up two so far," Batsu reported play-by-play style, marking down another score for the newly graduated kunoichi, "Not really a solid lead yet, but it could be a sign of things to come."

Damn it, this was a bad idea. A handful of questions in, and Naruto was already sweating what was to come next.

The best course of action if he was going to get through this without his face going red every five seconds would be to either hit Batsu with a chair and leave or turn his brain off and just answer the damn questions.

The first option might have been cathartic, but the fight that would follow would wreck the restaurant and draw Sasuke into it as well, and he might actually try to kill them for it. The second option was consequence free, and it was dude talk. None of this was going to leave Genhanten, even if it was embarrassing. Batsu kept his mouth shut on everything.

People had been calling him empty-headed for years, so it was time to actually back that up while answering questions.

"Next question. Best ass," Batsu asked with a smirk, getting Sasuke to raise an eyebrow at the bluntness of his query. It wasn't exactly how he would have worded it. Not that he would have worded it in any way at all.

"Sakura-chan," Naruto responded without missing a beat.

"Really?" Batsu replied in surprise, not just at his answer, but that Naruto had been as cool as a cucumber when he'd answered it, "I would have figured you'd have said Cammy."

"Nah," Naruto said, closing his eyes to see all of them in his mind's eye to gauge them accordingly, "You'd think so at first just because Cam wears that leotard all the time, but I've actually seen what Sakura-chan's got under that skirt. Plus we've had gym class together ever since middle school with those shorts the girls have to wear. Trust me, hers is the best."

Batsu stared at Naruto for a moment to try and gauge any deceit before nodding in acceptance, "Good answer. Alright, now we're getting somewhere. We might just fix you yet."


(45 Minutes Later)

They had run through most every question they could ask him, ranging in degrees of absurdity and practicality.

"Best potential mother," Sasuke asked, having finally gotten into the line of questioning shortly after it had begun.

It was oddly enough quite entertaining. After the novelty of seeing Naruto embarrassed faded away, it became legitimately intriguing. Some of Naruto's answers actually had some real thought behind them as well. Who'd have thunk it?

Naruto furrowed his brow in thought for several seconds before shrugging his shoulders and making his selection, "Cammy," Looking around he saw looks of confusion on Sasuke and Batsu's faces, "What? The way she loves on that alley cat of hers, if she's even half that devoted with any kid she has… I mean, have you ever seen her with that thing? She's totally into it, and it smells like gasoline half of the time!"

"Yeah, he has a thing for it," Batsu pointed out before raising an eyebrow, "Wait, your old apartment got destroyed. The cat's still alive?"


A smile crossed the hooligan boy's face at the thought, "Goddamn it Jack Bauer, you really are the man."

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke gestured with his hand for the sheet Batsu had been marking up, "Scoreboard," Receiving the slip he asked for he quickly tallied up the scores for all of the girls, "…This didn't prove anything. They're all so close that it's meaningless, because some of the categories have to outweigh the others."

They had just wasted almost an hour of his time.

An hour after closing.

He should have been doing his late night training by now!

Those idiots!

Naruto and Batsu found themselves out on the street with no recollection as to how they'd gotten there. The last thing they remembered was making eye contact with Sasuke and then being outside of the restaurant a block away.

Oh well. Their wallets were still full so Sasuke must have given them the meal on the house. They figured that was nice of him.

When Sasuke would go over his books the next morning and discover a 21000 yen order monetarily unaccounted for, he would proceed to set the nearest flammable object ablaze.

Alright guys, that's the chapter.

So I keep going, and the more I feel like I want to do a prequel story for this with Rival Schools. Again, I have no idea how much my audience knows about that damn game, it's a cult classic, but it would tie in with this story, and I keep thinking about it and getting excited.

Either way, I'm winding this down to the last arc I believe. Maybe ten or so more chapters and that'll be that for this story. It depends really. Whether you think you know what's gon' happen or not, I hope it's a doozy for you.

Seeing as how my only worthwhile moneymaking ability in life for the time being is entertaining others; be it with my fists, giving and receiving beatings, my news writing, or my… writing-writing, I hope you all enjoyed.

Kenchi out.