DISCLAIMER: I claim no ownership to any and all borrowed material used within the confines of this story. Naruto, Strike Witches, Super Robot Wars/Taisen and any others all belong to respective owners, who I am too lazy to look up at the moment. However, know that it is not me.

Before we get started, I'd like to say something. This was partially inspired by Strike Ninja, so no cries of blatant mimicry, alright? Rest assured that this story will be taken in a considerably different direction.


Soaring Leaf

Chapter 1: Out of the Blue


(Sea)

The Sea seemed to stretch out into infinity in every direction: nothing but dark blue water below, and light blue sky above, with numerous clouds filling the void. The only other thing that took form in this particular airspace was the occasional seagull. Well, them and a single being that seemed to hang in place high above the ocean.

The simplest way to describe it was a white suit of armor, decorated with red trims and golden decal across the armor's legs, arms and shoulder guards. Three cylinders extended in a triangular pattern from behind the left hand, each one with an opening at the end. From the back of the armor extended five wing-like protrusions, assisting in keeping the being balanced as the thrusters upon its back and the bottom of its feet roared silently into the empty sky. Holstered against the armor's lower back was a long, thick rifle that sported two openings at its tip, and a length of cord that dangled in the ocean breeze. Two thin red-trimmed fins extended from the white helmet, which possessed a featureless white plate to guard a face that gazed out from behind red lenses, a grey visor-like protrusion featuring a green spherical gem located immediately above the eyes.

As one would probably guess by now, this armor-like being was, in fact, armor. Well, more like a power suit, to be precise. And the occupant was currently bored out of their mind.

"Gah, I am bored out of my mind!"

Told you.

The radio crackled as it came to life, and a female voice chastised, "Stop complaining. Why don't you take in the scenery or something?"

"Nothing but blue and white, and I see that all the time back at the base! I thought you guys said that you picked up a Neuroi signal around here?"

"We did, and we still are. You should've seen it by now, unless you've started going blind from being stupid."

"Well, unless the Neuroi thinks it's a fish, then there is no Neuroi here!"

It was at that moment that a particular sound rang out across the empty sky. A sound so unnatural, so foreign that what produced that noise was not a current inhabitant of this world:

The screech of a Neuroi.

The armored head jerked about in search of the mysterious invader, "Where is it? Where is it? Where is IT?!"

After exhausting every conceivable direction the Neuroi could be approaching from, the head looked down.

"Oh. There it is."

"Where was it hiding?"

"It was imitating a fish."

Indeed, the jet-black coloration of the Neuroi could be made out skimming just beneath the water's surface. Interestingly enough, the large fin-like structure near the back of the Neuroi broke the surface, conjuring up the mental image of a shark. Three red sections could be spotted on the top of the Neuroi, arranged in a triangular pattern, as well as a small patch of red on the thing's fin.

Beneath the helmet, the pilot was wearing the biggest grin, "Found you, you sneaky bastard."

Another voice crackled through the radio, this one male, "Don't get ahead of yourself, idiot. Standard procedure, remember?"

The armored pilot grunted, "I know, I know: I've done this before, ya' know?"

With that, the thrusters flared and roared, guiding the armor down toward the submerged Neuroi. Seeming aware of the new presence, the Neuroi slowed to a halt and rose up from beneath the surface, the water gently cascading off of the Neuroi's sleek form.

"Activating the basic translator."

The pilot's right hand went up to the faceguard of the helmet, fingers slipping around it with the intent of locating the necessary device.

With the translator now operating, the pilot's hand returned to their side, fingers curled in case of the need to act quickly, "Intentions?" A noise akin to the Neuroi's screech emanated out from the helmet.

After several tense seconds, the Neuroi screeched, "OBLITERATE!"

Immediately, the three red patches on the Neuroi's topside began to glow with bright malevolence.

Thrusters roared to life, sending the armored pilot straight up and out of the path of the Neuroi's energy beam assault. Coming to a quick halt, a dual 'click' signaled the release of the large rifle from its place on the armor's back. With a showy midair backflip, the pilot grabbed the rifle and quickly brought it to bear toward the confirmed hostile.

A series of mighty roars echoed across the empty sky as the pilot fired off several rounds into the Neuroi's body, each connecting hit ripping off decent chunks of the creature's outer shell. After putting more than a handful of rounds into the invader, one of the shots blasted away a piece and exposed the red polyhedral Neuroi core.

Seeing the enemy's weakpoint now wide open, the pilot rocketed toward the slowly regenerating Neuroi, left arm cocked back to throw one hell of a punch. As the armored pilot drew close to the Neuroi, which was now preparing to launch another barrage of energy beams to ward its opponent, the openings of the three cylinders behind the left hand began to glow, as if something within them was blazing.

Mere meters away from the target, the pilot's fist thrust forward. A brilliant flash of light gave way to a destroyed core and a Neuroi exploding into countless shimmering white fragments.

The pilot straightened up, reattached the rifle to its holster and disabled the translator, "Well, I shot down the Neuroi. Any other signals nearby, you guys?"

From the radio came a second female voice, this one a bit quieter than the first, "Well, there is one a few kilometers away from your 2 o'clock, but it appears to have already been engaged by a fleet that seems to be traveling from Fuso to Britannia, judging by their trajectory. One of them appears to be the Akagi, so they should be fine on their own."

"Well, darn: I was kind of hoping to get two, today. There's always tomorrow, though, right?"

Suddenly, a distress call from the Akagi. The Neuroi was proving too much of an adversary and they were taking heavy losses.

The pilot gained an almost feral grin beneath the helmet, "Would ya' look at that? I get my wish after all!"

A second male voice, sounding bored, "You're not supposed to let anyone see you: the Director is not going to be happy when she hears about this."

"So I'm supposed to let our allies get taken out just to keep a secret? Sorry, but that just isn't how I do things!"

The first woman's voice rose with infuriation, "I am going to drive my fist through that THICK SKULL of yours when you get back! Do you hear me, N-?!"

The rest of her tirade was drowned out by the armor's roaring thrusters as they propelled the pilot towards the endangered Akagi.

(Sea: with the Akagi)

The Akagi's Captain could only watch helplessly as another beam of red energy sliced across the deck of another ship, producing more explosions. Scowling, he glared at the attacking Neuroi: this one possessed a glider-like main body with a tail-like protuberance. As with virtually every Neuroi, this one sported numerous patches of red along its body, which it used for attack with those damnable energy beams that could cut through battleships with the greatest of ease. Most of the other ships had already been heavily damaged if not outright sunk, and the Akagi itself had taken some hits.

As much as it pained him to lose his ship, he couldn't sacrifice any more of his men: they had no choice but to abandon the Akagi.

But just before he could give the official order...

"You guys look like you're having fun. Mind if I join in?"

Mio blinked at the sound of a male voice coming through her intercom. Glancing about in search of its origin, she responded, "We're trying to hold out for reinforcements from Britannia. Do you think you can help keep the Neuroi at bay until they arrive?"

"Why don't you look up and see for yourself?"

Curious, the Fuso native gazed upward, and was quite surprised to see a white and red humanoid shape plummeting headfirst, straight down toward the attacking Neuroi. As it drew ever closer, she watched as the armor flipped around and extended both feet out, apparently aiming for the Neuroi's right wing. When the newcomer slammed into the unsuspecting Neuroi, making a considerably noticeable dent in the alien's hull, Mio felt some amusement at the clear surprise in the Neuroi's screech as it found itself knocked off center and tilting to the side.

The five wing-like extensions on the armor's back spread out, and the suit quickly moved away from the temporarily-dazed Neuroi. Mio was quick to close in on the mysterious pilot, "That was quite the stunt you just pulled."

The helmet tilted as it looked at her, the male voice from moments ago emanating from her intercom, "Would you be surprised if I said that was something I've always wanted to try?"

The look on Mio's face was one of astonishment, and not the good kind.

The piloted turned his head to focus on the steadily-recovering Neuroi, "Anyway, how long does this one need to be kept occupied?"

Mio's gaze joined his, "The 501st's ETA is less than twenty minutes. Think you can manage to hold it back for that long?"

Though she couldn't see it, she was sure that the man beneath that helmet was smirking, "The real question is can it make me break a sweat?"

The sudden burst from his movement toward the Neuroi forced Mio to stabilize herself, and even though she scoffed, she couldn't help but smirk herself, "Pretty cocky, that one."

Approaching the Neuroi with his rifle at the ready, the pilot spoke softly under his breath, "Alright, sweetie: show me where the core is."

As if responding to the request, the red lens of the helmet shifted to a deep purple. Through them, the pilot spotted a red signature, nestled in between two of the beam generators near the base of the Neuroi's tailfin. He grinned, "Peek-a-boo, I see you."

Dropping beneath the initial barrage of crimson beams, the pilot boosted across the Neuroi's dorsal side, traveling straight down the middle of the alien's back. Passing directly over where the core was located, he took a single shot at the hull right above it to let the thing know that he knew exactly where it was.

As every single topside beam generator began to glow impossibly red, the pilot laughed to himself: if he hadn't gotten its attention when he had dropped onto it, he sure as hell had it now.

As red death began to chase the armored pilot through the air, Mio took this lull in action to lift up the eyepatch that covered her right eye. Taking a better look for the Neuroi's core with her magical vision, she was quite shocked to discover that the sole shot that the newcomer had fired so far had been directly at it. Did he somehow know where it was located, or was it just an extremely lucky guess?

"MAJOR!"

Hearing a familiar voice, Sakamoto turned her eyes back toward the Akagi. Or rather, at the fellow Fuso native currently bumbling through the air towards her using the A6M3A Striker Unit, a 13mm type 99-2-2 machine gun slung across her back.

Mio's uncovered eye visibly widened at the sight, "Miyafuji?"

Yoshika Miyafuji attempted to reach out and grab onto the Major, only to somehow lazily drift right past her, "Major Sakamoto!"

The experienced Witch watched as the girl tumbled aimlessly through the air, "Hey! Where are you going?!"

"I'm here to help!" The younger girl cried.

Several loud bangs of gunfire and the grating sound of metal-against-metal caught the girls' attention, and brought their eyes toward the Neuroi. The armored pilot was dragging the tip of one of his feet against the alien's hull, while he himself was firing off rounds aimed towards its beam generators as he weaved between the beams themselves. Every so often, a well-placed shot would deal enough damage that the Neuroi was forced to halt its attack in order to regenerate.

Mio scowled, "What on earth is he doing?! Why isn't he aiming for the core?" Shaking off her irritation, she grabbed Yoshika and pulled her close, "Miyafuji, I'm going to need your help in bringing down this Neuroi."

Blushing slightly at the close proximity, the Shiba Inu-eared girl's eyes focused on the armored pilot currently engaging the Neuroi, "Major, who is that?"

Mio looked at the mystery pilot as well, "I don't know just who he is, but anyone willing to take on a Neuroi to protect others is alright by me. Now," she pulled Miyafuji to where their faces were cheek-to-cheek and pointed her katana toward the base of the Neuroi's tailfin, "The Neuroi's core is located there, right beneath the surface. We take it out, and the Neuroi goes out with it. Think you can do it?"

Her face redder than before, Yoshika's voice wavered with uncertainty, "I don't know. What can I do?"

The soft look on Mio's face never faltered: she understood fully well that the girl was nervous about her first combat situation. She smiled, "I'm going to help our mystery friend keep the Neuroi distracted. I want you to hang back and try to snipe the core from a safe distance. Can you do that?"

Yoshika swallowed nervously, "I... I'll do my best!"

"That's all I ask. Now let's get rid of this thing!"

"Roger!"

Sakamoto broke away from Miyafuji and took off down toward the Neuroi and the unknown pilot who had jumped into the fray seemingly on a whim. Apparently hearing the magical rotors of her own A6M3A Striker Unit, the pilot broke away from the Neuroi to regroup with her.

The first thing out of his mouth was rather surprising for someone who had just spent several minutes engaging a Neuroi almost face-to-face:

"Finally decided to join the party? I was getting lonely all by myself, ya' know."

The Doberman-eared Major was utterly baffled: how could this guy act so casual and carefree in the middle of combat?!

He continued, "Hope you don't mind, but I kinda ended up eavesdropping on your little talk with Miyafuji: so you volunteered to be bait with me?"

"A crude way of putting it, but yes."

"Then let's make this more interesting, shall we? A little friendly competition."

Sakamoto raised a brow, "What in the world are you-?"

"Whoever can hold the Neuroi's attention longest, wins. Loser has to pay for dinner. Sound good?"

Mio's face turned red, from anger or embarrassment, she couldn't tell, "Just who do-?!"

"Great! GO!"

Laughing like a young kid, the faceless pilot launched back toward the Neuroi. Face still red from what she was certain was irritation, the Strike Witch followed with blade at the ready.

Dropping closer to the ocean surface, the pilot turned to where his back was toward the water and unleashed a volley of shots into the Neuroi's underside. Meanwhile, Sakamoto drove her sword into the alien's dorsum and dragged it a fair distance before removing it and pulling ahead of the Neuroi. In response to the double assault, the Neuroi was quick to launch its own counterattack, every forward beam generator visible opening fire on both of its assailants.

Miyafuji, keeping her distance, was preparing to fire at the invader. However, she hesitated for several seconds too long, and several of the beam generators on the Neuroi's back fired at her, forcing her to bring up her magic shield before they reached her.

Sakamoto's voice came through her intercom, "Are you okay?"

Miyafuji responded, her voice shaking slightly, "Yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry, Ma'am. I-I can still fly, just... give me a second."

This had confirmed what Mio had thought earlier. 'It's her first flight, her first battle: she's had enough.'

Having recomposed herself, Miyafuji spoke up, "One more time: please let me try!"

"Alright, then: get ready. We may not have much more time to destroy it."

Then, for the first time, Miyafuji heard the pilot's voice, "Says you: I could've shot it down by now."

The girl blinked as Sakamoto shouted angrily over the intercom, "Then why the hell didn't you?!"

"You said 'distract' it, not 'destroy' it when I asked. Anyway, let's kill this thing and I'll get out of your hair, okay?"

To the surprise of both girls, the pilot shot up towards the Neuroi, looking like he was going to ram it in a suicidal attack. That surprise turned into absolute shock when the next shot out of his rifle was not a bullet, but a blue beam of energy roughly as thick as a human is tall. The beam ripped a hole in the Neuroi's wing, which the pilot flew through to quickly reach the thing's dorsal side. Immediately after popping out of the hole, he opened fire with a flurry of bullets aimed toward where the core was hiding.

The Neuroi, seemingly in a state of absolute panic at the sudden brutality of the attack, fired as many energy beams as it could toward the pilot, who nimbly dodged every last one of them, keeping close to the hexagonal-patterned surface.

Struck with a sudden realization, Miyafuji dove down toward the Neuroi, 'If I tried the same thing again, it would just hit me again. I have to stay close to it!' Flying just a few meters above the surface of the Neuroi, with red streaks of energy tearing past her, she neared where the core was hiding. She readied her machine gun once more, 'I'm going to protect everyone!' Closing in, she opened fire on the black surface, pelting it with bullets until part of it shattered, revealing the target.

All three of them breaking away, each of them with similar-yet-different intentions: one to destroy the core, one to witness the first's first Neuroi kill, and the third ready to act should the first fail to succeed.

Despite practically having the Neuroi dead-to-rights, Yoshika Miyafuji could not find the strength to fire another shot.

Within the pilot's armor, an alarm sounded: a single shot coming from somewhere behind him, intending to take out the Neuroi.

"Oh, HELL NO!"

Quickly lifting his rifle, the pilot fired his own shot.

All those present were treated to the sight of two bullets seeming to race each other for the right to destroy the Neuroi's core. Both disappeared into the opening containing the core, and after several tense seconds, the Neuroi began to break apart into countless white fragments.

Rifle clicking back into place, the pilot watched as Mio quickly retrieved Yoshika, preventing the tired girl from plummeting into the ocean below. He grinned at the sight: seeing the older woman holding the young girl akin to a bride amidst a storm of white shards was quite the romantic sight.

Turning in the direction that the shot had come from, he was quite unnerved to see four more of the girls approaching: the reinforcements from the 501st, he surmised. He had already taken enough of a risk with just two Witches seeing him: he didn't need more finding out and landing him into further hot water with the boss. He turned to bolt, when...

"Hey."

Dammit.

"Yes, Major?"

"Meet us down on the flight deck of the Akagi: I want to thank you face-to-face."

Double dammit.

Despite knowing he should be on his way back home right now, he did as he was asked and slowly descended toward the damaged aircraft carrier. Despite the chewing out that he was sure to get when he got back, he listened to the cheers that he was sure were for a mixture of Yoshika and himself saving the Akagi and its crew and smiled. Despite all the invasive questions he knew were incoming, he just couldn't resist being thanked by hot girls.

Speaking of girls: now that the immediate danger had passed, he now had the opportunity to get a calmer view of the two Witches he had just fought alongside. Mio Sakamoto was a fairly attractive young woman, and that white eyepatch with the blue bar across it, along with the katana slung across her back, made her look like a warrior maiden. She wore what appeared to be some sort of officer's jacket. Yoshika Miyafuji had more of a cute appeal to her, and her sailor fuku merely added to it.

Having removed Yoshika's Striker Unit, Mio turned to look at the pilot, her face calm, "I cannot thank you enough for lending us aid: without your help, I am certain that many more lives would've been lost today."

"Uh, no problem?" The pilot shrugged, "Always willing to help out folks in trouble. Gotta use this power for something, so why not use it to protect those in need?"

Mio blinked: although it was oddly phrased, that was very similar to what Dr. Miyafuji used to say.

"MAJOR SAKAMOTO!"

A girl with platinum-blonde hair landed off to the side, golden eyes focused solely on the Major from behind a pair of glasses. She wore a blue jacket and black skintight pants. On her back was a Bren light machine gun. Her magical ears and tail were those of a Chartreux cat.

Mio stared at the girl, "What is it, Perrine?"

An agitated voice barked, "Lieutenant Clostermann! What do you think you're doing?!"

The other three Witches touched down, but one in particular caught the pilot's eye. It wasn't the brown hair, with part of the back done into fairly-lengthed thin pigtails that reminded him of someone he knew. It wasn't her seemingly amber eyes. It wasn't even the gray coat that flicked in the breeze. No, it was the two MG42s that she was carrying, one in each hand. He gulped audibly: he certainly hoped she didn't have the same attitude as her.

He found himself under the gaze of that very Witch, who asked, "What in the world is that thing?"

Mio smiled, "That, Barkhorn, is the person who kept that Neuroi distracted until we were able to launch a counterattack against it."

Gertrud Barkhorn's eyes widened in surprise at what she had just heard, "Really? I doubt very many Witches could do the same. Excellent work, soldier."

The pilot shook his head, "Sorry, but I'm not a soldier."

The Karlsland Witch's loud noise of shock caused Mio to raise a brow, "Is something wrong, Trudy?"

The situation turned tense when Barkhorn brought both of her MG42s level to the man's armored torso, "Come out of there right now and identify yourself!"

Astonished, Mio glared at the captain, "What on earth has gotten into you?! This man is responsible for-!"

The pilot raised his arm in a placating manner, "It's alright, Major: I can understand what she's feeling right now. Give me a second, would ya'?"

Yoshika slowly came to as six lines appeared on the front of the mysterious armor, running along both arms and legs and two crossing the middle of the torso. The collected Witches watched in awe as the armor opened like a flower, revealing a decidedly more human being that hopped out onto the flight deck. He wore a dark-orange skintight bodysuit, the feet of which were designed to separate the big toe from the others. To keep himself from being obscene, he wore what could basically be called protective briefs.

But what caught their attention more than what he wore was what he himself looked like: a healthy complexion, blue eyes that seemed to shine like sapphires, a head of spiky blond hair, and three lines on both of his cheeks, which were presently crinkled because of the grin on his face.

He playfully saluted the Witches, "Naruto Uzumaki: test pilot for R&D. Nice to meetcha!"

"UZUMAKI!"

The crackled shout of a woman rang out from the direction of Naruto's armor. As for the man himself, the Witches stared as the color seemed to drain from his face and his grin faltered. He slowly turned to look at the power suit, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, "H-Hey, Boss Lady. Something up?"

"You could certainly say that, Uzumaki," the woman began, her voice churning with irritation, "I sent you out in the Abend to test the new Oxtongue Rifle in live combat, and I hear from your coworkers that you went and-"

Mio blinked: that voice sounded familiar. She was sure that she had heard that voice during her time working with Dr. Miyafuji on the Striker Unit. It sounded an awful lot like...

"Dr. Radom?"

The voice from Naruto's radio halted her tirade, "Well, well, well. Is that Mio Sakamoto I hear? Imagine that."

Mio approached the armor, the "Abend" as the older woman called it, "Dr. Radom, you claim to know this man, correct? Just who is he, and why does he have access to such... advanced technology?"

A heavy sigh came over the airwave, "I can't reveal such sensitive information at a time like this, Sakamoto. Give me some time, and I'll be on my way to Folkestone to talk about this face-to-face."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Uzumaki, you will be accompanying the 501st back to their base, where we are going to have a little chat about secrecy, understood?"

Naruto knew better than to argue with the Director, "Got it."

"One of these days, I will make you respect me. Until then, make yourself useful."

The signal cut off, and Mio's old colleague regarding development of the Striker Unit was gone.

Naruto chuckled weakly, "So: when do we leave?"


(Folkestone, Britannia: 501st JFW "Strike Witches" base)

"Name: Naruto Uzumaki. Date of Birth: October 10th, 1927. Height: 166 centimeters, weight: 50.9 kilograms. Blood type: B. Nationality: the Empire of Fuso. Well, everything appears to be in order here," the red-haired Lieutenant Colonel Minna-Deitlinde Wilcke declared, gently closing the folder of Naruto's information she had on her desk. She smiled at the person seated in front of her, "I must admit it is quite an honor to have a private audience with you, Dr. Marion Radom. Apparently, it isn't very often that you speak to anyone outside of your division."

The stony-faced lab coat-clad redhead nodded, "Yes, well: having one of my subordinates informing me frequently of that habit has convinced me to get out a bit more." She sent a scathing glance at the only male in the room out of the corner of her eye.

"Getting mad at me won't make it any less true, Boss Lady."

Dr. Radom growled under her breath, "Insubordinate little bastard."

Mio straightened up, "Commander Minna: permission to ask the Doctor and Uzumaki some questions?"

Minna sighed at Mio's straight-lace attitude, "Granted."

"Dr. Radom, would you kindly explain just what that weapon was that Uzumaki used against the Neuroi?"

A slightly proud look ghosted over Marion's face, "Ah, yes: the Oxtongue. It is an experimental rifle that we're hoping to be able to mass-produce for use against the Neuroi. As I'm quite certain you have witnessed by now, the most prominent feature of the Oxtongue is its ability to fire both manmade rounds and Energy Beams."

Minna's slouch disappeared, "Energy Beams? You mean that this rifle is able to utilize the primary attack of a Neuroi against it?"

Marion nodded, "Correct. Through extensive research and trial-and-error testing, we have managed to produce an Energy effect not unlike that used by the Neuroi. Obviously, this will be quite useful in combatting them." She then gestured to Naruto, "At the moment, the only combat-ready Oxtongue available is currently being used by Uzumaki, here. Due to the successful trial run of it, however, we should soon be able to make more of them."

Mio, seeming to accept the answer, began, "Now, regarding the armor: I believe you referred to it as the 'Abend'?"

Minna blinked at the name, which was Karlslandian in origin, "Morning? Its name is 'Morning'?"

Suddenly, Dr. Radom's expression became considerably colder, "The full name is Weissritter Abend, and I'm afraid that discussing any deeper than that is not favorable to us in the slightest."

Mio was rather surprised by the sudden, if muted, hostility of her old acquaintance, "You believe that we would somehow use your own work against you?"

The woman shook her head, "Not at all, but you must understand: there are those in any military who would do whatever it takes to get a leg up over everyone else. I would be absolutely disgusted to see my work used against fellow humans, rather than the Neuroi they were intended for."

Minna nodded her head in understanding.

Marion barely spared the blond male a glance, "Uzumaki, I need to discuss something in private with the Lieutenant Colonel: go check on the Abend and make sure that you replenish the Oxtongue's physical rounds."

Naruto gave his superior a salute, and swiftly exited the room.

Minna looked at her friend and fellow Witch, "Mio, didn't you say you were going to show Yoshika her father's old lab?"

Mio saluted her superior officer, and left just as quickly as the blond before her.

Elbows on the armrests of her chair, Dr. Radom folded her fingers before her face in a steeple, "Let me guess: you are still curious about the Abend, aren't you?" At Minna's expected nod, she continued, "While it is against R&D policy to openly discuss such delicate information in an unsecure environment, there wouldn't be anything I could do if you just so happened to see what the Abend is capable of if it were under your jurisdiction."

Minna's eyes widened.

"But there would be a catch: the only person around capable of utilizing it to any worthwhile potential is currently making their way to the hanger."

Minna looked cross, "Having a man fly into combat alongside the Witches? How can you-?"

Dr. Radom leaned forward, her face the definition of serious, "Let me say this: Naruto Uzumaki can be a boisterous, ignorant, all-around pain in the ass, but he has proven his worth time and again. He considers his friends to be more important than himself, and will do whatever it takes to make sure they make it home safe." She then reclined in her seat and rested a cheek upon her hand, a smirk taking form, "Not only that, but he also possesses an interesting array of skills unlike anything I've ever seen: I'm certain he can make more than one member of the 501st green with envy."

She then fixed the younger woman with a knowing look, "So, how about it: care to give him a shot?"

(Hanger)

"Wow! Pretty fancy equipment, I'll tell you that much!"

That was the exclamation given by the orange-haired flight lieutenant from the United States of Liberion. An ample bosom bounced as she circled the fascinating white-and-red armor, blue eyes hungrily taking in every minute detail that they could see. Charlotte "Shirley" E. Yeager just knew that this thing was built for speed, and come hell or high water she'd have one for herself: maybe with blue instead of red?

Behind the thing she had borne witness to mere hours earlier, Gertrud's attention was focused mostly on the strange rifle, "According to the Major, this rifle fired off an Energy Beam like a Neuroi's. But how is that possible: it's just a customized rifle, isn't it?"

Arms folded, Perrine scoffed, "Even if Major Sakamoto said it, I sincerely doubt that some random man would be in possession of such a weapon. The very idea is nothing short of out-!"

Wh-CRACK!

"EEK!"

Perrine's hands quickly made to gently take hold of her stinging rear, to the amusement of a cackling young girl holding the cord that dangled from the rifle's non-business end. She had skin several shades darker than her fellow present Witches, and her black hair was fashioned to where two long tails fell on either side of her head.

Shirley laughed, "Nice one, Francesca!"

A soft voice from behind her made her jump slightly, "Excuse me: please don't play around with that."

The Witches moved to get a look at the speaker...

...and blanched: this guy was huge!

Standing a good three heads taller than Shirley and considerably muscular, his skin was a deathly shade of white, with short white hair to match. His eyes were a deep blue, and seemed to hold little emotion in them. He continued with the same soft voice, "The weapon you see before you, the Oxtongue rifle, is currently one of a kind. Please be careful not to damage it, as repairing it would be difficult to do outside of the lab."

A second male voice called out, "Atlas? That you?"

All eyes turned to see a blond-haired male enter the room. The large soft-spoken man, Atlas, seemed to brighten at his appearance as a small smile took form, "Hello, Naruto: it is nice to see you, today."

Naruto grinned as he drew near, arms held out wide, "None of that formal junk, big guy! Come here and give me a hug!"

The Witches watched in varying degrees of amusement as the shorter man promptly threw his arms as far as he could around the pale giant in a friendly embrace, who reciprocated by giving him several single-handed hearty pats on the back. Shirley, the only Witch present who hadn't yet seen the blond, quickly came to a conclusion that she figured the others should have already made: the new guy was hot! That athletic build, that sun-touched skin, those gorgeous blue eyes!

Naruto released the larger man, "So what's up, Atlas: you got stuck with escort duty?"

Atlas nodded slightly, and motioned toward several crates of varying sizes, "Dr. Radom also wanted to make certain you had extra armaments for your return trip, after her business here is concluded. On our way here, we noticed that..." His blue eyes skimmed across the Witches, as if judging them, before continuing, "...that there has been a slight increase in the number of active Neuroi scouts over the past few days."

Naruto clasped his hands tightly together, eyes sparkling in delight, "You brought Akatsuki and me some new toys?!"

His face fell a bit when the large man shook his head, "Nothing new: just weapons that you've used before and are accustomed to."

Gertrud approached the pair, her gaze directed toward Naruto, "Excuse me, but you mentioned someone else just now. Who is Akatsuki?"

Grinning, Naruto pointed at the armor, "That's Akatsuki: she's been my partner for a while now. Kept my backside from getting fried by Neuroi." It was at this time that he noticed a new face, and thrust his hand toward Shirley, still grinning, "Hiya! Name's Naruto Uzumaki!"

With a friendly smirk, she took his hand and gave it a firm shake, "Charlotte Yeager, but you can call me Shirley. Hope to get to fly alongside you sometime."

He nodded, "That'd be great." He released her hand, "Well, I'd better get ready to skedaddle: Boss Lady doesn't like being kept waiting."

The clicking of heels against stone announced the arrival of the two redheads in respective charge.

Dr. Radom made her way toward the blond, "Change of plans, Uzumaki: you're being temporarily reassigned."

Naruto's eyes widened, "Reassigned?! Where?"

This time, it was Minna who responded, "You will remain here on a probationary trial period." She smiled, "Let me be the first to welcome you to the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, Sergeant Naruto Uzumaki."

Of all the reactions that Minna and the Witches expected from Naruto, a heavy sigh of what seemed like defeat was not one of them. Seeing him looking at her, Marion jerked her head toward the transport waiting outside that she and Atlas had arrived in, "Go get it, brat."

Watching Naruto walk out the giant hanger opening, Minna gave the Doctor a look, "What was that about?"

The older woman had the biggest smirk, "A pact that Uzumaki and his friends made not too long after coming under my employ: if any of them got reassigned and put under any form of a trial period, they would be required to camp out at their new location until after their first mission there. After that, they'd be allowed to actually stay." Seeing the looks she was getting, she shrugged, "Don't look at me: they're the ones that came up with it." With that, she turned and walked out after her subordinate.

(Runway)

She caught up to Naruto as he was exiting the transport plane, an arm-length bundle tucked under his left arm. He looked at her, "Anything else, Doc?"

To his (carefully hidden) surprise, Dr. Radom gave him a soothing look, "Don't even think for a second that this is some kind of punishment, Uzumaki. I can tell that you've been cooped up back at the lab, and you enjoy being out in the open more than being hidden. This should be a nice change of pace for you: get some fresh air, make new friends..." Her look suddenly became rather sly, "Maybe find yourself a special someone?"

She laughed when Naruto's face turned bright red and he started sputtering, "Wh-what?! Is the sun getting to you, or something?!"

"Don't even try to deny it, brat: there's at least half a dozen good-lucking girls on this base. Who knows? One of them just might be the one for you."

Naruto looked down at his feet, "I doubt it."

Before the woman could say another word, he walked away, his destination appearing to be a forested area of the base where he could set up his temporary camp.

Atlas made his way to her side, as Minna and the other Witches approached silently. Sighing to herself, Dr. Radom gave Minna one last look, "Next time one of you sees him, let him know that a care package will be on its way, alright?"

Minna nodded, "Of course, Doctor. Have a safe trip back."

The older woman glanced at the large man near her, "Atlas, we're leaving."

"Yes, Ma'am."

(Forest: Naruto's campsite)

Sitting on a log that he had moved near his tent, Naruto busied himself with tying his survival knife to a branch that he had whittled.

Hearing the sound of the transport plane taking off in the distance, he sighed to himself before climbing to his feet: dinner wasn't going to catch itself, after all.


Before anyone asks or starts making suggestions, I am going to make this clear here and now: this is NOT going to be a harem story. Naruto is going to have one girl and one girl ONLY. The original plan was going to cause him to get together with two of the Witches, but then I decided that I didn't feel like trying to make it work.

Anywho, feel free to review: compliments are nice, but constructive criticism is useful, as well. Just don't blatantly flame, alright?