Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Street Fighter. I thought I'd be too old, slow, and broken-handed to be competitive in Street Fighter 6, but the old dog's still got tricks! Granted, the game's been out for all of a month at the time of this writing, but so what? Let me have this!
Chapter 65: Bitter Feelings
Chun-Li stood frozen in disbelief. It was Charlie. Her friend. Her comrade. The same man they had lost in Thailand years ago, who had sacrificed himself so they could defeat M. Bison and escape his base. The man who was most of the reason they had survived their biggest battle against Shadaloo.
There was so much she wanted to ask him; so much she wanted to tell him. And yet, there was no opportunity to do so.
Cammy's warning snapped Chun-Li out of her shock just in time to avoid a swinging knife-handed strike that would have removed her head from her shoulders. Having ducked into a knee strike, Chun-Li blocked the blow but went stumbling back, leaving her open.
Charlie threw a spinning back kick in an upward sweeping motion, corkscrewing his body into the air. The kick was sharp, intending to land more of a glancing blow than a flush one, meant more to slash and tear than to batter. Chun-Li's guard being up saved her from possibly being ripped open. Instead, she was sent flying across the runway.
Charlie rushed in, moving to strike while the upper hand was clearly his. From what Chun-Li remembered, his fighting style had always been aggressive, but this was on another level. As he pressed her, every strike he threw, whether it was with his fists or feet seemed intent to maim. There were no half-measures with him. Chun-Li's arms bore the brunt of his wrath.
Cammy flipped into the fray like a cannonball, stopping just short of Charlie and sliding into his legs, "Razor Edge Slicer!"
She didn't hit him, but her intervention bought Chun-Li time to recover, as Charlie had to dodge the attack. Cammy came to a stop, standing at Chun-Li's side protectively while her friend regained her composure, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Chun-Li breathed, taking note of the new bruises and cuts on her arms.
Charlie appraised Cammy, memories drawing back to some of M. Bison's most notorious servants; one in particular.
"The Doll..." Charlie growled, now finding a more legitimate target for his anger at the past, "If you were HIS servant, you're as guilty as he is."
At that, Cammy tried her hand at diplomacy, "I'm not sure what my employer did to offend you enough to try to kill my friend, but this response seems out of line." She said in the tone and voice she'd practiced answering phones for her Naruto mercenary business.
Charlie bared his teeth at her in a rage, "Your master has destroyed countless lives! Your master is the reason I was killed!" He snapped, "That you can't recognize Bison's evil only means you've just been warped into being his tool."
At that, a hard look came over Cammy's eyes, "Bison is not my master. My master is Uzumaki Naruto," She said resolutely, "If I am anyone's tool, I am his. And he is anything but evil."
Cammy didn't remember anything from the time of Charlie's apparent demise, and even if she had, she hadn't interacted with the man during that period anyway. Unlike Chun-Li, she felt nothing for the man. To Cammy, Charlie wasn't a friend or a comrade. He was merely a person attacking someone who was her friend with the intent to kill.
Despite the complexities of her origin, Cammy was a simple girl at heart. If there was an obstacle or a threat to her or her loved ones, it needed to be removed.
Before Cammy could rush Charlie to push her preferred combat pace, Chun-Li called out to her, "Cammy, stop!" Cammy spared her a glance, heeding her request, but kept a wary eye on Charlie, "It doesn't have to be like this!" She directed her pleas to Charlie, "Charlie, just come with us! I'm not the only that's missed you! Guile! He's been eating himself alive with guilt since you died!"
Charlie stopped for a moment, his expression unchanging, "Good," He said coldly, "Sonic Boom!" With a blindingly fast swipe of his arm, a golden shockwave rippled out.
Having been prepared for Charlie to jumpstart the fight at any moment, Cammy was quick to react. She dashed forward, sliding underneath the first Sonic Boom. When Charlie fired off another, Cammy was quick to launch herself into the air, curled into a ball, spinning rapidly as she continued flying Charlie's way.
Charlie leapt at her in midair, moving to intercept her, "Sonic Scythe!" With a twist and a flip, he threw a heel kick aimed up at the girl. It reminded Chun-Li of the Flash Kick, only warped to be deadlier in its execution.
"Cannon Strike!" Cammy attempted to preempt the attack, diving in with aim and timing as precisely as she could manage. The two energy-enhanced kicks met in midair, the impact of the clash propelling Cammy and Charlie away from each other.
Charlie landed on his feet, hitting the runway hard enough to crack the pavement. Cammy gracefully flipped through the air, with a much lighter landing awaiting her. Being that Charlie landed first however, he rushed in underneath her intended landing zone. Cammy saw him approach but was unable to change her trajectory. She got a guard up and braced herself as Charlie approached.
He jumped into the air and grabbed Cammy by the back of her head before swinging his body back and forward, intending to slam his knees into her face. She blocked it, but the impact broke through her guard, sending her flying back. Charlie landed and followed underneath her, managing to catch the lithe girl from behind. Shooting his arms underneath her armpits, he clasped his hands behind her neck and bridged his body backwards, intending to slam her at a high angle onto her head and neck. Cammy was still aware enough to tuck her chin into her chest. It was the only thing that kept her from having her neck broken by a suplex that crushed the pavement underneath them, instead allowing her to take most of the impact on her shoulders and upper back.
Cammy felt the breath shoot out of her body. Her rib cage rattled and her brain swam. Before she could gather her wits enough to get back to her feet, Charlie drove his boot down into her chest, pinning her to the ground, "You're all mine!" With ki shrouding his right hand, Charlie thrust it down, aiming an open hand at Cammy's head. She was able to catch him by the wrist, stopping the strike short of reaching her face.
"Hyakuretsukyaku (Hundred Rending Legs)!"
A countless flurry of single-legged kicks smacked into Charlie with the speed of lightning. He found himself hit with over a dozen of them before he was able to disengage. He cursed inwardly. He'd allowed himself to get sucked into fighting Bison's little doll when there had been another enemy altogether. That aside, these people weren't even his intended target. He was meant to extract Dr. Woo.
"That's enough!" Chun-Li exclaimed, angrily standing guard in front of Cammy as she convalesced. No matter how conflicted she felt between her guilt over Charlie's demise, her surprise and relief over his apparent resurrection, and her confusion over his aggression against them, it was unacceptable.
Friend or not, comrade in arms or not, that seemed to be in the past.
"They always have to do things the hard way," Charlie seethed, peering out between his fingers as his hand covered his face where Chun-Li had kicked him, "Keep getting in my way, and I'll kill you where you stand."
Sakura was the kind of person who rarely forgot a face, especially if she found them to be a skilled fighter, and definitely if they helped save her life; even if she only met them once for just a moment. When Charlie revealed himself to Chun-Li, it was like seeing a ghost or a zombie.
"No way. He's dead..." Sakura muttered to herself in disbelief.
"What was that, Sakura-chan?" Ibuki asked, barely able to hear her friend.
Sakura shook her head before repeating herself louder, for Ibuki and Karin's benefit, "That man, he's Chun-Li's old friend. He's dead! Or he's supposed to be! Remember, Karin? Thailand?"
Karin had never met or seen Charlie, and thus had no familiarity with him. But she had been along for the ride (and had directly funded the venture) during the group's first excursion abroad that placed them in conflict with Shadaloo. She had been informed after the fact of the sole fatality that had occurred during the final assault on M. Bison's base of operations, "Then what is he doing here? Where has he been? And why is he fighting against Chun-Li now?"
Ibuki had next to no context, but she had seen plenty of dead people. Dead people usually didn't fight well enough to fend off two world-class martial artists, "Whatever's happening, this guy looks plenty alive to me. And it looks like he's taking it to our girls' butts."
While the girls speculated and the fight unfolded before them, an intrigued Dr. Woo smirked to himself., "So, the resurrection project bore fruit after all..."
All of the girls heard him, "Resurrection project?" Ibuki repeated aloud, "Just what are you on about, fiendish Dr. Woo?"
"Scientific progress is one of the most attractive aspects of the Illuminati," Dr. Woo said, "The most brilliant minds in existence, constantly trying to move humanity forward... pushing the envelope to new frontiers. This is just another step in that direction."
Despite being kidnapped by the Illuminati, Dr. Woo worked diligently for them, all in the hopes of being put on such projects himself. It was exciting, the thought that he could work on such revolutionary undertakings. These sorts of things were bigger than him; to just be a part of them was worth everything to him.
Karin was aware of just how much was available to the Illuminati. It would be an understatement to say their resources were nigh unlimited. However, this went beyond anything she could have anticipated, "To be capable of bringing a person back from the dead..."
"I doubt it is perfected," Dr. Woo surmised, "But clearly, it has been developed enough to put to the test on this unfortunate man."
That it was imperfect was of little consequence to Karin. That they could do it at all meant that there was merit to the project. Thus, they would work to improve upon it. If an organization like the Illuminati, with its powerful and influential member base, had access to eternal life, Karin shuddered to think. Death was the ultimate equalizer. No matter what one's station in life was, whether they were a king, a business magnate, the most powerful fighter in existence, a criminal, a salaryman, a beggar - any walk of life – everyone was equal in the sense that eventually that life would come to an end.
To be beyond death, to be capable of transcending mortality itself simply because of one's means and affiliation, it was a disgusting concept to Kanzuki Karin... and it terrified her to her core.
Something was definitely wrong, and it was worse than Chun-Li had at first imagined.
She had crossed fists with friends; had done so countless times. When she and Naruto had fought against one another in the Second World Warrior Tournament, they hadn't held back and had done everything within their respective abilities to pummel one another. That being said, even when they had hit the other with everything they had, all that had been behind their fists was the spirit of competition. Beyond that, there had been nothing but love.
There was nothing but malice in Charlie's fists. She could feel nothing but enmity from him. She couldn't even blame it on an outside influence. He was sharp, his mind clear. Addled with rage, perhaps, but clear nonetheless.
When he moved to strike again, Cammy was there to intercept him. Charlie approached with nothing less than intent to destroy. If Chun-Li attempted to match him with any less will behind her, she wouldn't survive.
Chun-Li was conflicted, but Cammy shared none of her misgivings. Charlie was no friend of hers. He was instead attacking a friend of hers. That made him a clear enemy, and enemies were meant to be destroyed. If Chun-Li didn't wish to cause Charlie harm, that was fine. Cammy would do it for her.
The diminutive blonde assassin and the undead soldier traded, blocked, and parried blows at a breakneck pace. An excellent in-fighter, Cammy excelled at getting inside of the much taller and longer Charlie's reach, keeping him from fully extending his strikes and getting as much power from them as he could. Despite his aggressiveness, she didn't give him time or space to utilize anymore of his special techniques.
Charlie couldn't catch her, couldn't trap her, couldn't bring his size advantage to bear, and every failure to do so only served to infuriate him more. Steadily seething, Charlie endured a barrage of quick punches from Cammy, only to grab her by the arm to swing her around and disorient her. Switching his grip from her arm to her head, Charlie slammed the girl to the ground. Belaying any semblance of technique at that point, he simply released a bolt of ki upon impact for added damage. The runway underneath her shattered.
Charlie glared down at Cammy hatefully. Despite the devastating attack he had managed to land, she still squirmed underneath his grasp, "Damned Doll. Just an empty toy soldier."
"Kikoken (Spirit Energy Strike)!"
A colorful orb of ki impacted off of Charlie, knocking him clear of Cammy. He didn't even have time to register that Chun-Li had finally dedicated herself to the fight before the crushing force of one of her roundhouse kicks lifted him off of the ground and sent him flying across the combat zone.
Charlie bounced off of the ground and flipped back up to his feet, hunched and shambling like a reanimated corpse, "I told you... keep getting in my way, and I'll-!" He was cut off by a kick, Chun-Li driving the sole of her boot into his sternum with a spinning back kick.
The 'Strongest Woman in the World' was finished talking.
Following up with a barrage of rapid-fire kicks from a single leg, she landed one aimed vertically that smashed Charlie underneath the jaw, sending him into the air. Not giving him another moment to recover in midair, she followed him, flipping upside-down, legs spinning like the blades of a helicopter, smashing into Charlie repeatedly, "Housenka (Phoenix Fan Petals)!" Upon feeling their upward momentum slow, she separated from Charlie with an upside-down mule kick that sent him hurtling even higher as she landed smoothly on the ground.
Chun-Li's eyes followed Charlie's body, watching impassively until his limp form hit the ground. The sound of the bone-breaking impact was enough to elicit a wince out of her. It had to be done, however. Anything she felt for him as a friend had to be set aside when he was clearly working to kill her other friends. Any other issues could be resolved later.
Whatever was wrong with him, whatever he had become in his absence, he was driven by hate. And without Bison, the man responsible for his death, to target
"I've got her! Give me a hand, Sakura-chan!"
By this time, Sakura and Ibuki had made their way over to Cammy, helping her up to her feet. With the help of Sakura and Ibuki taking an arm each for support, she was able to stand on unsteady legs. She did her best to keep from showing any reaction to her injuries, but anyone familiar enough with her could tell that the stoic girl was hurting badly.
Karin remained near Dr. Woo, guarding the scientist in case he tried anything funny. Her attention, however, was on calling another aircraft to transport them after the last one she'd called had been destroyed during Charlie's arrival.
No one's attention was on the defeated Charlie – even Chun-Li's for a moment. A nagging feeling in the back of her mind told her something was wrong, however she only realized the source of her unease a moment too late.
From the motionless, broken heap he had been left in, Charlie silently rose. His ki didn't spike. The only warning of his recovery was the quiet cracking of his bones as they reset. By the time Chun-Li turned to face him again, he had already taken off in a sprint, making a beeline for Karin and Dr. Woo.
Karin saw him coming and dropped her satellite phone, prepared to intercept him. Charlie bypassed her completely, going right for Dr. Woo. Contrary to what they had expected, he didn't grab the man and move to extract him.
Charlie ran right by him, barely slowing down in order to swing his arm as he passed, unleashing a close-range Sonic Boom that no one could have expected to avoid, no matter how fast or skilled they were. Dr. Woo was an untrained, unathletic intellectual old man. That he had been hit didn't even register on his face, even when his head was severed.
By the time blood began to ooze from Dr. Woo's neck, Charlie had already jumped back in the cockpit of his jet that had been sitting idle the entire time. He spared one last lingering glare for Chun-Li before taking off.
The girls all covered their faces as the jet engine blasted. In a matter of seconds, they were left alone on the plains of Siberia with nothing more than a fresh corpse and the sound of the departing jet getting farther away to accompany them.
"...Damn it," Karin muttered to herself. When faced with Charlie's killing intent, she had prioritized protecting herself than tending to the only noncombatant among them, "How could I be so shortsighted?"
Dr. Woo had been loyal to the Illuminati. It had been assumed that Charlie had been sent to extract him, and perhaps he had been. But the reality on the ground likely made it impossible for Charlie to escape while simultaneously dragging along the live anchor that Dr. Woo would have been.
Or, maybe, the plan had always been to kill him. How was Illuminati to know what Dr. Woo had already told them? He had been compromised, and was only a loose end after that point. The fact that Charlie had at first fired on them indiscriminately from his jet upon arriving gave credence to this theory.
Either way, it didn't matter now. Their only living lead within reach to further learn about Illuminati was now staining the pavement red with his blood.
Unless Ibuki was able to pull some intel from the lab that they could lose, they may have been back to square one.
(With Naruto – Hanedakuko, Ota City, Tokyo, Japan - Tokyo International Airport)
Naruto couldn't help the feeling of familiarity that washed over him as he exited the terminal and stepped outside for the first time in months. While Oro had forced him to learn rudimentary Portuguese so he could navigate his way through Brazil, Naruto had gone months in a place where he couldn't understand the language. Hearing the language he spent most of his life speaking was just comfortable for him.
He wasn't quite home yet – Aohura City was still a few hours away – but it was close enough that the anticipation he felt to return was stronger than ever. So strong was it, in fact, that he could swear he saw Sasuke... which was odd, because he figured if he were to hallucinate any of his loved ones, it would have been one of the girls.
Wait a minute...
Naruto squinted at the figure standing at the drop-off/pick-up area outside of the main entrance to the airport. It certainly looked a lot like his friend from Konoha, right down to the indifferent body language and the expression on his face that reflected his perpetual mild annoyance with the world around him.
He had been gone even longer than Naruto had, preempting Naruto's departure from Japan by months, according to the staff at Genhanten. Where he had gone and why, no one knew. Then again, Sasuke was an assassin, and those who knew that also knew better than to ask questions on his whereabouts.
"SASUKE!" Naruto called out, getting a reaction from the young man. When he turned to face Naruto, he also seemed surprised to see him, "It is you! What are you doing here?"
Sasuke was curt in his response, "Just got back from a trip. Training," What went unsaid was that he had also wound up violently killing his employer during said trip, but the sooner people forgot about Gen, the more complete Sasuke would consider his victory.
"Same here," Naruto replied, "So, where have you been?" He asked.
Sasuke sized his old friend and former teammate up, "Where have you been?" He replied cagily.
There wasn't much more to say other than that. Naruto didn't want to ask what Sasuke had been working on, and didn't want to reveal his own improvements, as he was certain they would both find out what the other had been up to when they inevitably fought again.
A part of him was looking forward to it. Going head-to-head with his rival was one of the things that gave him life, and he knew that Sasuke thought the same, even if he would never admit it. Naruto didn't need to hear it from him, he already knew. They had crossed fists enough time for him to know what he thought about it.
Silence settled between the two of them as they continued to stand and watch as people came and went. After a while, Naruto started feeling a bit antsy, "So... what are we waiting on?"
"I'm waiting on my ride," Sasuke said with a roll of his eyes, "I don't know what you're waiting on."
That was odd to Naruto. Aohura City was two hours away for him on foot at travel speed. It was hardly worth making a call to even get a ride. When he heard, then saw, the approach of a motorcycle, and specifically the white skull on the helmet of the rider, a large grin spread across Naruto's face.
"Shut up," Sasuke said, cutting Naruto off before he could start.
Naruto simply shook his head, his grin never leaving, "What? I didn't say anything."
Sasuke didn't spare Naruto another glance. Once the motorcycle pulled up to them, he quickly boarded the back. While he could have simply kept himself attached the seat with the application of chakra, he instead wrapped an arm around the midsection of the rider, who simply gave Sasuke a welcoming squeeze in return. Not a word was shared between them.
"Akira," Naruto said in acknowledgment, still smiling.
The biker girl nodded to him, "Naruto," Her quiet voice managed to reach over the idle engine of her motorcycle before she turned to the man holding onto her, "Sasuke... I think we should go and get caught up."
Naruto could swear there had been a ghost of a smile on Sasuke's face before he obscured it with a spare helmet, "Sure."
The pair pulled off and headed their own way, leaving Naruto on the sidewalk, watching their departure, "Well, good for both of them," he said to himself.
Charlie followed the coordinates set in his plane all the way to the safety of a concealed hangar. Even he wasn't sure quite where it was, not that he had been in the headspace to keep track of his globe-hopping by the time he landed. Even after the jet came to a stop, he sat in the cockpit, stewing over what had transpired in Siberia.
It hadn't been that long since he had been restored at the hands of the Illuminati. Most of that time had been spent getting acclimated to his reanimated body. In that span, his only link to the outside world and the only reference he'd had to any of the events that had transpired since his untimely demise had been that woman who had designated herself as more or less his handler.
He had not been shy about letting her know what he thought of that arrangement with his fists. However, she wasn't some suit. She was fully capable of handing him his head while he was still convalescing – but she needed him, or at least she wanted him, and granted him the 'boon' of going out and seeing how things were for himself.
Jumping down from the cockpit, Charlie held a hand to his head, grimacing once he heard the voice of Helen fill his ears, "It's just as I said. After your death, the world simply moved on without you," the blonde woman said as she drifted into his field of vision.
Helen... or Kolin... whatever the hell she preferred to be called. God only knew what her actual name was. She was one of his least favorite people in the world at the moment. Unfortunately, she was also the only resource Charlie had at his disposal at the moment.
"Helen..." The newly revived soldier growled, "About Shadaloo..."
"Destroyed," Helen said, "Along with its science division that attempted to fill in the vacuum left behind afterwards. All without you."
After all of the work he put into investigating Shadaloo, in trying to bring them down. All of the death traps he had escaped, all of his superiors in the military on Bison's payroll that he had managed to sidestep in his pursuit of justice... it had only been accomplished after his death.
Despite having been in the cockpit of a jet for hours prior, Charlie felt the need to sit down, "They didn't need me," He observed to himself.
A wry smile pulled at Helen's lips at the sight of the downtrodden man. There was opportunity here, "They also picked and chose who deserved to have justice dispensed to them," She said, "You saw it yourself – the Doll. They let her live, freely. And she isn't the only one."
At that, an indignant streak of anger welled up in Charlie's stomach. Bison's genetically-engineered little assassin, his fire-and-forget killer, she not only lived freely, she lived with them. She lived while he died. She got to have her own life while he had to cobble together whatever he could from the wreckage left after his demise.
"No," Charlie said, "Absolutely unacceptable."
"Oh?" Helen prompted.
"When you hurt people, as many people as Shadaloo did, as many people as that Doll did, as badly as they did, and for the reasons they did it, you don't just get to erase what you did in the past and start over," Charlie said, "What you were is a part of who you are."
What justice did she face? What justice did any of the survivors of Shadaloo's collapse face? Even slinking off into the darkness where they belonged, never to be heard from again – that was a fate too good for them.
Helen sighed, hand propped on her hip, "Your problem is that you're still trying to reason all of this into your little idea of justice. The old you's idea of justice anyway."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Charlie snapped.
Helen stared him down, meeting his eyes with her own cold blues, "You don't wish to fight for justice. You wish to fight out of spite," She accused, "You're angry that fighting to do the right thing left you a corpse in the Thai jungle. You're angry that your comrades who were supposed to share your ideals were so ready to accept that sacrifice and allow an enemy like Bison's Doll into their midst."
How could he not be? As far as Charlie was concerned, it was a compromise. A compromise with evil to fight evil. Shadaloo had been broken and scattered to the four winds, but not eradicated.
"And you know what? That's fine?" Helen smiled, "Spite is a remarkable motivator, you know. Some of the greatest accomplishments in human history were driven by spite. But until you recognize it, you will never be able to harness it. You'll simply be a slave to it. Is that what you intend to do, Mr. Nash?"
"Whatever I do is none of your business," "I did as you asked in return for restoring me – I kept your Dr. Woo's mouth shut. I don't owe you anything anymore."
"Of course, you don't. You've paid your debt to the organization," Helen agreed, allowing Charlie to get a few steps farther before saying anything else, "...We do have another assignment for you, however. It's something you'll probably end up doing on your own, so why not benefit from it?"
Charlie scoffed as a suited Illuminati member presented him with a file. While he could have shredded it to make a point, curiosity prompted him to peek inside, "What is this?"
"People... and names. All individuals associated with Shadaloo, all keeping their heads down in their cursed little corners of the globe."
He knew some of them. In addition to a few Shadaloo higher-ups he had already been aware of, a few were some of the officers that had worked to keep him out of the picture during his investigation when he had been in the Air Force.
Doing his best to keep his excitement buried beneath a mountain of anger, Charlie slammed the file shut, "When you say I'll benefit from taking this mission, I hope you don't mean something as stupid as revenge," Despite the fact that he desperately wanted it and would be getting it.
"Do I look like the kind of person who puts stock in such empty platitudes?" Helen asked rhetorically, "No. You will be rewarded upon completion. Doing this may even prove your existence worthy to our messiah. He may see fit to allow you into his tournament."
A competition? Charlie had never put much stock into things of that nature, "A tournament run by you lot ought to be pretty lucrative for whoever comes out on top."
"But of course," Helen laughed, "The prize for this tournament will be beyond anything that has come before it."
The prize would not be money, fame, glory, or anything of the like. The prize would be salvation.
(With Naruto – Aohura City, Japan)
"Hey, look! Uzumaki-san is back!"
"Check it out! It's Naruto!"
Naruto was famous in Aohura City. Years of hard work with his business and accomplishing insane feats, both in and out of town, domestically and abroad, made him something of a celebrity around those parts. He hadn't known exactly when things had shifted that way, but leaving for a few months and then returning let him know just how famous he had become in the community.
Every time he slowed down enough for people to take note of his presence, he was met with smiles and cheers. Who knew all he had to do to get such a thing was go to a different world and fight some of the most dangerous criminals and villains it had to offer?
It was the kind of acknowledgment he had always wanted when he was younger. He wanted his efforts recognized by the people who lived in the place he called home. He had always envisioned that place being Konoha, but as he traveled Aohura City on foot and found himself greeted by many of the people who caught sight of him, it was unquestionable that home was Aohura City now.
Recognized as a world-class fighter, owner of a successful small business, surrounded by friends and loved ones, all before graduating high school. Life was good for him, and all of it was worth fighting to protect.
Hurrying to his apartment as quickly as he could, Naruto hoped word hadn't spread too far that he had returned. Given that his phone had died a day into his stay in the Brazilian mountains, and he hadn't been able to line his schedule up with any of his girlfriends' sleep cycles, he'd had no way to get in touch with them to let them know he was on the way back. If any of the girls found out he was home from anyone other than him, he couldn't help but feel that he would end up hearing about it.
Besides, he wanted to surprise them. Leaving on short notice, then returning on no notice... it only seemed appropriate.
From what he could sense via senjutsu, just about everyone he wanted to see was gathered at Karin's place, so that was where he went first. Upon approaching the manor grounds, he made it a point to avoid all of Karin's security measures, heavily revamped since their confrontation with S.I.N. From time to time, he and Ibuki would attempt to sneak in just to test it and make sure everything was working properly, as well as making sure her security force was up to snuff. It was also a good test of some of the non-combat-related things he could do while utilizing his newest technique.
While making his way through the premises, he quickly learned that it was more unfair of an ask for Karin's security to discover him now than it had ever been before. In addition to the general stealth skills that came with being the 'Best Ninja in the World', senjutsu allowed him the ability to mask his presence by blending his chakra in with his surroundings. He could theoretically stand in front of someone who was looking right at him, who knew he was there, and their senses still wouldn't be able to properly register it.
Even as he approached the back garden, where Karin, Sakura, Cammy, and Ibuki were all situated, none of them noticed him until he just about walked in the middle of them, "Hey, girls."
Sakura's entire expression lit up at the sight of him. Having not been paying full attention to her surroundings, Karin almost jumped up from her chair, first in fright, then in elation.
Ibuki was up and in Naruto's arms the moment she realized it was him, greeting him with a massive smooch before anyone else could, "Naruto! You're back!" She exclaimed before pointing at Cammy, "You need to get this one to wear pants. I was afraid she was going to get frostbite or something in Siberia."
Cammy was quick to defend herself before any admonishment could come her way, "You know I don't like fighting in pants."
"You guys went to Siberia?" Naruto asked before looking over at Cammy, "Wait, Cam, what happened to the leggings we bought you? Why didn't you wear those?" The girl just shrugged in response. Whatever. If she literally preferred to freeze her ass off for the sake of freedom of movement, that was her business, "Anyway, yeah, Siberia. What's with that? Did I miss something?"
At that, Ibuki smiled at him sadly, "You... missed a few things while you were gone, big guy."
What Naruto had expected to be a happy reunion turned into a grim catching up of current events. The ongoing conflict with the Illuminati had gone up several notches in intensity after the destruction of the Glade of Ninjas and the scattering of its surviving denizens to whatever places they could hide.
Naruto plopped down in the nearest seat, slumped forward as he listened until the end. The news left him feeling despondent. The Glade of Ninjas hadn't been his home, it had been Ibuki's, which was bad enough on its own. Still, he felt a connection of his own to the place as a ninja in his own right. He had always liked the feel of the place, as well as the people.
"I'm sorry," Naruto apologized with a grimace.
He hadn't been there to help when a loved one needed him. After all the times Ibuki had been there for him, the one time she desperately could have used him, he had been half a world away.
Ibuki put a hand on his lap and shook her head, still smiling sadly, "You being there wouldn't have changed much," She tried to assure him, to no avail, "Naruto, seriously. The attack started while I was gone. It was almost over by the time Karin and I even realized it was happening."
"You weren't the only one who wasn't there," Sakura said, "The rest of us weren't either. Karin was all the backup Ibuki-chan had that day."
Sakura had been busy with her training, just like Naruto had been. The only difference between them? Sakura had still been in the same time zone when the Glade of Ninjas had been attacked. That knowledge didn't exactly sit easy with her either. However, unless any of them could see into the future or had gotten their hands on Illuminati's plans before they were carried out there was no way any of them could have prevented what had happened. At best, they could have arrived at the same time Ibuki and Karin had, and those two had done the job of sending the attackers packing by themselves.
"So, what's the plan now?" Naruto asked, eager to lend a hand, "This has been you guys' show so far. I'm following your lead here."
At that, Ibuki shook her head. She loved Naruto, and knew he would be a knockdown, drag-out boon to have on their side. But he supposedly had other priorities, "Wait, don't you have to do that whole 'saving the world' thing? That's why that weird hermit had you go to Brazil in the first place, right? To get ready for that."
As much as she appreciated her shared beau having her back while she was out for sweet revenge, saving the world kind of needed to take precedence over helping to fulfil a girlfriend's vendetta.
"Well, yeah, he did," Naruto admitted, a tad sheepishly, "But he didn't tell me where to find what I'm supposed to be fighting. Not much I can do until I know."
Oro had been insistent that Naruto go back home and recharge for the time being, as though Naruto would know when and where to act when the moment came. Why he couldn't just give clear and concise directions, Naruto didn't know. Old people always had to be so cryptic about things.
In the meantime, it wasn't as though he lacked the means to occupy himself and make a difference. More than anything else, he wanted one thing at the moment.
"Alright," Naruto stood, a single immediate goal in mind, "I haven't had anything but rations and whatever I could forage for on that mountain for the last two months. I need some ramen," He declared.
Whatever came next could wait until he had his belly full of some comfort food.
For his entire life, Urien had desired the Illuminati's illustrious position of President. Only a chosen few, less than could be counted on one hand, could even qualify as candidates in a generation. To see his brother Gill eventually receive the honor, the accolade, the prestige of being President, it burned him to his very core. Despite his own lofty executive position in the influential organization, the jealousy ate at him day and night.
Now that he had the position, however, it seemed to be little more than additional chores. So many incompetents walked amongst the ranks of Illuminati. All of their insignificant problems and their follies that required his input to get anything done, such things took away from time that would be better spent seeing to his experiments and moving his own personal aims further. There had been so much more opportunity for such things before he became President.
Perhaps this was why Gill so readily relinquished the position to him when he was elevated to Emperor? With all of the distractions that came with looking over day-to-day goings-on of Illuminati, when would Urien ever have the time to usurp him?
Case in point, he wasn't even able to get through his daily training without an interruption from an underling. Urien didn't even bother sparing a glance to acknowledge them, "Speak," The loincloth-clad man demanded.
The Illuminati aide bowed, despite Urien refusing to look his way, "The facility containing the Twelve Project was destroyed, president."
Urien scoffed as he toweled sweat from his brow, "It is of no consequence," There were already hundreds in existence. That there would be a delay in making more meant little to him.
"Dr. Woo is dead."
That update gave Urien momentary pause, "Fool," He eventually spat "His work has been catalogued. The Twelve project can and will be given to another," However, it would take time for whoever took over to get up to speed with the research, meaning an even longer delay, "Out of my sight."
The aide quickly hurried away, the most intelligent thing Urien could remark anyone around him doing in forever. It seemed the only time anyone brought anything to his attention, it was always bad news.
Urien craved power more than anything else. When his brother Gill had been President of the Illuminati, Urien had lusted for the position above all else, but it only felt like a hand-me-down once Gill ascended to emperor.
"That damned woman. My brother's pet," Urien spat, "This is her doing, somehow. I know it."
Helen... Kolin... whatever her accursed name was. She was simply trying to hinder him. So close to end of the world as they knew it, she would see to it that nothing got between Gill and his preparations for Ultania. They would see about that.
When the new world order began, Urien refused to fall in line behind his brother. Everything would be his.
(With Naruto – Aohura City, Japan)
Senjutsu had opened a whole new world of awareness for Naruto. Not only had the overall reach of his senses improved to a globe-spanning degree, but his insight and understanding of what he could feel had skyrocketed. Sensing energy the way he had been able to previously had barely been scratching the surface.
When he focused and looked in-depth, what he could find was astonishing. He swore he could feel the very essence of people and things when he reached deep enough. Sitting on the roof of his apartment building late at night, eyes closed in deep meditation, he let himself get lost in the soul of the city. The comfort and familiarity were almost enough to lull him to sleep.
Almost, as he could sense the approach of someone dear to him in the dark.
Wearing casual clothes, jeans and a cropped tank top instead of her normal ninja attire, Ibuki silently touched down on the rooftop behind Naruto. It wasn't her intention to attempt to sneak up on him, more of an impulse that she had to consciously prevent. Not that it mattered though. She knew he was aware of her, and likely had been long before she had arrived. She smiled to herself when, without saying a word, he reached out and gave the space beside him a pat, inviting her to sit with him.
Ibuki moved next to Naruto, her legs dangling off the side of the roof while Naruto sat with his folded, "So, how are you readjusting to being back home?"
"I wasn't gone that long," Naruto replied.
"I dunno. It kind of felt like it sometimes," Ibuki playfully jabbed back.
A silence settled between the two, the nighttime ambiance of the city filling the air of the moonless night. Still reaching out with senjutsu, and with his proximity to Ibuki, Naruto could sense an unease within the girl. It wasn't present and upfront, but it was there, something she was trying to push down.
With what had happened, how could she not feel that way? There was only so much a distraction such as his return could do to keep a subject as heavy as the loss of her village and thoughts of revenge out of her thoughts. Naruto remembered how Ibuki had been there for him to vent to, how she had supported him when he had previously been tangled up with his own negative thoughts.
"Are you actually okay?" Naruto eventually asked, giving her the chance to get anything off her chest, "I know what you said back at Karin's place, but still..."
Ibuki didn't answer at first, her eyes cast down toward her lap, "..."
Upon being prompted, Ibuki moved. She smoothly slipped behind Naruto wrapping her legs around his waist and arms around his neck, "Do you remember when we met? I spent all of my time trying to play and put off my responsibilities," she said as she set her cheek against his back, "No matter how much I goofed off, you always humored me," From how close she had pressed her chest against him, she felt the vibration from Naruto's chuckle roll through her entire body.
"You say that like I'm so serious all the time," Naruto said. He knew for a fact he goofed off more than her. That aspect of himself would probably never change.
"But you knuckle down when it counts. You always did. And you've grown up a lot," Ibuki said in return, "You're not the same kid I hid behind when I ran away from home."
"Yeah? Well, you're not the same girl that did the running away," Naruto told her, "You don't run away from anything anymore. I'm proud of you, Ibuki-chan."
Hearing him praise her put a massive smile on Ibuki's face, "Well... I still run away a little bit. Comes with the territory, what with being a ninja," She tried to joke, feeling her cheeks involuntarily redden.
How in the world did he do that?
They had known each other for years. Ibuki had long since grown accustomed to the way that Naruto could be so earnestly charming without even thinking about it. They had been intimate with one another. There shouldn't have been an excuse for him to have that kind of effect on her. She wasn't some schoolgirl with a crush.
...But then, she was, wasn't she? She had indulged in all of the fun parts of an intimate relationship, but had undertaken none of the more frightening parts.
Ibuki closed her eyes tightly and took a deep breath before deciding to take the plunge and do something long overdue, "...Naruto?"
"I'm in love with you," Ibuki said before giggling, "I just realized that I never actually told you that. Crazy. After all we've been through, after all the fooling around we've done, I never came out and said it."
Naruto didn't react. He simply sat patiently, listening, as if he could tell that she had more to say and was just searching for the words she wanted to use. He probably could tell. He had always been a good listener when his precious people had something to say in the past. Senjutsu training had also probably boosted his general perception to absurd levels.
"I guess I was just scared that you wouldn't take me seriously," Ibuki mumbled, "I was scared that you'd think I was playing around or something."
At that, Naruto did speak up, "What? Why would you think that?"
Ibuki shrugged, a futile attempt to appear nonchalant, "I'm not as direct as Cammy, or as honest as Karin. I'm not as affectionate as Sakura either, so I can get why you would-."
"-I wouldn't have doubted it for a second if you'd told me," Naruto interrupted gently, "I definitely don't now."
"Wha-? How? Why?" Ibuki exclaimed in surprise, her thin façade quickly shattering, "I'm so flighty, and wishy-washy, and all I ever do is play around-."
"-I'm gonna stop you right there," Naruto said, tired of hearing her talk down about herself, "I did think that at first, I guess... until I knew what I was supposed to be looking for," he admitted, a serious expression on his face that Ibuki couldn't see, "'Bu, every time you ever flirted, every time you spent the night, every time you looked at me, I could see it in your eyes that you weren't playing around or just trying to have fun. You were for real."
It was because of the other girls that Ibuki had mentioned that Naruto realized what he did about Ibuki. He had already seen the three others look at him in similar ways. When he eventually saw it in Ibuki around the same time as well, he wasn't caught off-guard about it.
"You're not Sakura-chan," Naruto said, "You're not Karin, or Cammy. I don't expect you to be the same as each other. You're all different people," He looked over his shoulder to smile at her, "You're Ibuki-chan. Ibuki-chan needs things from me that Cammy, Karin, and Sakura don't."
Ibuki shifted herself around so that she was situated on Naruto's lap, arms and legs still wrapped around him. She fixed him with a curious look, "I have no idea how you can balance four headstrong women who all want something different from you."
He didn't either. That they were all seemingly okay with whatever their romantic arrangement could be classified as was as odd as anything else.
"I can make copies of myself," Naruto deadpanned, "That probably helps."
"I could see that coming in handy for something like this," Ibuki said before leaning forward and giving Naruto a deep kiss, "Can I stay tonight?" She asked, not waiting for an answer before attacking him with her lips.
"Do you need to ask?" Naruto said as the kunoichi still in his grasp continued to smother him with kisses. As he went to stand, Ibuki tightened her grip around him, keeping him from getting up, "We've gotta go inside if we're gonna keep going, 'Bu."
"No, we don't," Ibuki said, pushing Naruto down and straddling him, "Here's good."
"Really? Up here? Outside?"
"It might not be very comfortable."
In response, Ibuki wiggled in place on top of him and reached for the bottom of her top, "I don't wanna be comfortable. I wanna fuck," She said, pulling the garment up. Naruto inhaled sharply at the sight of the little bounce Ibuki's breasts gave as they sprang free. The reaction only emboldened her to tease him further, "You're telling me you don't? After two months without? Poor thing. Must have been miserable."
From her lips to his ears. In one motion, Naruto rolled them, putting Ibuki's back to the rooftop without an ounce of resistance from her. In fact, she had been grinning the entire time.
"You are such a bad influence," Naruto growled in the girl's ear.
"Sure am," Ibuki agreed.
Every girl in a relationship with Naruto brought something different out of him. Karin helped develop Naruto's sense of diligence and responsibility. Cammy helped Naruto learn how to be a more nurturing, patient person. Sakura was invaluable in building Naruto's self-worth and his resolve.
Ibuki was more than happy to be the one he could let himself go wild with. After all, he had always been that for her.
And that's the chapter.
Well, another Street Fighter game out, another generation where I'll be respectably mediocre at it. So far so good though. I have been run off the floor my share of times, but I'm rattling off a roughly 70% win rate. And I do enjoy the game itself.
For quick cliffnotes... I actually like most of the new characters. As far as who I run, I've been doing solid work with Luke, Marisa, Ken, Cammy, and Juri. I had plenty of fun with World Tour mode. The menu interface is a lot more user-friendly than Street Fighter V. Everything is quicker-loading too. Thanks, PS5.
Now, just give me Adon as DLC at some point. I've been missing my boy. I was spoiled by his feint game back in the Street Fighter IV era. No one else has scratched that itch since. I will also take Cody for familiarity's sake.
Anyway, that's all for now, everyone.