Episode 9: Unexpected Run-in's!

A/N: Hi guys. I truly, honestly, completely owe my sincerest apologies to long time followers of this story. I realize that I'm not the most punctual guy in the world, and I am sorry for that. College seems to be more strenuous than it needs to be nowadays and to be honest; it's getting annoying and stressful! Anyways, here's the long awaited 9th Episode where we finally have the chance to conclude some unresolved plots! Hooray! And also, both Hayabusa and Ryu get more screentime! Double hooray! Hope this was worth the wait! If not, feel free to slap me across the face; virtually of course! Special thanks to grey0716, AnimeGamerWriter212, Projekt-Z, godofmadness43 and also RebelDynasty! ^^' You guys are awesome! Thanks for not giving up on me. I really appreciate it.

Dead or Alive belongs to Team Ninja and Temco. Beelzebub belongs to Ryuuhei Tamura and Shonen Jump. Virtua Fighter belongs to Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2. Street Fighter belongs to Capcom. Zell Natsumoto and Maria belong to Projekt-Z. Takashi belongs to godofmadness43. Dawn and Bai Jiao belong to Kasumi x SyazelAporro. I only own my OC's!

Back Alley of the Convention- Previously on Episode 6

Tsukasa and Hayate both held their positions from their retrospective attacks for quite a while; their positions static like stone statues. Though their posture held great balance, both men held a look of slight discomfort as their grunts eventually gave way, soaking in the pain each have inflicted. Tsukasa's face scrunched up a little as the sharp force of Hayate's elbow slowly made its way to the pressure point of his foot. At the same time, the Wind Ninja grit his teeth as the pressure of the kick began to dig into a delicate pressure point against the elbow he struck with.

Over five minutes have passed since that particular clash. Neither fighter moved from their position, fixated in a contest that combined both balance and physical, strenuous torture! Although Ayane kept an observant eye throughout their battle, she began to feel a sense of tension and discomfort, her index finger almost twitching in response. The Violet Kunoichi felt conflicted as the battle raged on, once again reminding her of a painful memory almost a year ago; Raidou's fight with Hayate which resulted in the latter being crippled almost for life. She hesitated, her fist clenched as her bloodshot eyes slightly twitching. She desperately wanted to intervene. Her conscious constantly pestered her to stand by Hayate's side. To see him battered like this, only reminded Ayane of her own helplessness; the very thing she swore to stamp out.

In the end however, Ayane grit her teeth and decided to stay put. After all, she did not want to burden Hayate with her intervention, especially considering that he had a personal score to settle.

Sean on the other hand analysed the battle from his own perspective. Though he had a calmer frame of mind compared to his "compatriot", Sean wore a somewhat confused outlook throughout the situation. Even though he knew Tsukasa for a while now, there were still some things that left the boxing prodigy a little perplexed. Although he kept a cool demeanour and had a very unfazed exterior, deep inside Sean felt like he was plunged into a sea of confusion and distress. Nanomachines?!Hayate's rivalry with Tsukasa suddenly appearing out of the blue?!What the hell was even going on anymore?! More importantly, why was he dragged into all of this?! He of all people?! To Sean, this experience was starting to grow as subtle as a punch to the face!

"This situation is so needlessly confusing...!" The boxer growled mentally, his head suffering from the excruciating lack of common sense. "Nanomachines?! Really?! This is something straight of a cyberpunk novel for cryin' out loud! Then again…this whole shindig with the Tri-Towers does kinda begs the question…..aww….screw this! What am I doing?! Why the hell am I even thinking?!"

Shaking away his jargon of thought, Sean took a deep breath; despite the overwhelming lack of logic that laid itself bare (according to him, at least), in front of him, he finally came to a bitter yet sensible choice; roll with the situation for now…

After all, despite his vehement reluctance, Sean managed to put up with various oddities that have almost come up as an everyday occurrence. A small sigh eventually left his lips as he continued to analyse the fight between the two men, a slight shake of the head being a small remnant of his brief anger.

The shape of the clash began quaking, the leg and elbow starting to shake violently. A split-second later, both attacks immediately were released from each other as Hayate and Tsukasa side-flipped into their default fighting stances. Their fighting stances were once again quite fresh, but fatigue slowly began to overcome their senses; the fury of their blows taking a toll. The rivals stared each other with look of utter contempt; Tsukasa's resembled a deranged, psychopathic blood knight. Hayate's on the other hand echoed back to the days of the Tri-Towers, anger being his only fuel for victory.

"I don't want any saucy speech…!" Hayate glared daggers at the man in front of him, his teeth gritting with frustration. "Especially from you!"

An evil grin crept across Tsukasa's face, relishing his rival's anger."Tcch….thought so….in that case!"

Wasting no time, they both advanced towards each other with furious abandon. Tsukasa unleashed a lighting quick high kick aimed at the cartilage in front of Hayate's neck. With a panicked gasp, the Wind Ninja managed to narrowly blow the potentially fatal by blocking with his right hand. Disorientated by the force of the kick, Hayate once again fell victim to Tsukasa's combination of a body blow to the ribcage, ending with a sharp punch to the centre of the chest. Stumbling back from the impact, Hayate nonetheless managed to stand his ground. With the wind trailing behind his wake in feat of high speed, he advanced towards Tsukasa catching him off guard with a sharp elbow to the gut. With blinding speed, the elbow expanded, hitting Tsukasa dead centre in the stomach. Wheezing out a pocket of air, he collided towards the wall with a thundering crack, his back making a body sized dent in the process.

Bricks tumbled towards the floor as Tsukasa gently slipped out of the wall he was slammed into. Though a little slow, Tsukasa bent his knees; panting as his lips started trickling crimson. With a demented expression, he stood up and eyed Hayate with his ever present evil grin.

"Heh…! Not bad there, buddy! But, is this really the best you can do? Well then; CHEW ON THIS!"

With a hot-blooded roar, Tsukasa jumped up and unleashed an aerial roundhouse kick towards Hayate's ribcage. The Wind Ninja was instantly knocked off his momentum, floored to the side. A small crack was heard from Hayate's bones as he trailed with the friction of the ground. Wasting no time, he immediately side-filpped into his neutral position despite the severe beating he had suffered. Using the tip of his palms, Hayate threw an uppercut to the midpoint of Tsukasa's chest. Caught off guard, Tsukasa flinched in disgust. Another blow was struck by Hayate; this time a palm punch to the gut. Tsukasa barely managed to parry the blow let alone retaliate on time. His vision losing focus, Tsukasa tried a knuckle jab towards Hayate's nose.

"Heh….predictable!" He smirked at Tsukasa's carelessness. Capitalizing on that particular weakness, Hayate immediately countered with a sharp kick to the cheek, catching Tsukasa by surprise once again!

The young man flinched but still stood his ground, his sneakers emitting a bit of smoke from the friction of the rough granite. Wasting no time, Tsukasa threw a very sloppy looking punch that smashed Hayate across the face; in combination with sharp backfist to the nose. A severe crunch was heard; along with a yell of agony despite the Shinobi's best efforts to will away the pain. He staggered somewhat, his breathing somewhat ragged and rapid from the beating he undertook. With a gasp, the Hayate slumped to the ground, unable to continue any further

His face started to show signs of severe bruising; a mixture of red and black blood oozing from his nostrils and lips. His posture looked rather pale, worn out from the weight of Tsukasa's blows and also the migraine of his own uncontrollable rage. His rival wasn't too far off. Tsukasa dropped to his knees, breathing heavily and blood began to trickle down his lips, his smirk still contained as opposed to Hayate's more disappointed look.

Failing to contain her inner anxiety, Ayane could no longer stand idly by! Instinctively, she rushed to her leader's side just as Hayate was about to faint from exhaustion. With a gasp as her form of alert, she held him steady almost instantaneously

"Hayate-Sama!"Ayane's voice was wracked with nervousness, unable to comprehend her leader's battered state. Slowly, her right hand began to glow with a violet aura. "H-hold on a minute….hang in there….!"

Despite the Wind Ninja's laboured breathing, he noticed the energy of Ayane'sNinpo slowly mending the broken tissue and skin of his nose; slowly being the key word. The strength of Tsukasa's punches took a toll on him quite severely; Hayate was surprised healing Ninpo was able to such dangerous wounds. Forcing a smile, he let out a small cough of amusement.

"A-ayane…? Hee, hee….I'm fine….okay? I-it's nothing serious…nggghhh….!"

"Shh….rest now….don't move." The violet Kunoichi hushed as she helped Hayate up from the shoulders without the least bit of strain.

Tsukasa on the other observed what just happened. He slowly rose to his feet, wiping theblood off his evil grin. Blood still trickled down his bottom lip, much to his own disdain.

"Tcch…overdone it again, huh…?" Tsukasa muttered under his breath. Despite his fatigued state, he carefully clicked his neck into place. "Well, thanks for the fun bout…..but seriously, man; think ya' could've done better? Hmm?It wasn't nearly as entertaining last time we fought! What...have ya' been slackin' off or somethin'?"

"Heh….you could say that Peace can often soften a fighter's spirit….." Hayate forced a sarcastic grin as he was slowly supported by Ayane. "Even so…..I still…..want answers…..the scroll….why did you take it…?"

"See, man…." Tsukasa dismissively shrugged with a sigh. "I can't really answer that question…and let's be honest; I don't wanna try….it's a matter I would like to forget ….I'm not exactly the co-operative type with Ninjas anyway…."

"Arrogant as always, Tsukasa….!." Hayate smiled bitterly. "Do…you really think that half-baked answer will be enough?"

Despite the Wind Ninja's hostility, Tsukasa kept a calm sense of mind, a sly grin still plastered on his face. "I dunno…..maybe. But in all seriousness, if you're that desperate on fighting me again, you'd better start practising first. A fight without passion just ain't satisfying y'know?"

"Sean." Ayane spoke authoratively, though clearly a little unnerved by the uncomfortable silence she underwent ever since Hayate's arrival. "I'm gonna teleport Hayate-Sama back to the village to heal his wounds. In the meantime, keepan eye on this idiot for me, will ya'?"

"Aww….you flatter me, toots…." Tsukasa scoffed with a sarcastic grin, his voice a mix between mockery and boredom.

Before Sean could utter a single protest, Ayane added almost instantaneously. "If you even think about escaping or pulling off some stupid stunt, you'll be singing soprano permanently! Understand!?"

Defeated, the Canadian boxer exasperatedly sighed as he replied to his "superior's"order. "Yes, madam…..whatever….."

"Good to know." Ayane gave a little haughty smirk towards Sean. The latter responded by shooting her an incredulous look. With that said, she immediately vanished along with Hayate from the place they stood, leaving behind only Iris petals in her wake. The last thing Sean saw was a purple wisp of a butterfly drifting across the night sky. As much as he hated to admit it, it looked rather….snazzy.

"Tcch….can't even hang out with my pals properly with this Kunoichi. Man is my precious life a bitch…!"

Slowly shaking his head of thoughts, Sean turned towards Tsukasa's direction with some newfound curiosity. "Hey, bro? Would you mind if I ask ya' coupla' questions?"

"Shoot." Tsukasa simply responded, without facing his friend.

"How were you part of the Mugen Tenshin group for starters?" Sean asked with a confused tone. "And what's with the nanomachine talk all of a sudden?"

Pacing up and down a little bit, Tsukasa took in a deep breath. "Ayaiyai….man….so much shit is happening….give me room to breathe will ya'? Sheesh…..I'm kinda sick of Ninjas….."

"You're telling me!" Sean mentally agreed. "Why happened to having fighters like Samurai or Mai Shiranui or somethin'?! Makes no sense to me!"

"Don't be getting any ideas about fanservice, man if that's what you're thinking." Tsukasa waved his fingers with a cheeky smile, interrupting Sean's thoughts in an instant.

"Oi!" Sean yelled, shock overtaking his senses as he was rattled with embarrassment. "Quit ruining my moment of joy! Since when were you psychic anyway?! Huh?!"

"We can sit and talk about my genius all day, or you can go through the QnA process for convenience of the plot." Tsukasa shrugged indignantly. "It's your call, pal."

"Fine!" Sean grouchily replied with an exasperated sigh. "Fire away…."

"Thank you." Tsukasa retained his cheeky smile. With a deep inhale of "precious" oxygen, he began to elaborate. "To put in bluntly…..around somewhere like…..6 years ago, I was sent to the Mugen Tenshin Ninja clan as a sort-of boot camp along with my girlfriend….due to my…increasing record of delinquency….my teach kinda had a connection with the old grampa of the village, who was the 17th Master at the time…."

"I kinda get the picture now….." Sean processed while scratching his scalp with his index finger. "So I'm guessing this "gramps" is Hayate's dad or somethin'? If he is….then no wonder that dude spells hell for ya'…."

"You catch on quick, comic boy." Tsukasa gave a complimentary scoff, though his smile was genuine. "But yeah….that's correct. As for Hayate…let's just say we got off at the wrong foot throughout the years…when I stole the scroll from the vaults of the clan….my rival kinda flipped his crap when he found out and attacked me. Long story short, I beat the ever-lovin' fudge outta him and escaped along with my girlfriend….."

"Okay; hold up!" Sean held his hand in front of him, interrupting the exposition. "Why did you exactly steal the scroll from the vault? And why does Hayate still hold this stupid hate for you in the first place?!"

"Heh…well, to put it simply…..I stole the scroll because, I kinda got curbstomped during an assignment to take down a MegaCorp. And before you ask; it ain't the Tri-Tower shindig that happened recently. It was a different company that kinda specializes in the same drabble as DOATEC. Y'know….bio-tech, military supplements and the like. To put it simply….they injured my girlfriend and injected me with nanomachines as part of their experimentations."

"So that explains the slightly overpowered strength you've got there….." Sean took in, his head slowly lifting up with renewed knowledge. Everything slowly became clearer to him now, despite the confusing premise "But back to the point; why did you steal the scroll anyway?"

A sigh left Tsukasa's lips. Bringing his pacing to a halt, he slowly walked towards Sean's direction and sat himself down. He stared out into the night sky in contemplation as a way of relaxing himself. The stars themselves in particular felt like a bittersweet portrayal of poetry. "To be honest, there was a ton of things going through my mind at that point. I kinda felt that as long as I stayed in that clan, I could not protect anyone or anything; even myself. I guess you could say, I was held back in a sense. To my surprise, even my girlfriend agreed with me on this! Heh….and they say she's the sensible one…."

Noticing Tukasa's melancholic yet nostalgic smile, Sean gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Maybe you should stop for now. Somethin' tells me this story's gonna open up old wounds. You sure you're gonna be okay?"

"Well, for the most part, yeah…." Tsukasa yawned as he stood up, flexing his left shoulder blade. "Moving on, what exactly did you do to get Ayane on your case, partner? I mean jeez….hafta' admit; that's gotta be pretty painful to deal with, huh?"

"You're telling me…!" Sean exhaustedly replied as he lifted his hands up, leaning back in irritation. "The woman has no sense of self-control! Seriously, I'm surprised I'm not neutered by those boots of her's! It's like she's trying to make me lose credibility as a frickin' dude!"

Tsukasa gave a very playful wince, much to his friend's chagrin. "She really kicked you down there, huh? Heh…. sounds like her, all right! Are ya' sure you were thinking straight when you asked her to come with you?"

A popped vein burst out of Sean's cerebellum, his eyes scrunched up in fury as his body was wracked with embarrassment. Almost immediately, he towered over Tsukasa, his eyes bulging out far and wide with fury along with his teeth representing lethal fangs. "THE HELL?! ARE YOU CRAZY?! THE WOMAN PRACTICALLY FORCED ME TO LOOK FOR YA', FOR CRYIN' OUT LOUD! WHY ARE YA' EVEN JOKING ABOUT MY BALLS BEING SMUSHED, MAN?! WHY'S MY MISERY HUMOROUS?! C'MON! THAT AIN'T EVEN FUNNY! THAT'S JUST SADISTIC!"

"Heh…cool down, dude!" Tsukasa mockingly scoffed, remaining unfazed by Sean's outburst; surprisingly. "I didn't know you were that sensitive! What's the big deal?"

Sean from his momentary loss of temper, slowly returned to Earth with a deep sigh. His eyes gazed towards the night sky as he lay down at the stairs of the door. "It's nothin'..but…..it's just…..this whole conspiracy thingy-ma-gig's messin' with my head….."

"I sympathise with ya', man." Tsukasa tapped his foot casually, his posture calm and relaxed. "I truly do. But ya' met Kasumi and….well; can't say you didn't see this comin'. Ninjas are kinda nosy sometimes….especially when it comes to pretty women like Kasumi!"

With that said, he forced a slightly jovial chuckle, his foot still tapping in rhythm. With a light-hearted snort, Sean could not help but join in. "I know right? Poor girl can't even catch a break without so much as a knife thrown in her sleep or an autograph from some ax-crazy DOA fan….! I almost feel sorry what she has to go through to be honest with ya'….."

"To be honest, who wouldn't be?" Tsukasa yawned, flexing his left arm. "But in a way, she's growin' tougher and tougher. Hafta' admit, I kinda respect that particular aspect of hers."

His bones finally clicking into place, he finally stood up straight and asked Sean his question. "Anyway, I heard that she's been babysitting your friend…erm…what's his name…?" He snapped his fingers hoping that something would come up." ….Natsu…right? Is this true?"

Sean barely managed to avoid snorting into hilarity with Tsukasa's choice of words. "I wouldn't say babysitting per-say; but more like havin' some company on his warrior journey. After all, he can't brood all day in his timetable. It's too unhealthy for his social digestion!"

"Funny how ya' compare depression to junk food, man." Tsukasa smiled. "Surprisingly, I can't help but agree with ya' there. But, ya'gotta admit, a man's gotta have his alone time every once in a while. Even you are kinda livin' the high life by yerself, right?"

Sean's smile slightly faltered, the mention of the last sentence striking an….less than pleasant side effect. Embarrassingly, he instinctively ruffled his spiky hair while sweat dropping. "Well, kinda…..before my vacation got interrupted for no discernible reason…! Seriously, how am I supposed to enjoy College leave with a girl who's kinda ax-crazy and has some weird family issues, huh?!"

"You'll manage….." Tsukasa replied as though it were obvious. "Besides, you're one of the most empathetic people I know. I'm pretty sure dealing with Ayane will be all-in-a-day's work for ya'….."

Sean's lips gave way to a light smile as he let out a small chuckle. Somehow, "all-in-a-day's work"often resulted in him being a glutton for punishment (and Ayane definitely did not make his "job" any easier!). To be fair, he knew very well the violent route was usually the fate for any decent fighter, but it still didn't change the fact that Sean held a strong dislike for this aspect; mainly for personal reasons. "Well…..let's hope I'm still able to have kids after this is over…."

"Perhaps a Chastity belt would help, my friend?" Tsukasa sarcastically suggested much to the boxing prodigy's chagrin.

"Award winning comic genius, man…..!" Sean scowled bitterly. "Why do you and Natsu always gotta make my life miserable?"

"Relax, dude. Relax." Tsukasa continued to hold his own little smirk. "You're stressin' out too much here. Look. Tell ya' what; if this shitty ordeal is over and done with, I can give to ya' my Duke Nukem and Serious Sam collection as well as play ya' a death-match marathon sometime. Deal?"

"Babysitting a bratty Kunoichi in exchange for retro-shooting heaven, huh?" Sean raised an eyebrow, his posture now upright with rejuvenated optimism and cheerfulness. "I'll keep that in mind! Man, is Natsu gonna miss out on some awesome stuff!"

"You two, boneheads!" A less-than-amused feminine voice called out in the distance. "If you're done bitching about me and the clan, I'd like to escort the man with the freaky t-shirt away from the premises if you please?

Sean slowly shuddered with disappointment as he steadily turned around to face behind him. There Ayane stood, menacingly with her red eyes glaring daggers at Sean. Her hair was returned to its natural purple colour, though her casual clothing still remained. To say she was cross with him; was a big understatement!

With a deflated sigh, Sean immediately growled agonizingly in frustration. "Yes, madam…..I'm coming…". With that said, he immediately walked towards the Violet Kunoichi's side. Five steps later, Sean turned towards Tsukasa and mouthed inaudibly. "Where are you gonna be, FYI?"

The young Korean stood up, straightening his jacket as a way of thinking of a suitable answer. Quickly he mouthed back. "When the plot tells me it's convenient to come back. I'll probably meet ya' somewhere around Kyoto or Germany when you strike out, kay?"

"Germany?! Wha…?! Why the hell would we be in Germany, for crying out loud?!"

"IF you end up there that is." Tsukasa corrected as if it were common sense. "Just give me a call if you need help. Think of it like your own convenient Deus Ex Machina."

"Thanks for the tip….." Sean's brief moment of irritation slowly cooled towards a calm smile. With that said, he then headed out towards the bustling streets alongside Ayane. Tsukasa could only watch with a light grin, hands in his pockets as he whistled.

"So, Hayate's involved in this case too I see…." Tsukasa deviously thought as he watched the two walk into the distance. "Well, if that means I can get to kick his ass along the way, maybe I won't be so bored after all! Hell...this may actually be fun for a change…!"

Slightly bobbing his head up and down, Tsukasa immediately began to head into the direction of the street albeit watching from an observer's point of view.

At least for now…

Frankfurt-Germany, outside of the Buchfink Dojo

Hitomi took two steps ahead of the group and inhaled the beautiful bliss of fresh-air, something she always looked forward to whenever she went out. Two seconds in, she turned towards her compatriots with a cheerful and optimistic smile.

"Okay, gentlemen….and lady of course!" Hitomi gave a wink of embarrassment towards Kasumi's direction, to which the latter responded with a light giggle. "May I present to you my hometown of Frankfurt!It's not much but nonetheless; it does hold a special place in my heart."

Ryu, Natsu and Kasumi all spent a few moments just taking in the scenery of what the cityscape had to offer. Frankfurt was quite similar to many of the cities they've seen, tall skyscrapers and a grandiose sense of scale; just a little quieter than normal. But perhaps that's what they liked best about it. The quiet bustle of the streets gave a tune of silent pleasantry. It wasn't too crowded yet not lifeless either; something Natsu had grown a natural affinity for.

Meanwhile, Kasumi's auburn eyes lit in wide-eyed curiosity as she inspected the scenery and atmosphere that surrounded her. She always loved visiting new places and had even dreamt someday of visiting Germany, to see what sights Hayate ventured through during his time of amnesia. The young Kunoichi took a silent deep breath and put her hands behind her back and standing upright. Kasumi felt a little shy around this new environment but nonetheless managed to keep a cool composure with a light smile.

Even Natsu had to admit he was quite impressed with what he saw so far. The streets were surprisingly quiet, perfectly reflecting his own state of mind. To be honest, he wouldn't exactly mind walking around the place on his own to see things for himself. Taking a glance at Kasumi and Hitomi, Natsu could not help but feel exhausted mentally. Journeying with a party was definitely not on his checklist as it often resulted in either noise or being social; something he was definitely not good at! Hoisting his duffel, Natsu took a glance towards Ryu's direction. As if responding to the young man's crisis, Ryu gave him a passive yet friendly look that stated. "Be patient. Keep calm and see how it goes. I'm new to this as well…."

Speaking of Ryu, even though Frankfurt didn't exactly surprise too much, it did bring back some nostalgic memories over the course of his countless travels. To him, the place reminded him of early morning Paris a little bit mainly due to the peaceful atmosphere that was presented. Still, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing as Ryu often welcomed areas that allowed him to feel at ease.

"So?" Hitomi winked with a wide smile, breaking the long silence of the rest of the group. "What do you think everyone?"

"Me?" Kasumi meekly responded, a little taken aback from the interruption. "Ummm….it's quite nice actually if not a little quiet….."

Hitomi gave a light-hearted chuckle at Kasumi's answer, scratching the back of her head as she sweatdropped nervously. "I figured you'd say that! There is a reason why they call it 'Bankfurt' after all! Trust me, this town gets busier and busier throughout the day!"

"Does it?" Said Kasumi, cheekily shocked. "Kami-Sama….I never knew that….is that why you are stressed throughout the day sometimes?"

"I guess so…..maybe…anyways!" Hitomi pointed towards both Ryu and Natsu, breaking their train of thought. "What about you two? Starting from…hmmm….let's see….oh! How about you, duffel Twin no 1!?"

Her index finger pointed towards Natsu's direction specifically in a plucky manner, much to the young man's disbelief.

"Duffel twin...?" Both warriors were baffled upon impact, both for different reasons. Natsu eyed Hitomi sceptically, a little taken aback. Ryu on the other hand was genuinely clueless by the sudden remark. He wasn't sure to either take it as a compliment or whether it was meant to humorously tease Natsu. Even at his age, humour was still something Ryu found a little difficult to get around.

"C'mon!" Hitomi playfully pouted. "Don't be shy! You can tell me, right?"

Although barely audible, Natsu let out a tired sigh as he responded, his expression stoic as always. "…It's a nice place. Quiet yet spacious."

"That's good to hear! Thank you!" Hitomi beamed enthusiastically; a usual trademark of her's. Natsu found it a little difficult to squint from her loud delivery. "And what about you, Mr Ryu?"

"Me?" The World Warrior pointed to himself, a little confused at first. It didn't take long for him to regain his footing mentally. "Ummm….I agree with Natsu. It's a good place to visit every once in a while. I can see why you have fond memories of this place according to what you've told me back at the dojo."

Kasumi could not help but stifle a small laugh at both Natsu and Ryu's social awkwardness, despite doing her best to keep it quiet as possible. "Kami-Sama….! These two are so much alike!It's almost scary….!. Hee, hee….now I see why Natsu relates greatly to someone like him. Though….the fact that someone like Ryu inspires him isn't surprising. Maybe it's the free spirit they both have in common. I can't help but respect that in a way…."

Sensing a faint giggle afloat, Natsu immediately faced towards Kasumi's direction instantaneously. "Huh…? What's wrong? Why are you laughing?"

The young Kunoichi immediately froze on the spot, her expression like a child guilty of taking cookies from a jar despite trying to hide her embarrassment with a smile. "Umm...nothing really...! It's just that …..."

"…..What is it?" Natsu replied, raising his eyebrow sceptically, half-expecting a light hearted tease in his direction.

"No wonder you admire someone like Ryu-Sama…." Kasumi smiled with a simple yet genuine smile much to Natsu's initial surprise. "From what I've heard of him as a child, he loves to exceed his limits, improve himself constantly as well as facing new challenges with renewed vigour, strength and spirit. And I can see some of those aspirations residing strongly within you. I personally admire the fact that both of you strive for something so passionately."

"….If you say so." Natsu calmly responded with a deep sigh. "But, what point are you trying to make exactly?"

"Straight to the point, as usual…." Kasumi kept her smile intact, despite her companion's blunt delivery. "Ummm….about the advice Ryu-Sama gave to you back at the dojo; I think I have some food for thought that could be of some use to you."

"…..Depends if this 'food' you're mentioning is gonna give me a stomach ache or something …." Natsu groggily grumbled mentally. He wasn't exactly annoyed at Kasumi in particular; or her question, but at the same time, starting a conversation felt like stabbing his prefrontal cortex with sharp cleats. The jetlag still had its lasting effects in took a deep breath, his eyes closed to retain focus.

"…..Go ahead." Natsu grumbled, readying himself for listening.

Kasumi responded with a grateful expression accompanied by a friendly wink. "I think what Ryu-Sama means is that even though a fighter is usually judged by their actions, friendship should not be discarded. In a way, having someone you can trust allows a fighter such as yourself to feel more secure and at ease. Sharing your worries and anxieties with people you care about feels wonderful and somewhat….gratifying. Trust me, I know from experience….."

"…I suppose you have a point." Natsu said, his tone more level headed than his usual replies. "But I prefer to be by myself. There aren't many people who can give that same sort of gratification."

Slowly, the young Kunoichi took a silent breath, her head gazing to the floor nervously.A moment passed. With a slight giggle, she her hands behind her back as she began to take tiny paces; despite wearing heels! "I completely understand that camaraderie is stepping outside your comfort zone, Natsu. In fact, I know a few people in the same predicament as you. But….think of it this way; although solitude does provide some degree of comfort, don't you think finding other people to confide in...will help ease the burden of your struggles?"

Kasumi then glanced at Natsu's direction with a concerned yet genuine look. "If we remain alone in hollow darkness, our loneliness will eventually swallow us whole; experience has shown me how…frightening and dangerous it can be…."

Inhaling a deep breath, Natsu's head slightly glanced upwards to the sky. "That might explain your friendship with Hitomi….has she helped you get over this problem or something?"

"Yes…." Kasumi nodded with pride, a soft smile slowly forming. "Thanks to her, I now feel more confident opening up to other people and experiencing new things. In a way, she's provided me with some wonderful support over the past two months."

"So….in a nutshell, Hitomi's like a life coach to you basically?"Natsu turned and faced towards the auburn Kunoichi's direction, his right eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Kasumi stifled a slight giggle at the young man's response. "I guess you could say she is to some degree…..I would even proclaim she'd qualify for one easily!"

"I guess she would…" Natsu spoke mentally, despite trying to contain a hidden smirk. "Although the magical girl routine won't exactly do me any favours….."

"But back to my point; think over what Ryu said, okay?" Kasumi accompanied with a wink. "No-one should bear the burdens of their goals alone. That's why we have friends to help us in our time of need, right?"

"If you say so…." Natsu responded in a calm tone, slightly tapping his foot in contemplation. "Do you often hand out advice on a constant basis?" He eyed his Kunoichi, with a neutral but curious look.

Kasumi once again tried to suppress her laughter as she formed her answer. "Not always, but it has its perks…."

"Awww…..." Hitomi's voice called out not too far off with a cheery smile plastered on her face, halting the conversation in an instant. Both fighters instantaneously froze in initial shock as they slowly began to turn around, facing the other two members. Kasumi sweatdropped with an embarrassed smile. Natsu on the other hand found it difficult to hide his irritation, quelled only with a deep breath.

"You two look so cute together!" Hitomi's expression suddenly fell into a playful pout. "Seriously, it's soooooo adorable! But in all honesty though, I kinda feel left out. If ya' need some "alone" time so to speak, just give me a head's up next time,kay'?"The young Karateka winked teasingly at the last sentence.

"Alone time?!" Natsu exclaimed, hastily shaking his head ashis expression was rattled with shock and embarrassment. "Don't joke with me on that! Seriously…! What the hell?!"

"Ummm…..calm down, Natsu…." Kasumi nervously tapped the young man on the shoulder. "I think Hitomi meant that as a joke. She didn't mean it in that in a particular context…..r-ight?" The final word held a bit of nervous scepticism.

She glanced towards the Karateka for clarification. Surprisingly able to retain her smile, Hitomi gave a nod as her reply. With a nod of relieved satisfaction, Kasumi slowly washed away the brief timidness she had at the beginning. At the same time, Natsu let out a deep sigh as he slowly calmed himself back to his default mood; though he still mentally felt jumbled by Hitomi's idea of a "joke".

Ryu on the other hand, once again scratched his head as he tried to piece together what to do with the current situation. Should he step forward and join in? Should he just wait until he can be allowed to intervene? Although Ryu felt more than capable of handling a one-on-one conversation with ease; handling a social situation with more than one person in a group? Not so much…..even after nearly two decades since left Gouken's dojo, this was something he still found rather tricky.

"Looks like they've finished their conversation….for now at least…seriously though; Hitomi's enthusiasm can rival even that of Sakura's! It's pretty scary, come to think of it!" Ryu thought, as he noticed the two girls giggling away. Natsu on the other hand looked just as confused as he was. The World Warrior caught wind of this and turned to the young man's direction with a polite smile.

"You okay there, my friend?"

Natsu once again was alert, though he responded quite calmly. "Yeah… I'm okay, I think." He glanced towards the wandering warrior's direction with a sympathetic smile. "Let me guess; these types of things get over your head too?"

Ryu let out a small chuckle. Fiddling with his stubble in thought, he answered. "Let's just say, I've had my fair share of them in the past. What about you?"

"Same here…." Natsu replied with an empathetic scoff. "I guess we've both grown to the point where this doesn't surprise us, huh?"

The older fighter answered with a simple nod. "You got that regardless, let's hear what they have to say for now. Maybe this will start to make sense if we listen carefully to their conversation."

"If by that, you mean the total opposite…right?" Natsu rolled his eyes in a jestful manner. "We are dealing with girls about my age after all."

Ryu gave a small chuckle while sweatdropping in response, seeing some truth in the young man's words. "Fair point. Nonetheless, I feel that group discussion could be something both of us could improve. Sharing and exchanging ideas from one another is a good way to expand and broaden your horizons as a fighter after all. That's what Ken told me at least…."

While taking Ryu's answer into consideration, brief mental images of his conversations with Sean cropped within the recesses of Natsu's a deep sigh, the young man slowly responded in a calm voice. "If you say so….right; I'll follow through with your suggestion and see where it goes…..."

"That's good to hear." The World Warrior nodded in approval of Natsu's answer. The latter responded with a hidden but light smile across his face. Although he did not show it, Natsu did feel a little reassured. Ryu had, after all given him some good advice back when they were fighting, so Natsu had no reason to doubt him here.

Finally, the two finished their conversation as they eventually diverted their attention towards the girls of the group. To the surprise of both Ryu and Natsu, Kasumi was handling herself quite well in front of Hitomi, being able to keep a mostly calm attitude yet somehow end up in a cheery social-esique mood.

"So, Kasumi?" Hitomi exclaimed, with an enthusiastic clap, surprising the young Kunoichi a little. "Let's cut to the chase. Tell me; how exactly did you first meet Natsu? What was it like travelling with him?Is he a brooding 90's Anti-Hero like you say he is? Ooooo! Does he also have a bad boy busozoku style haircut too?"

Natsu face-palmed almost instantly with an annoyed groan as his only response. Sensing this, Kasumi immediately flushed in embarrassment with a heavy case of sweatdropping. "Ummm...I don't recall saying that he was brooding...nor did I say he is a comic book archetype... although...I can sort of get where you're coming from...Natsu's haircut does resemble a biker's style a little bit...hee, hee..."

"Not helping, Kasumi..!." Natsu grumbled mentally, a popped vein bursting out of his forehead. "Seriously, is Hitomi trying to wind me up or something? What does my hair have to with the bosozoku fashion, huh?!"

Hitomi detected the young man's brief moment of silent irritation and heartily laughed. "C'mon, partner! Lighten up! Sheesh…! Your sense of humour is almost as bad as Ryu's is…."

The World Warrior upon hearing that remark raised an eyebrow in suspicion. It didn't take long for him however to break into a small chuckle while scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. "That's pretty cruel, Hitomi…I mean, I'm not exactly that bad at jokes am I…?"

Hitomi found it difficult to supress a wide grin curling across her lips as she struggled to contain her laughter at Ryu's embarrassment. Kasumi eventually joined in with a meek giggle of her own, trying her best not to laugh with Ryu's statement. Surprisingly, even Natsu joined with a brief chuckle, signs of his annoyance slowly fading streaming down her cheeks, Hitomi found it slightly harder to return herself back to earth, remnants of her laughter slightly hampering her ability to speak.

Eventually, the young Karateka calmed herself down as she returned back to her normal, plucky posture. A warm smile eventually returning, Hitomi then gestured towards Kasumi in a courteous manner. "Speaking of which…. Kasumi…..?

"Ummm…..yes….?" The auburn Kunoichi meekly responded.

"Why don't we pick where we left of? I wanna know how you first met Natsu! Pleeeeease, can you tell me?"

Strangely with a calm frame of mind, Kasumi took a deep breath as she was willing to answer. With a steady frame of mind washing away all thoughts of nervousness, she began to elaborate her exploits with her red coated companion to the rest of the party.

"Here goes…." Was the last thoughts, she had in her mind, easing her hidden tension.

To make a long story short, Kasumi began to detail the events she spent with him so far covering the important bits, including such pivotal moments like the fight between her and Natsu in the exhibition arena, the accidental run-in with the Mugen Tenshin Ninja Clan, their meeting with the world famous Virtua Fighters and finally; their current situation on why they ended up here. During her explanation, Kasumi explained most of Natsu's personality quirks such as his natural affinity for quiet, his tendencies to brood over his personal goals as well as his hot-blooded drive and determination for self-improvement. Surprisingly, Natsu remained quiet and "behaved himself" over the remainder of the conversation; if only to avoid causing a scene.

Hitomi gave her full attention and kept a discernible ear to every detail Kasumi exposited. Her interest was shown through subtle nods as she stroked her chin in thought. Since she knew most of the Ninja exploits (mainly her run-in with Hayate before the 3rd DOA), Hitomi was able to catch on and understand most of the details. Needless to say, she was quite intrigued with Natsu's persona as fighter; specifically his resolve and his affinity for solitude.

Ryu also gave his full attention, curious about the starting point of his journey. Some of the stuff involving the Ninjas got over his head a tiny bit. However, the meeting with the Virtua Fighters definitely piqued his interest; mainly because of a certain Hakkyouku-Ken grandmaster Kasumi mentioned.

"Akira Yuki, huh? That's interesting...so Natsu has already come face to face with the world's best in such a short amount of time. He holds more potential than I realized...!"

During his contemplation, Ryu immediately was hit with a brief wave of nostalgia."Intriguing indeed, although his attitude does feel somewhat familiar...he reminds me of a certain individual who visited me and Ken in Master Gouken's dojo 24 years ago...strange..."

As he was lost in thought, a brief image of a young teenage girl with ivory black hair, hazel brown eyes came to mind. Ryu didn't know why, but this thought in particular reminded him of something he couldn't exactly put a lid on. After a brief moment however, he decided to remain silent; mainly wanting to express his thoughts at alater time.

Hitomi on the other hand, responded with a small smile after hearing about Kasumi's latest 'misadventures'. "Sounds like you had a heck of a joyride! Man! I really wish my life was as interesting as yours! I mean, how come you end up meeting so many interesting people within a short amount of time anyway?"

Kasumi answered with a smile, though slightly confused. "Being popular does have its benefits I suppose…..?"

"True….I guess you can say that…." Hitomi nodded. Her voice lowered as her expression turned serious with an empathetic look. "But in all seriousness, from what you've described…is this Donovan guy from the Tri-Tower scenario still out for your blood….? I mean….why is that..?"

Kasumi's brief smile fell into a slightly sorrowful frown, swallowing a small lump in throat. She could only nod as her reply. Aside from maybe her homesickness, the pain she suffered at Donovan's hand was the second most gut wrenching experience the Kunoichi ever endured. With a deep sigh, Hitomi placed a hand on Kasumi's shoulder with a sympathetic expression.

"If you don't want to tell me, it's absolutely fine….I understand your reasons…."

Kasumi shook her head a little, slowly snapping out of her trance with a sad smile. "N-no….it's okay….I just had brief lapse….that's all…..don't worry about me…."

"Kasumi….." Hitomi slowly spoke with a softer tone than usual. "I get why you usually keep your problems a secret, but you shouldn't really shoulder the all the burden with this whole ordeal. As your best friend, I'm duty bound to help you in your time of need in whatever way I can. You do have people who are willing to support you, y'know?"

"I know…..but…." Kasumi hesitated.

"No 'buts'…!" Hitomi cut her off before she could finish. "Sure you've had gloomy days, but at least you've pulled through trials that would honestly drive anyone else insane. You're strong, okay?"

Slowly, her voice lowered, into a tone that represented a guidance counsellor."The only thing left is to realize that there are people willing to help you in your time of need. I mean, you've been coaching Natsu on companionship using my therapy techniques, right?"

The Karateka nodded towards Natsu's direction with a smile. He then appropriately responded in a calm tone. "….If you say so, I guess….yeah…."

At that moment, Kasumi's sad expression slowly warmed up a little, feeling a little relieved. "Now that you mentioned it…..I think I might have…." She stroked her chin a little bit in faux guilt.

A brief moment passed. Then instantaneously, both women burst into laughter. Hitomi in particular was dangerously close to streaming tears. "You have! Admit it! You totally have!"

"Oh, stop it!" Kasumi could not control her giggling fit, playfully shoving Hitomi by the shoulder. Unlike Hitomi however, she did her best to control herself; if only to avoid any onlookers.

Natsu and Ryu looked towards the two in disbelief; then back to each other as if to say; 'What the hell is going on?!'.

Afterwards, the laughter slowly died down, Hitomi struggling to get back into her normal mood. Kasumi on the other hand was able to control herself a little better; though ultimately not by much. Slowly but eventually, Hitomi came to her senses; only to instantly ponder in thought.

Both Natsu and Ryu looked at the young Karateka incredulously, unsure of what she had in store. Kasumi though, waited patiently, a little calmer but still on her toes.

"Aha…!" Hitomi exclaimed, a light bulb flashing on top of her head. She then turned towards Kasumi's direction, her face fresh with excitement. "Since you're going on that journey with Natsu, I have a proposition I'd like to make. Would you like to hear it?"

The young Kunoichi nodded in approval as she answered. "I don't see why not. Let's hear it."

"Awesome!" Hitomi grinned as she stroked her chin, recollecting her idea in mind. "Now let's see…hmmmm….I got it!"

"Yes?" Kasumi meekly responded.

"I was thinking….." Hitomi continued pondering, her expression resembling a cheeky chessmaster. Ten seconds in, and the young Karateka immediately expressed her idea."How about I come with you guys? Your adventure for self-improvement sounds like an interesting journey to partake in after all!"

A lightning bolt instantly severed Natsu's nerves in one fell swoop, irritation forcing him into a state of mental paralysis as his brown pupils slowly began fading into a void of white.

"Are you serious?!"Natsu growled bitterly in his thoughts. "Please tell me you're joking….just please tell me you're joking?"

Kasumi alternatively had a mixed reaction. She was more than happy to accept Hitomi into her company, but at the same time was also concerned on how Natsu would react considering he was not used to handling cheery types particularly well; Sean being an exception.

Before he could utter objection, Hitomi spoke almost immediately, unintentionally cutting him off. "Say….why don't we grab a coffee down the street? I'm sure we'll be able to discuss this idea further once we've freshened up. So, let's go, everyone!"

With that said, she then marched subtly down towards the nearest café down the road. Ryu hoisted his duffel and was about to follow her; but first he turned to Natsu and gave him a reassuring look, noticing his rather grouchy expression.

"Remember…..try and take this with an open mind. Hitomi might have some ideas that could help guide you with your overall goal. Think it over, okay?"

The World Warrior then followed suit. Natsu waited till he was gone; and then turned towards Kasumi's direction, obviously not happy with his predicament.

"What have you gotten me into this time, Kasumi?" Natsu groaned as he shook his head. "This woman is obviously gonna give me more than a few headaches….."

"I think you assume too much, Natsu." Kasumi calmly responded. "Try and take things one step at a time…..interacting with others is not exactly easy. I mean, even I struggle at various points too...although, I will admit; Hitomi coming with us was a little unexpected..."

"Yeah...I got that..." The young man closed his eyes, doing his best in suppressing his annoyance as much he can. After a brief while of silence, Natsu eventually spoke to Kasumi, his voice a little calmer. "So, what do you suggest we do now?"

"Hmmm..." Kasumi struggled to think of suitable reply. "I say...we join her for now and see how it goes... although…..I do want you to promise me one thing."

"…That depends…" Natsu tapped his foot a little. "What is it?"

"Please give Hitomi a chance." Kasumi requested softly. "I know she can have quite a fiery personality…..but still…she is still a good friend to have. Besides, think of it as a new learning experience; maybe travelling with her will have more benefits than you realize, just like what Ryu-Sama said…"

Natsu rolled his eyes a little as he took a deep breath. "…I suppose I have no choice then…Fine, then; I suppose I'll give it a shot….just make sure she doesn't drag me somewhere like a salon or clothes shop, alright?"

"I'll try to remind her!" Kasumi slightly giggled. "Anyways, shall we get going then? I heard the coffee they sell in Germany is quite nice. Perhaps, that will take your mind off things?"

Though hidden, Natsu's eyebrows widened slightly at the mention of one his favourite drinks. With a calm sigh, he eventually caved. "Perhaps…..alright, I'll follow your lead….."

With that said, the young man hoisted his black duffel on his shoulder as he began to walk alongside Kasumi, with a stoic yet subtly curious look. Kasumi noticed this and gave him a small wink in appreciation. In response, Natsu gave a playful scoff as his own way of saying 'thanks'.

"Any gel sheets just in case?" Kasumi smiled, jestfully pointing towards her milky pink purse.

"No thanks…" Natsu chuckled. "I'm good….for now at least….."

Tokyo Rooftops-Evening Time

The night sky often gave a rather peculiar, urban-like atmosphere towards the trendy streets of Tokyo. Neon lights complimented the tall buildings thought bright, flashy colours that was present everywhere from the bustling traffic to advertisements broadcasted on certain skyscrapers, providing more flavour and personality to a city that was already borderline futuristic.

On top of one of the buildings present within the city, Ryu Hayabusa and Takashi Kaido kept a vigilant eye on their surroundings, with the latter watching the daily routine of the streets whereas the former looked further into the distance with his night vision binoculars with a sense of caution. A sigh leaving his lips, the young Kaido eventually sat down, folding his knees as a way of keeping himself warm.

Hayabusa on the other hand did not move from his position, his vision as sharp as a hawk. He tuned his binoculars, scanning every nook and cranny of the neon filled buildings located in front of him and to his side. Occasionally the Super Ninja glanced behind himself; either to check if his partner was okay or in case there was any danger behind them.

A couple of hours passed since their consistent watch. Curiously, Takashi glanced towards the Dragon Ninja began to ask. "Ummm…..Hayabusa?"

"Hmmm…?" He responded, though not entirely distracted. "What is it?"

"Forgive me if I'm asking ….but;remind me what we're supposed to be doing again?"

"We're looking for an individual by the name of Akemi Yukimura." Hayabusa did not give eye contact as he answered. "Since she's an occasional helping hand for the Mugen Tenshin, Ms Bryant figured that she could be a valuable ally and asset to our mission of investigating DOATEC's current status."

"Yukimura, huh?" Takashi sighed, adjusting his legs into a more comfortable seating position. "I might've heard that name somewhere before….doesn't she usually help out with these things only under Lady Ayame's request; according to what you told me when Sarah-San briefed us?"

"You catch on quick, as expected." Hayabusa's mask shrouded his impressed smile. His jade green eyes slowly gave the young Kaido some form of eye contact as he elaborated. "The answer is yes. Most of the time, she spends her days travelling the world in search of solace or some sort of solitary comfort. I suspect that it might have something to do with a certain event that happened in the past, I think. I'm not entirely sure what it is exactly….."

"I see…." Takashi took in, stroking his chin as he processed the information that was given to him. Curiously, he turned towards the Dragon Ninja and asked. "Well….do you at least have some sort of clue what might've happened back then? There must've been something that might have caused her to act this way, right?"

"You should be careful on where a curious tongue may lead you….especially if it addresses a matter which doesn't concern you…."

A mature yet mysterious voice spoke out loud, startling the young Kaido a little. Hayabusa however remained unfazed, his posture still upright as he turned towards the direction where the voice came from.

"Akemi Yukimura, I presume?" The Dragon Ninja asked the anonymous female.

"Correct." The voice answered simply. "You must be Ryu Hayabusa. Super Ninja extrodinare and leader of the famed Hayabusa Ninja clan. Ayame has told me a lot about you…."

The woman slowly emerged herself from the shadows, finally revealing herself to the two individuals. Akemi Yukimura was a martial artist of an average height, dressed up in what appeared to be the top half of a white Kimono with a similar coloured obi tied comfortably around her waist. She also had in addition, black pants as well as black Kung Fu slippers as an interesting contrast to her Kimono. Her jet black hair was rich and pure in colour, just slightly below her shoulders. Despite the fact that she was indeed in her early forties, Akemi's youthful appearance said otherwise as she looked extremely young for her age. However, as a stark contrast to her best friend Ayame, Akemi was quite stoic and taciturn.

"Indeed…." Hayabusa replied, bowing in respect. "In any rate, it's an honour for you to join us Ms Yukimura."

"Likewise." Akemi responded as she returned the bow of courtesy, her stoic expression still intact.

Meanwhile, Takashi decided to intervene a little if only to know a little more about this woman. Passively, with a calm but steady frame of mind, he began to speak. "So, you're the famed Akemi Yukimura Sarah-San speaks so highly of…..is it okay if I ask you a few questions?"

"….You can." Akemi responded calmly, her facial expression slightly warming up to the young man; possibly because he looked familiar. "But in return, may I know your name for starters?"

Takashi mentally slapped himself on the side of his forehead for ignoring such an obvious question. "O-oh…..y-yes of course! Ahem…well, my name is Takashi Kaido. Ninjutsu practioner….well my own self-taught style anyway..."

"My condolences." Akemi nodded in acknowledgement, her hazel brown eyes lifting up slightly as she slowly inspected his appearance a little. Somehow, it reminded her of something very nostalgic; almost to the point of an uncanny resemblance.

"Ummm…..what is it Yukimura-Sama….?" Takashi asked, slightly raising his eyebrows in confusion.

"Strange…..with the exception of the eyes, you remind me of my son a little bit….at least in his early years anyway….."

"Huh…?!" The young Kaido's dragon-like eyes widened, a little taken aback on what Akemi just said. Suddenly, everything made sense. The similar appearance, attitude, to even the eyes and jet black hair. There was no mistaking it! "Son..?! Wait it minute...?! Could it be?! You are….."

"I'm Natsu Kaneshiro's mother…." Akemi finished for him. Noticing the young Kaido's surprised look, her eyebrow was slightly raised, though it was more of surprise rather than condescension. "What's wrong? Are you really that surprised?"

"Well….not exactly….but…." Takashi hesitated, fiddling with his chin a little bit. "I mean….if you are his mother as you say; then how come you share different surnames from each other….seems a little odd..."

"Actually it's not that surprising at all." The older woman clarified as if it were obvious. "In fact, Natsu simply chooses to undergo a different surname; possibly due to his adoration of a certain actor he saw a few years ago." A brief wave of reminiscence crossed Akemi's mind with a brief flash towards her son's previous hobbies. "Funny how names catch on quick….seems like only yesterday…."

"Natsu's a movie fanatic?!" Takashi thought, a little surprised by the small revelation. "That's a little weird...and here I thought he was the biggest sourpuss since Zell...then again, I haven't talked with to the guy much anyway, so what the hell do I know?"

Although hidden, the Phoenix Ninja's face slowly dropped towards sentimentality, his eyes filled with much sadness. "Still….a mother, huh? It'd be nice if mine was still around with me….."

After a brief moment, Akemi retraced her steps mentally as she paced herself with a deep breath. She turned towards the Super Ninja, now directing her focus back to the topic at hand. "So Hayabusa? Since Sarah requested me to meet you two here, could you kindly enlighten me on your overall objective?"

Hayabusa finally set aside his night vision binoculars, giving her proper eye contact as he explained. "Sarah wants us to investigate the whereabouts of Project-Alpha's head scientist, Victor Donovan in case he crops up again to wreak havoc again. Lady Ayame must have informed you about his misdeeds I assume?"

"I've heard his name a couple of times." Akemi replied, folding her arms with a stoic expression. "To be honest, from what I've heard so far, I have to say his plan for the perfect fighter is rather monotonous and pitiful. It's becoming no different from incidents involving the Dural experiments with J6 or even the NESTS cartel several years ago. How disappointing he can't come up with something remotely subtle or original…."

"Yeesshhh!" Takashi exclaimed, a little taken aback by Akemi's blunt form of delivery. "Talk about cold self-awareness! Then again considering her age, she might've seen most of this crap before but still…. like mother, like son, huh?"

Hayabusa let out a small chuckle at the older woman's remark, having known conspiracies like these in his own main missions a few years ago. "I can sympathise with your irritation. Heh…..even I sometimes find plans like these extremely tiresome and somewhat annoying. But regardless…..are you willing to assist us with our mission?"

A deep sigh left Akemi's red lips, her eyes closed as she contemplated her situation for a moment. Should she really help the two Ninja take down a scientist hell-bent on creating the Ultimate fighter for his own selfish ends, or should she just leave the task up to them; especially considering Hayabusa being more than capable of holding them off on his own? She pondered a little over what she options she should consider; though it wasn't difficult for her unlike most to come up with a solid answer.

Slowly, Akemi stood upright accompanied with a reply of conviction. "Alright…..I'll help you. But; in return, may I ask you something?"

"Go ahead." Hayabusa answered politely, dropping his arm fold.

"Natsu…." Akemi's expression slightly softened, holding subtle hints of worry and concern. "How is he? Is he okay? Is he coping well with things at the moment?"

Hayabusa gave off a slight chuckle, understanding the older woman's plight. "Your son is in good health. He's currently on a self-imposed journey for self-improvement. Kasumi is travelling alongside him so he's in safe hands; for now."

"I see…." Akemi said, her hazel eyes slowly lightening up in hope. "So Ayame's daughter is now accompanying him from what I can gather?"

Hayabusa responded with a simple nod.

"Well…..I'm glad to know that he's in good company." Akemi's worried expression turned into a warm smile of gratitude. "Kasumi's a wonderful person to have as a companion….perhaps her compassion could give Natsu a lighter perspective on things; something which he's not been exposed to for the past few years…."

"You did your best….." Hayabusa replied simply. "That's all anyone can ask of a mother; and you've proven to be a capable one from what I've heard. All that's needed is for Natsu undergo his demons on his own. That's all. Believe in him; he will succeed."

Akemi gave a content sigh as her expression was filled with newfound relief, though once again shown with subtlety. "….Thank you."

"No problem." Hayabusa's smile was once again hidden under his mask.

Takashi inspected the overall conversation with a light smile of optimism. "Ahh…so Yukimura-Sama's not as cold as Natsu is after all. Maybe this little 'save the world' gig might actually be pretty fun….let's just hope I don't run into Zell or Maria; otherwise I'm gonna get myself into serious trouble, especially with Helena being the current president of DOATEC!"

Slowly, his yellow pupils shut themselves slightly as he tapped his foot slightly. "Man….I shouldn't worry about these things. I mean, Ryu Hayabusa's here so that's something right?"

"Well then…." Hayabusa's voice called out, instantly snapping the young Kaido out of his thoughts. "Shall we find somewhere more discreet? Maybe we can get Sarah's signal without Helena, Maria or Donovan intercepting ours?"

"That sounds like a good idea…." Akemi nodded in approval.

"Umm…..yeah, I agree." Takashi hastily replied. "Let's get a move on then!"

With that said, the two Ninja alongside Akemi vanished from whence they stood with a teleport ready to face the oncoming trials slowly being established; unbeknownst on what fate really had in store.


Kaneshiro-Sama: I'm finally done! Now I can take some hard earned rest! *lays down on the couch*

Oga: One fight scene in this chapter?! Really?! Are you serious, bastard?! Just exactly what is motivating me to remain in this story, huh?!

Berubo: *shakes fist* Aidapuh! Andabah; Wadabah! (Damn right! Half of the chapter's gossip only for crying out loud! Sooo booored!

Furuichi: *professional look* Technically speaking, Oga. We are in a DOA story after all, so there is bound to be girly gossip in the air at some point. I for one, have to say that I'm pretty satisfied with this chapter so far. It provided a nice balance of hot babes in sexy costumes and violence, so overall I'm pretty happy.

Kaneshiro-Sama: I'm glad you like it Furuichi-dono! *grins* Although your statement does have a fair bit of MILF on your part considering that Akemi appears in this Episode.


Berubo: Mupiii! (What a total screw up…..)

Kaneshiro-Sama: Yeah, right…..Oga, why start the narration? We've got a few minutes till closing time anyway….

Oga: Ooookaaayy then…..Hey guys! Sorry for the long absence! Did ya' miss us?! Yeah? Well, you should be, obviously! Anyways, so tune in next time to Dead or Alive Alpha where we take a look at exciting new plotlines! Will Jacky Bryant exact his cheesy vengeance against the unsuspecting spiky-haired Bruce Lee knock off?


Oga: *ignoring them* And what will Natsu do now that Hitomi has volunteered to be a third RPG party member. Only time will tell! Stay tuned for further updates!

Kaneshiro-Sama: Hopefully when my creative spark is rejuvenated.

Furuichi: Which will probably be never by the rate you're going…..

Kaneshiro-Sama: Do you have to be cynical, Furuichi? Oga? Do the honours….

Oga: Right! *punches Furuichi into a concrete wall* So that's all we have for today! Any last words to the readers, Berubo?

Berubo: Dabu, Dabah, Aidabahh, Wiii! *pauses, then looks to the audience* Dabah, Dabah, daba da…. (Read, review and a new pacifier! Oh….and the recent DLC is just cheating; earning money's hard!)