Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Street Fighter. I still haven't bought Street Fighter V yet. I'm waiting for the all clear when there absolutely won't be anymore updates to go ahead and buy the final version. I think it's coming really soon.

Street Fighter IV took two years after the original release to get a finished enough version that I was willing to plunk down cash for. I did not regret that decision, and I still love that game.

Chapter 61: Playing With Power


None of this was supposed to happen.

Urien thought this to himself as he was hurled dozens of feet through the air by a large tail made of bubbling red energy. It had not been the first time he'd felt this way since his battle against Uzumaki Naruto had taken a sour turn. He had never been thoroughly abused in such a way in his entire life.

His body bounced off of the pavement with a metal clang. As he went to stand, he found himself pulverized through a metal railing along the side of the road. This was madness.

Urien had trained for his entire life, proven himself against the absolute pinnacle of civilized society and defeated them all. He had come out on top in every challenge that had ever been put in front of him. As the best and brightest of the organization that would control the world, he was second-to-none in every way.

So why? Why was it that this street punk able to stand up to him and even overwhelm him? Naruto was notable for achieving what he had with so little going for him genetically, socially, financially, etc., but he was nothing compared to a true high-ranking member of the Illuminati.

These were the people who controlled the world from the shadows. Who toyed with the lives of people who foolishly thought they were too powerful to be touched. So what made this nobody think he was on his level?

Probably the overwhelming red energy blazing around his body. It had been extremely effective.

As Urien attempted to take the few seconds available to him to recover in some way, he kept a careful eye on Naruto, stomping toward him. There was a slight hunch to his posture that made him look closer to a beast than when he had first confronted the boy. The blood that stained his face from a previous combat injury only made him look more monstrous.

"Ugly boy," Urien sneered, refusing to back down and admit that his foe was superior. It was his birthright to move on and accept all of the benefits that came with the tournament at hand, "You will never defeat me!" He shouted, grabbing his wrist and pointing his fist at Naruto.

Before he could properly charge the massive attack he had in mind, Naruto disappeared from his view in a red blur. Urien's eyes went wide and he went to leap into the air for a bird's eye view around him, but a chakra tail wrapped around his leg and slammed him forcefully into the ground, again and again.

The word 'restraint' was rarely used by people who knew Naruto, unless you knew him very well. He had very good control of his own abilities, as powerful as many of them were. That restraint was oftentimes bent to the limit whenever he took on good portions of Kyuubi's chakra, because he had to let in a good portion of his darker will to safely control it.

Also, despite all of the fighting that he did for his job, very rarely did he find an opponent that could actually stand up to a significant amount of his offense. Urien could, apparently. And he had attempted to kill him several times over, which gave him less of a reason to hold back.

"Better tighten up your loincloth, buddy," Naruto spoke, in a naturally rougher voice than normal, "It's been a while since I got to beat someone's ass who could actually take it."

Urien bristled at such a casual dismissal of who he was and what he was capable of. He lived, breathed, ate, drank success. Being perceived as notable for being able to endure a beating from this swine, instead of the many accomplishments he had to his name? Unforgivable.

This was the boy who moved a mountain. This was the boy that had helped destroy an entire island. And yet, to a man who fancied himself an emperor, it was not acceptable to lose to him. But it didn't matter what was acceptable. It mattered what his capabilities were to do something about it.

Angrily, Urien stood up, wiping blood away from his bronze face. He had officially rededicated himself to massacring Uzumaki Naruto, by any means necessary.

"Dominant Crush!" He gathered a mass of energy in his hand. Naruto saw it and was prepared to outmaneuver his shot to evade it. But it wasn't a blast. At least, not a conventional one, "Bear witness! Heaven and Earth, tremble!"

Urien smashed his hand into the ground, creating a massive pillar of metallic energy dozens of feet in circumference. His attack obliterated massive portions of the ground around him, tearing a formerly scenic part of the park asunder.

Naruto was caught up in it, coming in to attack. Urien gave him a full taste of his strength, and his target had been entirely unprepared to react. Needless to say, this gave Urien great joy, "AAAAHAHAHAHAHA! HOW'S THAT, YOU WORM?"

His answer didn't come from words. Normally, whatever was caught in Urien's dominant crush would be pulverized and forced away. But as seconds dragged on, Naruto was not. Instead, he continued to try and reach forward with his hand, eventually forcing it forward, and with it, the chakra mock-up of said appendage. A red chakra hand stretched forward and grabbed the cackling overlord by the face, immediately stopping his laughter.

The laughter quickly turned to cries of anguish as the pressure of Naruto squeezing down on his skull took its toll. Urien's metallic skin was the sole reason his head wasn't crushed like an egg in Naruto's grip then and there. The pain only caused the man to force out more power to kill Naruto before he himself was killed first.

But if Urien had more power to unleash, Naruto did as well, and it wasn't a close comparison as to who had more. As the output from the Illuminati president increased, Naruto's went through the roof. Ruby red blood trickled from underneath Naruto's chakra claw from where Urien's head began to give way. The sight only drove Naruto's dark half that he collaborated with for control to fight that much harder.

Victory was within sight. Casually so. And it came with a thought.

'I wonder what it would look like if I tried to make a Rasengan right now,' As in, inside of a man's head, '...Would that even work?'

He didn't have the time to investigate. As he could feel Urien's skull begin to give to his sheer power, something odd happened. An invisible force began to pry Naruto's hand open. No matter how hard Naruto tried to squeeze down, it was for naught.

Once his hand was open and his chakra claw was off of Urien's face, against his will, Naruto's entire body was sent flying far off into the distance, "What the fuuuuuuck!?"

When Naruto finally flew off into the distance, Urien let his technique fade. He had completely spent himself. But from his point of view, it had been successful. He would have smiled and laughed, had he not been beaten and exhausted. There was also a searing burning feeling on his face that wouldn't go away.

"One such as you... could never defeat me," Urien was barely able to speak before his bronze form faded and he collapsed to the ground.

XxX

(Aohura City – Central Library)

Cammy only had so many options when it came to engaging the solid white creature before her. It could turn any part of its body into a weapon, so whenever Cammy struck a blow, she had to make sure to move herself away quickly, lest she find herself stabbed by a spike that would suddenly emerge from the point of contact.

She didn't have her gauntlets to protect her hands, nor her boots that went with her combat clothing. That was the risk she'd run leaving home in her civs.

The creature rabidly hacked and slashed at Cammy, getting progressively wilder with every missed swing. She was patient, not lunging for the first opening that she could find. No, she needed the perfect one. Every time she struck a blow, her opponent learned.

The last time she had made contact with what she thought was a surefire clean blow, the creature had timed her, making a hole in its body that would have guillotined her limb had she not pulled back just as swiftly.

Cammy back handsprung her way out of range, only for the creature to dash right after her. Before she could land back on her feet, it barreled into her and grew wings, smashing her through several book cases before tossing her at the ceiling.

The tiny girl hit the top of the library hard enough to crack it, but recovered quickly enough, defying gravity as she got her feet above her and jumped, launching herself down at the enemy, "Cannon Spike!"

The gliding creature wasn't mobile enough in midair to avoid Cammy. Her downward power kick broke its wings and drove it down into the ground, breaking the floor on impact. She jumped off and rolled away once they crashed together, eyeing it closely in case it started to recover.

It didn't move from where it lay, belly down on the floor. Cammy couldn't tell if it was alive or not. Did it breathe? She hadn't noticed it take breaths during the fight, but now she couldn't see its torso rise and fall to symbolize breathing.

As she closely observed the creature, the ground underneath her cracked, as a sharp tendril shot up to stab her. Cammy avoided it, but the tentacle slackened up in order to grab her by the ankle, holding her in place

The creature laughed to itself in an odd, horrifying gurgle as it jumped up, turning its arms into flexible blades that it waved wildly, charging at the trapped Cammy, ready to slice her into ribbons.

Cammy's mind raced, trying to come up with some way to protect herself when there was none. Fortunately she wasn't alone. Necro leapt into action, putting himself between the creature and Cammy, a flagpole in his hand that he used to block the barrage. Taking all that he could stand, he shoved the white being away and thrust the flagpole forward, running it through with the ornamental spearhead at the end.

A desperate cry of pain emanated from the creature as it swatted Necro away instinctively in an effort to get away from the thing that had caused it harm. It had been injured, and badly, but it could still operate. And Cammy was still trapped.

A large tome impacted off of the back of the monster's head, and then another. Eventually, these actions did manage to attract its attention, allowing it to notice Effie throwing books at it from elsewhere in the library.

The creature let out a gurgling, rumbling noise of annoyance and pulled the flagpole from its body, aiming it like a spear at the girl that had neither the means, nor the ability to defend herself.

To save his girlfriend, Necro extended a stretchy hand that wrapped around the creature's leg. Despite getting his hand stabbed by spikes that emerged when he did so, he shocked the creature with everything he had. It helped, temporarily paralyzing it and holding it in place. It couldn't contort its body back to normal and fix the hole that had been punched into it.

It also served the purpose of loosening the grip of the tentacle on Cammy's ankle. She felt the appendage release its hold, and her eyes zeroed in on the hole that had been created. With a third of a complete plan in mind, she took the initiative and rushed in.

Braving the pain of Necro's electricity with a grit of her teeth, she shoved both of her hands inside to force the hole apart. Because this was not something the creature had consciously created, it was damaging. With a rush of Psycho Power, Cammy ripped the wound open wider and wider, eventually vertically tearing the being entirely in two.

There was no blood. No organs. It was like tearing apart a man made of putty. But it didn't get back up. Cammy stared down at the remains, waiting for the other shoe to drop and the fight to continue. But nothing of the sort occurred.

"Whoa," Necro said quietly, Effie joining him at his side as they both watched the girl they had employed rip a living creature in half, "You killed it."

"Yes," Cammy said, grabbing at the wound that steadily dripped blood down her arm off of her fingertips, "...What is it?"

Necro sighed and flipped over a downed chair to take a seat. He had taken quite the thrashing before Cammy had gotten involved, "I have no idea. It's not like we ever got the chance to stop and ask it questions. Can that thing even talk?"

Effie came up behind him and rubbed his shoulders, "You mean could it even talk? It's dead, Illia!" She said before noticing some of her man's injuries, "Are you alright?"

Necro nodded, tough with the stiff neck he had, "Yeah, it's just my hand. Aside from that and a few bumps and bruises, I'm good. This could have been much worse. What about you?" He asked, looking over at Cammy as she continued to ensure their enemy was truly dead.

"I'll be fine once I get this treated," She said, temporarily taking stock of her physical state. In addition to her wound, her outfit was ruined; torn in many places and covered with her own blood, "Master will be cross with me for ruining my clothes."

Both Effie and Necro looked at each other in surprise. After a fight that dangerous, this was what Cammy was concerned with? What a strange girl. And she called her boss 'master', "Yeah... I really don't think he'll care about that more than he'll care about you almost dying."

XxX

(With Naruto – Aohura City Town Plaza)

A perturbed and very wet Naruto stared up at the night sky from where he lay on his back inside of the big, ornate fountain at the center of the plaza. He floated on the surface of the water, drifting around, ignoring the people walking past who sometimes stopped to look at the weirdo inside.

He had no idea what had happened. One minute, he was poised to rip that stupid sneer off of Urien's face, with no feasible way for the man to stop him. The next, he was soaring over the tops of the the lower-lying buildings in the city with no way to stop himself until he hit the fountain. Fortunately, it had been a perfect landing. He hadn't hit any bit of the masonry. Just the water itself.

'Whatever happened, that was really good aim,' Naruto had to admit before shaking his head, 'Wait, no! Don't say that! It totally screwed my fight up! I was eating that guy's lunch!'

And now, he couldn't even sense anything anymore to find the guy. Naruto had been there long enough that if the guy had been coming to look for him, he could have found him. Likely, Urien had hightailed it, or took Naruto's ejection from the battlefield as some kind of victory for himself.

"That guy didn't even beat me!" Naruto yelled out loud, "Fuck him!"

A jet from the fountain decided to take that moment to spray directly up Naruto's backside, as if it were a public bidet. That was his cue to sit up and get out before things got any stranger. He had barely climbed out to sit on the edge before a voice reached him.

"Well, you sure look like you've cooled down from before. Such an awful killing intent was no good for a civilized conversation."

Naruto looked around only to find an old man in a tattered robe sitting atop the statue at the center of the fountain, "Oro? Is that you?" He asked.

That old man hung around in the jungle in Brazil. Naruto didn't even think he left for anything. Japan was a long commute for whatever he had come there for. And slowly, Naruto's brain began to piece together what he knew of Oro's fighting skills after watching him take on Ibuki.

Naruto stood and pointed accusingly at the hermit, "Was that you? Did you do that?" Throw him away from the battle, he meant.

"Yep."

"What the hell? Why did you do that? It was over!"

Oro didn't rise to the anger of the younger man, clicking his tongue at the hot-head, "You didn't need to win that fight. It wasn't important. Did you even want to be in that tournament?" Naruto stopped and blinked before shaking his head 'no', "Then why play the games of a narcissistic lunatic?"

Naruto had no good reason, other than the fact that Urien likely would have attacked him anyway. But that had not been the reason he'd fought, "...Because I didn't like his face and wanted to make him eat dirt."

Oro could respect that. Honestly, he'd found Naruto very quickly because of that battle. With the amount of energy the two had been putting out, it had been child's play. And watching Naruto bounce Urien around like a basketball had been enjoyable.

"Well, you did that. You certainly did that," The old man said with a laugh, "Are you wondering why I'm here, my boy?"

"Yeah, seeing as how the only time we've met, you were holed up in some cave in Brazil," Naruto recalled, squinting his eyes as he struggled to think of a reason for Oro's presence, "Why are you in Japan? Why did you come find me? How did you even get to this country?"

Oro gave Naruto a blank look and pointed up at the sky, where a dot signified an aircraft flying high overhead, "I flew on a plane, just like anyone else."

Oh. So no weird magic, or amazing teleportation technique? "Huh. That's... kind of disappointing. I was hoping you did something nuts like rope a couple of sea turtles with your back hair so you could sail here."

"No I just sat on a plane and flew over," Oro said, bursting the young ninja's bubble before getting more serious, "Don't you worry about that right now. Have things felt... off to you?"

Naruto looked around at the craziness of the city that he called home. 'Off' compared to what, exactly? "You're gonna have to narrow that down some."

Oro did no such thing. This was not the time to humor anyone, "Boy, you know what normal feels like to you."

Naruto noticed the shift in the tone of the conversation and got more serious himself, "Now that you mention it," There had been a decided... pressure in the atmosphere, for lack of a better term, for a while now. He just didn't know how to place it, "I just thought I was getting stir crazy."

Oro let out a sigh, "No. If only. Something very dangerous this way comes. Something you're very familiar with. Only, you've never dealt with it in this manner before. And you're not ready to face it as you are."

This put Naruto at a loss. He didn't know how to feel about that. He was well aware that there would always be someone or something out there stronger, but after surviving the battle with Akuma, it didn't feel like anyone even stronger would come anytime soon, if ever.

It had only been six months since the fight on Rishiri Island that had changed everything. And now something else was rearing its ugly head.

Naruto didn't know exactly what the problem was, but he could make a guess, "Are the Illuminati that big of a threat?"

It would be just his luck that he had already run into whatever the new threat was already. In this case though, he was dead wrong.

Oro seemed confused, "The who?" It didn't matter what Naruto's mistaken hunch was. He needed the facts, "No, whatever that is, this is different. Much different. And you are part of the reason it is happening, though... I don't believe you had much of a choice in the matter. But that doesn't make this any less of a threat."

Naruto tilted his head in curiosity, "Threat to who? To me?"

"If it was just you, I wouldn't be here," Oro said, "I have a feeling this will be much more dire than that. I came to you, because I believe you are the only one with the potential to stop it."

"You just said I wasn't ready," Naruto said.

"That doesn't mean you can't be," Oro said reassuringly, "And I believe I can help you."

XxX

The long limping walk back to the aircraft that Urien had so confidently come to Japan with, intent on proving himself the superior of someone that had made waves as perhaps the most powerful fighter known to the world.

He had taken much more of a shellacking than he had expected when he had confronted Uzumaki Naruto. But in the end, he had expelled the fool from the battlefield. That was enough of a victory for him. His body agreed as he had to rest for the better part of an hour before he could even begin to gather himself to move again.

Upon his arrival, his attendants stood at the ready to administer medical attention. But they knew better than to do so without being ordered to, even if Urien clearly needed it. To tend to Urien without his express orders implied that he was helpless. That he needed the help. As if. If any of them had been fool enough to do so, their lives would have come to a decidedly swift end.

Urien took a seat in his quarters on the vessel in order to convalesce, but he was interrupted by a sudden call that he was unable to ignore, as it came from a position higher on the Illuminati hierarchy than him.

And there was only one position higher than the position of 'President' that Urien resided over. Emperor.

Only, it wasn't the Emperor that had called him. It was the Emperor's representation.

The woman he always kept with him. The only confidant Gill had. Her name was Kolin, and Urien despised her, "It is good to see you have earned your place in the Third World Warrior Tournament, President Urien."

Urien glared at the woman on the screen with sheer hatred. She was just a servant. Even if she served directly underneath the man that would be God, according to the Illuminati, she was not above him under any circumstance, "Save your patronizing words, woman. There was never any doubt that I would be victorious."

"What is that marking on your face?"

Urien smashed a fist on the arm of his chair, breaking it off entirely, "WHY ARE YOU CONTACTING ME!?" He bellowed.

Kolin was not intimidated, despite the President's rage. He could not harm her from where he was, "Emperor Gill would like to congratulate you for advancing in the tournament. That would make you the second person to do so."

"Who else has done so?"

"Check the feed from the experimental Twelve weapon," Kolin offered informatively, "It will show you everything you want to know, since you do not wish to speak with me. Go in good health, President Uri-."

Urien ended the call rudely before Kolin could say goodbye. He switched the screen over to check the recording from the Twelve that he had dispatched to kill off the failed old experiment that had been running all over Russia. He watched it engage in combat with a blonde girl, notable for the scar on her cheek.

He watched right up until the moment of the kill. So this was the chattel they were going to have compete in the tournament that would decide the future? Urien would crush them all.

He touched at the deep burn mark on his face and winced, before an anger flared up deep inside of him. None of these commoners would so much as touch him again. His temper would not be satisfied until he proved that he was the true emperor.

Taking his own brother's life to obtain the position for himself was no issue to him, "Just wait, Gill. When Ultania arrives, I will be the one in position to make this world mine!"

XxX

Naruto returned to his home with Oro in tow to find Necro and Effie conked out, and Cammy sitting and watching TV in pajamas with bumps, bruises, and a bandaged arm.

"Are you alright?" Naruto greeted her with a question and a kiss on top of her head.

Cammy smiled at the small show of affection and concern, "Yes, master. There was an attempt on our clients' lives. But I was able to handle it."

"'Atta girl," Naruto complimented before noticing that Oro's presence had her attention, "Oh. Uh, he has something to tell us about. Everyone else is coming over to hear it too."

Oro moved forward to say hello, "It's good to see you again, dear. Very good to see you again," He said, admiring Cammy in her nightwear.

Cammy stared at Oro for a moment before ignoring him and returning her gaze to the television, "I'm not interested. I am master's, and no one else's."

What a brazen little thing she was. And loyal to boot, to say such a shameless thing about herself, "Young lady, you are very pretty, but I'm more attracted to mature women. Perhaps you would mentally and physically be up to snuff in about ten or fifteen years."

The little soldier absently shrugged her shoulders, eliciting an amused chuckle out of the old man as he settled himself down and got comfortable on the floor.

Within the hour, the girls in Naruto's life that he had called to his apartment arrived, Sakura, Karin, and Ibuki. One after the other, until they were all present, seated and waiting on the news. On the way home, Oro had told Naruto what his aims were. Now he got the chance to share it with the people that it would affect directly.

There was something awful coming. Something that they needed to stop. Something that Naruto needed to stop. Only, as he was, he couldn't. But there was a way to fix that.

"I want to train Naruto here to deal with what's to come," Oro said, "But he needs to be able to commit to it fully. That means nothing to distract him from the sole task of getting stronger."

Upon hearing this, no one in the room knew how to react. Naruto stood back, leaning against a wall with his eyes closed. He'd already learned of all of this beforehand.

Ibuki was the first to voice an opinion. It was decidedly negative, "No, I don't like that. Why him? Why does it have to be him?" She asked, "Why can't you do it? You're strong right? Stronger than Naruto. That's why you want to train him. That's why you training him even matters."

It was always on them. Always. Whenever something big started happening, they had been in the middle of it. It had been that way all through high school. Even when they had their own problems, it was never enough. Something else had to come down that they had to deal with.

"I agree with Ibuki-san," Karin said, supporting her friend and rival, "I do not see the need to look for trouble when it is not our responsibility. Are there not others who are qualified for such a task?" There had to be someone.

Oro didn't have anything to tell her that she wanted to hear, "As much as I hate to admit it, I'm not strong enough to make a difference here myself."

"And Naruto is?" Ibuki shot back, "You didn't deny that you're stronger than him."

Oro paused in his explanation of things to think of a way to explain his position to the girls who were not eager to see the man closest to them depart for any considerable period of time.

"You are aware of the power ceiling, right?" Everyone nodded. It was common knowledge – the natural limitation of growth that everyone got to eventually, "Just because you reach it, doesn't mean you can't still get stronger. But you're done getting any major boosts. Every fighter reaches this point, no matter what. The returns for your training stop being as great as they used to be."

Naruto winced in sympathy from where he stood off to the side, "And you're there."

That had to suck. Naruto could feel the difference between where he was now and where he stood five years ago. He could feel the difference between now and one year ago. To go years and not notice any growth sounded like a nightmare in its own way.

Oro chuckled, waving off the concern. He had been at that point for a long time. Long enough to come to terms with it and try to work past it regardless, "But you are not. None of you are. And you won't be for a long, long time to come," He said, complimenting the amassed martial artists before him, "Despite that fact, looking at things comparatively, Naruto here is not that far underneath me."

Sakura was the quickest to pick up what the old master martial artist was saying, "You're stronger than Naruto, but it won't always be that way," She said quietly, "You think he's going to be stronger than you one day."

Oro smiled at Sakura. What a smart young lady, to go with all of that talent. She didn't need to be told what he meant, "I know he will. One day, all on his own, Uzumaki Naruto will surpass me. He doesn't need help for that," He admitted, looking over to the fighter in question, "No matter how hard I try to stave it off. No matter how many years I buy myself with continued training, you will overcome me."

Naruto turned red and began fidgeting in his seat. Despite his confident appearance, he would always be a sucker for someone complimenting how good they thought he was, "Aww, shucks. I mean, I try really hard, and-."

Oro then sternly cut Naruto off at the knees, "-But that will still take years. We don't have the time to sit back and wait for you reach that level on your own. Even if we did, those gains won't be enough to make a difference. You need something more. I can provide that something more."

Karin cleared her throat to chime in, "No offense intended, but it is too late to retool Naruto-san's fighting style from the ground up to teach him yours, is it not?" She asked, "What could you teach him now that would accomplish anything significant?"

"I won't have to change anything about him," Oro said before standing up and walking over to Naruto. He stood a full head shorter than the yellow-haired shinobi, but to Naruto, he felt like a giant, "I believe you are the first worthy successor to my Senjutsu that I have seen in 50 years. I wish to teach you, and I believe the world needs me to. But in the end, it is up to you."

This was the second time tonight that Naruto had heard that question from Oro, only this time he repeated it in front of the girls for the sake of full disclosure. And Naruto was still as conflicted as he was the first time.

"I'll have to leave... won't I?"

The silence that fell over the entire apartment was agonizing. No one wanted to say anything.

Even Oro felt bad about confirming what Naruto had to ask him about, "Yes. The city is no place for you to learn the things that I need to show you. This country itself is far too densely populated for it to be safe for other people."

Naruto knew this to be true. His most recent focused training camp to fight Akuma was too dangerous to be done around Aohura City, or anywhere populated. He'd taken a risk staying as close to town as he had. On the chance he lost control, or screwed up, lots of people could have been hurt. It had been a risk that hadn't backfired, but it could have and almost did many times. Since then, he had worried about what he would do when he needed to gain more power the next time, because there was going to be a next time.

He just didn't expect the next time to be so soon.

"I can't do that," Naruto eventually said, "There's so much stuff happening. I have a protection contract to finish. There's this weird stuff with the Illuminati – I said I would help Ibuki. There's school," He didn't think that last thing would ever voluntarily come out of his mouth. It felt wrong to say, "I can't just leave."

Oro expected something along those lines. Had he been in Naruto's shoes he would have been hard-pressed to leave such pretty ladies behind as well.

Not just that, but the entire life that Naruto had fought for. This wasn't just something he had been given, or something he had fallen into. He'd come to Japan with nothing, and now he had respect, friendship, affection, and more. But none of those things would exist in the future if he didn't fight. Oro wasn't certain that anything would exist.

"You don't know what you're facing," He told Naruto, "When I fought this man years ago, he was dangerous enough. The same stood when he fought you. But now... he can't be considered human anymore."

"Who are you talking about?"

"The man you fought six months ago."

There was only one battle of note that Naruto had fought six months ago, and it was one that Naruto could never mistake with any other, "Akuma?" He choked out in shock, "N-No way. He's dead. Ryu killed him. I saw it. I wasn't the only one who saw it, right? He annihilated that guy."

"And then they went under. Under the water," Ibuki said, "Akuma either died when Ryu punched him, or drowned afterwards. It's impossible to say he's alive."

Oro knew where she was coming from. He had been there as well. He had overlooked the same thing the rest of them had, "I made the same mistake. I felt the light of his candle go out. But I was wrong, children. No. Not wrong. Not completely. After all, Akuma doesn't exist anymore. All that's left is... power."

"Satsui no Hadou," Sakura said, more to herself than to anyone else. But everyone heard her.

"Due to his training and meditation, Akuma may have suppressed some of the darker aspects of the Satsui no Hadou, allowing him to control his actions," Oro said, "Ryu may well have killed him, but if he did, the brain died before the body."

"Yeah it did," Ibuki recalled the rather grisly end to that fight. Ryu's fist and Akuma's head did their best impression of American comedian Gallagher's mallet and a watermelon, "But what do you mean though?"

"With the loss of the mind holding back the darkest nature of the Satsui no Hadou, it was allowed to take hold over the vessel that had allowed it to flow freely for decades," Oro reasoned, "The being known as Akuma has become one with that power. He's been completely overtaken. It would be more accurate to refer to him as some kind of monster now."

Karin took a deep, calming breath, trying to keep her composure and her business-like method of thinking things through, "I understand, but how are you so certain that something terrible is going to happen? What are the chances that this all amounts to nothing?"

Oro walked over to the astute young businesswoman and stared directly into her eyes. Had Karin not faced down true evil and suffered at its hands in her past, it would have intimidated her, "Akuma was driven by a selfish desire to prove himself no matter the cost to himself or to anyone else. This is a being driven by the darkest whims of existence, with even more power at its disposal. What do you think will happen now that it is risen?"

"Nothing good for anyone in its path," Karin conceded, "And at this point, who knows who that could be."

Akuma went down off the coast of Japan. If what was left of him rose there, fueled by hatred and destruction, Japan was in position to suffer a major crisis.

Having absorbed all of this information herself, Sakura bit her lip in thought, eventually coming to a decision, "Naruto... you should probably go."

Ibuki turned to Sakura in disbelief. If anyone, she expected Sakura to be the last person to be okay with Naruto taking off, "What? Sakura, are you crazy? He can't just leave. He doesn't even want to go."

"But he needs to go," Sakura said, conceding that something needed to be done. They were all growing up. The idea that adults should handle the big problems in the world didn't fit anymore, if it ever had to begin with. They were just a hair away from being adults themselves, "If something is the world's problem, it's our problem too. Think about it. There isn't anyone else better equipped for the job than Naruto is."

Ibuki tried her absolute best to come up with an alternative. She tried to think of anyone else that could fill the position instead of Naruto, "But what about-? Or how about-? I mean, we could always go to-," She failed to come up with anyone else and sank back in her seat in resignation, almost laughing at the state of things, "...Oh my God, it really does have to be him, doesn't it?"

It was almost funny. But in actuality, it really wasn't.

Sakura stood and walked over to Naruto, gently nudging Oro out of the way to stand face-to-face with the most important man in the room, "You say you don't want to go, but you knew the moment you heard about this that you had to, didn't you?"

Naruto didn't say anything. What was the point? She already knew everything she needed to from his end. He couldn't even meet her eyes. She had him fully figured out. Sometimes it was absolutely amazing how easily Sakura could read him, sometimes without him even needing to speak.

Sakura moved Naruto's face to look directly into her eyes, "You're not leaving forever. Just... until you can do this. Until you're strong enough to do this thing you need to do. Then you'll come back, right?" She asked, stroking his whisker marks reassuringly.

Naruto would have been offended by the question had he not been fully aware that Sakura had perfectly valid reasons to ask it, "Yeah. Of course. The second everything's done, I'll be right back here. There isn't anything in the world that could stop me from coming back."

The two stood in place, Sakura observing every detail of Naruto's face, searching for something. In the end, she let him go and walked away, "Then it's fine."

Ibuki turned around and peered over the back of the couch at Sakura's casual consent, "Wait. Just like that?"

Sakura nodded and headed for the exit, "Just like that. I believe in him," She stopped just before leaving and pointed back at Naruto, "I'll call you later," She said before closing the door behind her.

Ibuki's mouth fell open in disbelief. Without excusing herself, she got up and ran outside herself, trying to catch up to Sakura as she left.

When they were gone, Naruto let out a breath that he didn't know he had been holding. Ibuki was not happy about any of this, and neither was Sakura, though she was still more accepting than the kunoichi was. That had not been a fun conversation to have, and it still wasn't over yet.

Both Karin and Cammy remained. Karin sat in her seat properly, eyes to the ground with her arms crossed, a grim expression on her face. He could only imagine that what was on her mind was remarkably close to what was on everyone else's.

He didn't have to imagine with Cammy. Despite being by far the hardest to read, Naruto rarely had to. Cammy was very forthcoming when she wanted to be, "I don't want you to go. Master, please don't leave me all alone."

Naruto walked over to Cammy and grabbed her chin in his hand, tilting her face up toward him, "Cam, you've been doing so good. You have ever since you started living with me. You're making your own decisions. You do just as much for our merc work as I do. You don't need me. Necro and Effie need you."

Cammy winced and looked down the hall to where their clients were sleeping in an extra room. If she hadn't been there tonight, if she hadn't gone to meet them at the library, they would have been killed. Even with her help, it was a close call. If she threw everything aside to follow Naruto to the ends of the planet, they likely wouldn't last much longer. Without her around, they wouldn't have a chance.

She had a support system. Plenty of friends, both near and far. Her clone brother Abel. The little cat she had to take care of. Naruto stepping away would leave a hole, but it wouldn't leave her empty.

Karin chuckled humorlessly, "Needing you and wanting you isn't the same thing, you dunce," She said to Naruto, before smiling affectionately, "Your presence is a soothing constant, and not just to her. Honestly, I have been jealous of her proximity to you for quite some time."

Ever since the episode with S.I.N., Karin often called Naruto when she wanted him to be near. Even when it wasn't possible for him to come over or travel with her for meetings, just hearing his voice over the phone sometimes could be enough. From the sounds of things, she wouldn't even be able to have that while he was off with Oro.

But that was the price she had to pay, because she had fallen for someone special. Truly special. Special enough that the fate of the planet could have rested in his hands, and she wouldn't have been surprised by it. Someone that special couldn't be kept to one person alone, not when the world needed him.

Karin wrapped her arms around Naruto's neck and gave him a hard, possessive kiss on the lips, "You will accomplish what you must, because that is the kind of man you are. I have come to expect nothing less."

She basically told him to go do what he needed to do, and then bring his ass back. Reading between the lines on that one wasn't difficult. Not after years of hearing her commands.

Naruto smiled down at the bossy young lady in his arms, gesturing his head to Cammy, "Take care of her, Rin-Rin. I'm counting on you."

Karin let out a saddened sigh, "She is not the only one who believes that she needs you. But I believe we will all get through this time together."

XxX

"Hey, hold on a second," Ibuki called out, getting Sakura to stop and wait on her once she was out on the sidewalk heading home, "What was that?" She asked, "Sakura-chan, I don't get it. You wouldn't go when Gouken offered to teach you how to control the Chikara no Hadou, because you'd have to leave Naruto. But you'll let Naruto go to learn this Senjutsu stuff?"

Sakura smiled and grabbed her hands behind her back as she continued to walk, "Uh-huh. You want to know the big difference between this and that?" She asked, "To get Gouken's training, I would have to leave Naruto and the rest of you behind. Forever. He promised that he's coming back."

"So what?"

Sakura looked up at the stars in the night sky, rocking on the balls of her feet, "He's never made me a promise that he didn't keep," She said, "I just have to be patient."

Ibuki's shoulders drooped. The way she believed in Naruto so unconditionally. Ibuki wished she could do that, but she had to question everything, for her own well-being. It was how she was raised. It was how she felt safe. How she kept from getting hurt, physically or emotionally.

Maybe just this once it would be okay though? After all, Sakura had a point. Naruto had never let her down before. Why would he start now?

"Patience was never really my strong suit," Ibuki said, running a hand through her hair, "I guess I'm about to get a lot of practice, huh?"

The two girls shared a moment between each other before going their separate ways – Ibuki back to her village, and Sakura to her home. Both seemed to be in comparatively better spirits than they had been earlier that night. For Sakura, that lasted until she reached her room in the upstairs of her house.

Shutting the door behind her, she leaned against it and sank down to the floor on her backside. A sigh holding the shudder of a cry emanated from her mouth, but no tears came. Not yet, at least. And hopefully none would, if she had her way.

She felt sadness and frustration over what she had heard back at Naruto's place. Everything was supposed to go back to normal – to be peaceful again. As peaceful as things got for them anyway. But the last few months had been wonderful, and they only looked to get better in the very near future. But of course, they could never have nice things for too long without having to fight for it. And by 'they', it was always Naruto.

There was always something else. Such was the way of a fighter. That was something they had to accept in order to advance. That didn't mean they always had to like it.

Sakura could feel the anger welling up inside of her from an almost foreign portion of herself.

'He can't leave! He belongs to us!' Her Satsui no Hadou-driven side contested spitefully.

Sakura could understand the sentiment. And to an extent, she did feel that way. She had known him forever. They had been with each other forever. To be without him entirely was a foreign feeling. Even when she'd gone on her sojourns to find and train with Ryu when she was younger, it had only been for a month, and she kept in constant contact with the boy who had been her best friend.

Still, letting her go to do that on her own and leave him behind must have been difficult. Especially because at the time, Sakura was one of the few people in the world he knew. But he did, because he didn't own her. Just like she didn't own him.

'Naruto isn't a thing. He doesn't belong to anyone,' Sakura felt the need to explain to herself, 'I know you're just as much a part of me as anything else. I know you're scared, and I am too. But I believe in Naruto, so that means you believe in him too.'

It was the definition of crazy to have a fully engaging conversation with oneself, but Sakura had long since moved past the point of being creeped out by that. Her 'sunburned' side was as much a part of her as anything else, 'We love him. We don't want Naruto to go away. We've always had him. He's always been there.'

'Well, it's about time we go without him for a bit. The last thing someone like him needs is a little girl sitting at her window, pining for him to come home.'

'Naruto wouldn't want to be with a weak girl. He needs a strong woman. We are strong.'

In the pit of Sakura's stomach, a unified feeling of determination amassed, 'And now's the kind of time when that sort of thing really matters. There's still lots to do, lots going on. If he's off training to fight something awful, we have to get up and deal with what's going on here.'

Cammy needed help, with her clients being pursued for death. Ibuki would need it with her mission to investigate the Illuminati. There was no time to be the forlorn, lovesick child she wanted to be. Her loved ones were in danger. They needed her, and in busying herself with supporting them, she needed them too.

Knowing Naruto brought them all together, gave Sakura her closest friends in life. She would fight for them all, and she was certain that they would for her as well. They would all have each other. That was perhaps the greatest gift that knowing Naruto had brought the lot of them.

"He's going to fight, so I'm going to fight," Sakura whispered to herself, clenching her fists tightly, "He's going to be fine, so I'm going to be fine."

And he would be back before she knew it. Why? Because he had promised, after all. That was all there was to it.

XxX

(Two Weeks Later – With Naruto)

Naruto and Oro left Japan and traveled. Traveled far and wide, to the most remote location Naruto had ever laid eyes upon. It had been days since the last time they had seen so much as a tiny dirt road.

The animals and plants Naruto saw in the deep, dark jungle Oro led him to reminded him of something primordial. If a group of raptors had popped out trying to eat them, he wouldn't have been surprised.

But none of that mattered to Naruto. He had been notably quiet since departing from Aohura City with the man who was to be his master for the time being. Oro normally would have been quite engaging with the young martial artist, but knew that he would need some time with his own thoughts. As long as he was effective in training, that was all that mattered.

Yet Naruto hadn't whined or complained. He hadn't sighed in lament for what he had left behind at home. His blue eyes were locked straight ahead, set on the task ahead of him.

Eventually, they came upon a cave that Oro barely stuck his head in to inspect before turning to his would-be pupil with a near toothless smile, "I think this is a good place to set up camp. What do you think? It's not as cozy as my cave, but it should do."

Naruto hadn't had to camp out for a long, long time. But he hadn't ever forgotten how. Next to any conditions were fine with him, unless it was super cold... or super hot... or if it rained all the time, "As long as it's not filled with bears or lions or something," He said, before narrowing his eyes at the old man, "It's not, is it?"

Oro waved off the question as though it were absurd, "No, of course not. You're far stronger than any bear at this point. There wouldn't be any point in making you deal with them."

"Cool," Naruto said without really meaning it as he walked inside and began to look around.

Oro didn't know Naruto very well, but he knew the boy was much mouthier than he was being here. He had seen and heard it. Whatever this subdued version was wouldn't cut it. He needed the real Naruto. The best version of Naruto he could get, because that was what it would take to master Senjutsu in enough time for it to matter. If he was unsure of himself or if his attention was pulled in any other direction, he would not be up for the training.

"I know you don't like this. I know you would rather be at home with all of your pretty young ladies, so I'll make you a deal," The golden-skinned master offered, getting Naruto to raise an eyebrow at him, "If you can beat me, right here, right now, you can go back to Japan, and I'll find a way to make your training work closer to home."

Naruto froze in place. It sounded like a sweetheart deal. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. And yet... "No."

Oro raised an eyebrow in confusion, "No? You don't want to take me up on it?"

Naruto sighed and dropped his bag in a corner of the cave, "If this was the kind of thing we could do closer to home, you would have let me do it. You're not that much of an asshole."

Oro cackled at the vulgarity from the ninja, "You have more faith in me than I thought you did."

Naruto shrugged and squinted his eyes, nodding his head as he did so, "I mean, you are kind of an asshole. But you're not that bad, I guess."

"Not sure if that's an insult or a compliment," Oro said with a deadpan expression, "That can't be the only reason you're turning down my offer."

Naruto let out a snort. Maybe a few years ago he would have leapt at the chance to fight Oro to get the perfect outcome he wanted. But he'd lived way too full of a life, seen and been involved in enough things by this point to accept such an offer blindly.

"You want to fight me to prove a point," Naruto said, turning away to dig through his luggage, "You've already seen the best I can do. If you saw that, and you're making that deal, it means that you still don't think I can beat your ass," Once he was done, he stood and faced Oro, a look of defiance on his face, "So my job for the next... however long I'm here is to change that. Now let's get to work, already."

He had people waiting on him.

As Naruto spoke, Oro's face had changed from one of skepticism to one of satisfaction. Maybe Naruto was ready for this after all, "Boy... I think you'll do just fine," He said, "I don't know why, but something tells me you were made for this."


Alright, that's the chapter.

Now, it has been said before, but it's important that I get this point across. This is absolutely the last arc of the story. How long it takes me to get to the finish remains to be seen, because I don't have a good mental estimate right now. But when it's over, that's the end.

Now, it's time to get everything lined up for what's supposed to be the finale. Let's see how I drag all of this crap together into an ending that's satisfying enough for my tastes.

Until the next time, guys. I hope you all enjoyed.

Kenchi out.