Chapter 15 Resolve Against the Awakened One

Total silence, even the animals seem to give the traveling group a wider berth than normal. The air was filled with hostility. Still Sakura couldn't believe it, but nothing had been said since they left the village. Naruto was glaring at Sai and even Zoro as they traveled to the bridge. She let out a defeated sigh.

'What kind of teamwork are we going to display if we can't even get along.' She thought. "But… even I wouldn't mind if he wasn't here." She said softly as she looked at Zoro. 'Bringing Sasuke's worst enemy to save him, this whole mission seems slated to fail from the start.'

"What reason would they let you come with us?" Naruto said. "This is supposed to be a stealth mission. You're going to be useless. Go back to Konoha."

"If we're going to gain this information from someeone we don't even know, we might run into some sort of problems." Sai said as he looked at Zoro. "Someone of his skills would be a great fallback plan."

Naruto and Sakura eyed Zoro. It was obvious to them, the backup plan Sai just mentioned was.

"Zoro is under strict orders not to act in any way that would jeopardize this mission." Yamato said as he began to defuse the situation before it got out of hand. "He has been given restrictions on his actions towards Sasuke."

Naruto looked at Zoro and the look of disdain at the comment shown in his face. "So Granny took care of that too." Naruto said with a smile on his face and Sakura let out a sigh of relief. "Well thanks for coming then! We can use you to hold off Orochimaru as long as you can while we deal with Sasuke!" Naruto declared all hostility gone.

Sai inwardly cursed. His ploy to turn all attention and suspicion onto Zoro had failed even though it was a feeble attempt. He was sure he could use Naruto's gullibility to split him and Zoro apart, then Sakura would be the easier to deal with then… but now…. Sai looked to Zoro who was staring back at him. 'Now he suspects something.' Sai said as he flashed Zoro a fake smile. 'I'll have to find a way to deal with them before I continue our mission.'

Sai looked over to Naruto, who had dropped his smile and was now staring at him. "Please stop staring at me." Sai said "Don't make me hit you."

"Every damn thing you say just pisses me off!" Naruto yelled a little ashamed that he let Sai's words to plant seeds of doubt into his heart and nearly start a chain reaction that could have ruined the friendship he had built with the swordsman.

"I don't have any malice towards you." Sai said.

"Liar!" Naruto yelled in response getting angrier as the moments passed.

"I'm just trying to put on that kind of attitude." Sai continued.

"So, you do have malice!" Naruto retorted. "Why are you even here?! All you do is piss people off!"

"Hey!" Yamato said as he stopped to turn to the arguing pair. "How can you continue to say something like that right in front of your captain, Naruto. Teamwork and cooperation are the most important things in a team. I thought Kakashi had already taught you that. For someone like you to be on a team with the great Kakashi... what's with this attitude?"

"Because he's not a member of Team Kakashi!" Naruto yelled.

"So you'd rather we left him and just took Zoro?" Yamato replied.

"No!" Naruto yelled before trailing off. "I know where he stands…. The other member of Team Kakashi is Sasuke!" After the declaration silence swept over the group for a small while. "Both you and Zoro…. are just here to fill the gap." Naruto said he pointed at Sai. "But you, I'd accept Zoro as the fifth member of our team, but I'll never accept someone like you as a team member!"

Sai simply smiled at the declaration. "Well… I'm glad you think of me like that." He said. "I wouldn't want to be likened to the weak shit for brains Orochimaru's clone who only cared about power and ran off to Orochimaru, betraying Konoha."

Zoro couldn't believe he was partially agreeing with Sai. He could see the anger boiling up inside Naruto.

"You bastard…." The orange clad ninja said as he clenched his fist and began to walk towards Sai before Sakura stopped him.

"Yamato is right. The most important thing is teamwork." She said stepping between the two. "Sai… since he doesn't know you all that well he just said too much. I'm sorry. Please forgive Naruto."

"Sakura…" Naruto said taken back by Sakura's words.

"I'm glad one of you is reasonable." Yamato said.

"Think nothing of it." Sai said with a smile.

"That's good…" Sakura said with a smile on her face, then in the blink of an eye she balled up her fist and punched Sai to the surprise of the other three. "On the other hand, me, you don't have to forgive."

"You completely fooled me…." Sai said as he rubbed his face.

"Since you don't seem to know anything about Sasuke, don't talk about things you have no idea about!" Sakura yelled her eye burrowing a hole through Sai "If you bad mouth Sasuke one more time... I won't hold back…." Zoro silently watched the exchange. Going this far for someone who willingly left for a trivial thing as power, he'd never get anyone like that. Even with his experience with Luffy, Chopper,

"Shichuutou No Jutsu!" Yamato yelled snapping Zoro's train of thought. He watched at a wooden cage formed right before him. "If you guys won't stop arguing, I'll have to toss you in a cage."

Zoro looked at the cage. 'Wood. First time I've seen any ninja type do this.' He thought as he gave the structure a quick look over.

"Which one would you prefer Zoro?" Yamato asked Zoro who looked at the wide eyed Yamato.

"It doesn't matter to me." Zoro said. Naruto and Sakura looked at him with shock and fear!

"Where you even listening!" The two said in unison.

*Outside away from Hot Spring*

Yamato didn't understand this kid. He thought that he would relax with the rest of the squad but Roronoa Zoro insisted on training instead. Not wanting someone with a legendary sense of direction alone, he made a clone to watch over the swordsman. He thought he would just do some basics or something light but he's been going on nonstop for what seems like hours.

"Zoro, we can't have you worn out before we get to the bridge." Yamato said.

"This is nothing." Zoro said as he continued with his workout.

"This is due to your encounter with Kisame." Yamato said getting straight to the point.

He hit the nail on the head yet Zoro showed no emotions. Kisame joined Mihawk on the short list of people to push him to his extremes and the shark has done it twice.

"We need you at 100% Zoro." Yamato said "We can't have you potentially injuring yourself preparing for a fight that you never know could happen."

Zoro stopped and looked at the older man. "I don't know what corner that shark might stalk me from. You're right I don't know when he'll come from me. So I'll force them to seek me. I'll kill every member of the Akatsuki until they send him to get me or he's the last one left."

Yamato's jaw dropped. "Z-zoro! A chunin like you declaring you'll destroy a group full of elite ninjas… Even for you this is outlandish!"

"I'll be ready." Zoro said. "I can't afford to die here, I have people waiting for me and before I go meet them I'll deal with Kisame."

'People waiting….?' Yamato thought as he watched Zoro return to his work. "You know I'm going to have to report your intentions." Yamato said.

"Do what you like." Zoro said.

He didn't want to admit it but as much as Zoro's power is a welcome addition to this dangerous mission, he'd rather had Zoro stayed back in Konoha. All reports on Zoro state against it, but seeing Zoro's drive to fight Kisame if he decides to attack Sasuke ignoring Tsunade's direct orders, what steps would he have to take to stop him.

*Later *

Zoro and Sakura stood on the sidelines as Sai and Naruto struggled to work together. Sakura looked over to the swordsman who had been assigned to protect her in this operation. She smiled at the green haired boy gaining an inquisitive look from the boy. She felt unusually safe with him watching over her. Of all the people, just a couple of months ago she would have been totally against this set up but now…

"What." Zoro said in his usual dry voice.

"Just thinking about this strange turn of events." Sakura said. "You tried to kill me years ago, now you're assigned to protect my life. To think we would be friends."

Zoro smiled a little bit before returning to his usual stoic face. "Time changes all things." He said as he closely watched Sai and Naruto. "If what I thought was true you wouldn't be here right now. Both Naruto and Ino keep on telling me to trust you and what I've seen they might be right."

As the teamwork between Naruto and Sai began to break further down the conversation between Sakura and Zoro died down as they watched more closely.

"Don't worry." Zoro said. "I won't let any harm come to you."

"Thanks Zoro…" Sakura said.

*Tenchi Bridge*

The group of four watched as Yamato, disguised as Sasori. They made it to the bridge at the appointed time. The trip didn't go unrewarded, soon after a hooded figure showed up on the opposite side of the bridge. The four watched as the cloaked figure walked towards "Sasori".

The familiar face of Kabuto appeared as he removed his hood. Zoro gripped his sword. He had wanted another chance to fight this guy since there little stand-off at Tanzaku.

"Him again…" Naruto said in disbelief.

"No way… Kabuto was the Akatsuki spy all along." Sakura stated.

The four tried to listen in on the conversation.

"The wind's really strong, I can't pick up anything they're saying." Naruto complained.

"Idiot! That's why we're able to get so close!" Sakura said raising her voice a little bit. "Our sound and scent are carried away by the wind, so they don't know we're here."

After that brief standoff they just continued to watch the bridge. No movement other than simple gestures.

"…. Just what is he doing! Why doesn't he just go ahead with the capture already!?" Naruto said wanting to get the info on Sasuke sooner rather than later.

"This is Kabuto where talking about." Sakura stated. "If he were to get away, then things would end there. Taking things almost too carefully here is just what the captain needs to do here."

"Still… if he takes things any more careful than he needs to and ends up arousing suspicion then he'll lose his chance to capture the target." Sai added. Zoro simply kept quiet. All this capture talk wasn't his area of expertise. Then a commotion on the bridge Kabuto jumped beside "Sasori" and on the other side was…

"Orochimaru!" Zoro said as a sinister smile forming on his face, drawing both the Wado and Shusui.

"Wait Zoro! We have to wait for the captain's signal!" Sakura said as the swordsman placed his foot on the rock they were hiding behind.

"Tch." Zoro said as he stepped back to watch the situation develop.

He didn't have to wait long before Kabuto showed his true colors and attacked the disguised Yamato and Orochimaru launched an attack at the vulnerable ninja. After they exchanged at couple of words Yamato gave the signal and the four jumped into action.

"…. You two again…." Kabuto said as his eyes went from Zoro to Naruto.

"Kuku, I expected the Kyuubi boy to show up but not you too Zoro. I really want to play with you, to test how much you have grown."

"I'm the one you're going to play with!" Naruto growled as his features began to change. "Give back Sasuke!"

Sai and Sakura stared at Naruto with a little shock on their face. Zoro wasn't surprised since he'd seen something like this before.

"There's no giving back, Naruto." Kabuto said coolly. "Here, let me explain it to you. Sasuke came to us of his own free will. It's about time you got over it. Going on like that is hardly behaving like a man."

"Shut your mouth four eyes!" Sakura lashed out. "You don't know a damned thing about Naruto's feelings! I've had more than enough of your "cool" attitude!"

"If you want to know about Sasuke, why don't you try to force it out of me?" Orochimaru said. "If you can, that is…." Zoro felt the bridge break around him he guarded his face from the debris before turning back to the Snake and his lackey only to see a chakra cloaked Naruto attacking Orochimaru.

'! One tail cloak!' Zoro thought as his dealings with Utakata rang back into his mind. They watched as Orochimaru was sent flying into the forest. They all watched Naruto carefully.

'I didn't expect him to get like this.' Zoro thought as he started to factor this new development into his battle strategy. 'Jiraiya must have taught him to control it.'

"My oh my!" Orochimaru said as he walked out of the forest voice dripping with poisonous honey. His true face, or the face of the person sacrificed for his imperfect immortality, appeared from behind a broken mask. "You sure have become quite the Jinchuriki, Naruto."

The group looked in surprise that he was simply walking back to them like nothing had happened.

"And that explains why you were chosen to watch over him." The snake sanin continued. "It would appear my experiments were of some help after all. I should think Konoha would be a bit more…. appreciative. Wouldn't you agree dearest guinea pig of mine?"

Zoro looked at Yamato assuming he was in the same position as Anko.

"Guinea pig? Just who is this person?" Kabuto asked. Before Orochimaru could get too in depth with his explanation Naruto let out a bestial growl.

"Hmmm." The snake sanin said a little annoyed about being interrupted in such a manner. "Before that I wish to see our Sasuke fight the Kyuubi boy once. I wonder which had gotten stron…."

"He isn't yours!" Naruto interjected as his cloak began to bubble forming two more tails. "In my presence, don't you dare talk of Sasuke as though he belongs to you!"

Murderous intend began to roll off of Naruto like winds rushing out of a storm. Zoro was taken aback by this. He has seen Naruto serious but those instances pale in comparison to what he was seeing now. Naruto let out another beastly growl as chakra churned around his body. He stared at Orochimaru and let out a blood curdling roar. Zoro noticed Kabuto phase from sight and reappear on the opposite side of the bridge, chakra scalpel engaged in a full on rush towards the back of Naruto. The swordsman moved to protect his friends back from Orochimaru's personal medical ninja.

Before he could prepare himself to receive the ninja all of his danger senses went all. He looked back and saw Naruto staring at him with the same ferocity that he did Orochimaru. Sai and Yamato had moved back but Sakura was still frozen by shock and fear from Naruto's actions and transformation. Zoro quickly grabbed the pink haired girl and jumped into the air as Naruto let out a blast that sent Kabuto speeding back in the opposite direction. Naruto quickly pulled himself up and chased after the retreating Orochimaru. Zoro looked over to the side of he now bridgeless ravine where they originally where to see Sai form one of his bird drawings and began flying towards him and the still stunned Sakura. Zoro sheathed the Shusui and reached out for the bird's talon. Only for the bird to move further out and away from his reach.

"Sai!" Zoro yelled only to get no response as he fell farther into the ravine. If it wasn't for the now responsive girl in his other hand he would have attacked him. Zoro noticed a branch began to stretch towards him. He quickly grabbed it to stop his fall.

Yamato let out a small sigh of relief as Zoro began to pull himself and Sakura up the branch and back onto the broken bridge. Things have gotten out of hand, Sai's desertion and Naruto's going berserk. He was warned about this… He quickly sent out a clone to chase after the rampaging Naruto as Zoro and Sakura joined him on the busted bridge.

"Thank you, Zoro." Sakura said as Zoro dusted himself off.

"Yea." He replied.

"But was that really Naruto..." Sakura said. "Was that the power of a Jinchuriki?!" The three looked into the distance as an ominous power started to rise in the distance.

Then Kabuto came out of his resting place to the edge of the ravine, also looking into the distance towards the place where Orochimaru and Naruto fought then at the three remaining Konoha ninjas. Zoro wasting no time rushed towards the medical ninja with Wado in hand. Kabuto raised a kunai only to see it began to be cut into by the pristine blade of the Wado. He quickly abandoned the weapon and jumped back withdrawing another kunai, this time reinforcing it with chakra.

"You almost had me there Zoro." Kabuto said. "It was hard to while you hid in the Iron, but we've followed your growth."

"I wasn't hiding from anyone." Zoro said as he prepared to attack again. Before he could make another move something crashed between himself and Kabuto. Before the dust began to clear, four tails waved out of the cloud. As more of it settled an unrecognizable figure was being pressed back by a long blade.

"He's become even more like the Kyuubi than he was just a few minutes ago." Kabuto said with a sinister smile on his face.

"Naruto…" Sakura let out weakly in disbelief. Naruto grabbed the blade and tossed it towards Zoro. The quickly brought the Wado up and blocked it. The sheer force behind the throw sent Zoro sliding backwards until he let the blade slide off the blade and into the broken bridge. Naruto stood up and let out a roar.

"Will you look at that…" Kabuto said admiring the beast Naruto had turned into. "I guess he wanted to save Sasuke so bad he ended up like that. Right now he's not even conscious. What a sad kid."

Zoro gritted his teeth. His assumption was totally off. Zoro looked on as Naruto continued to howl.

"Sakura, stop!" Yamato yelled from behind him. "You can't go near Naruto right now!"

Sakura ran right past Zoro. "I'll save Sasuke for you!" She cried out as tears streamed down her face. "Naruto! That… That's enough! So Naruto, it's enough! You don't need to…"

Naruto turned towards Sakura. Zoro quickly acted. He drew the Shusui and zoomed past Sakura. Naruto reacted sending his tails at Zoro and Sakura. Zoro deflected the tail shot at him and Sakura blocked it only to be forced back, crashing into Yamato. Sakura looked back at Yamato only to see the Jounin out cold.

"Yamato!" Sakura cried you.

Zoro looked back at the two. Bad move. The feral Naruto appeared before him bringing his claws down. Zoro quickly placed both his swords above him to shield the blow only to have the force cause the rock beneath him to buckle. Zoro struggled against Naruto's strength to keep himself from being smashed into the rocks. Naruto brought his claw up to bring it down again but Zoro acted first.

"Sanbyakurokuju Pound ho!" He yelled unleashing the attack right into Naruto's chest sending him sliding back. "Stop this Naruto!" Zoro yelled.

"Didn't you hear me?" Kabuto said "He can't hear you."

Naruto narrowed his white eyes at Zoro, his new target. He let out a roar and sent his tails at Zoro. He quickly weaved passed each of the crashing tails. He prepared the Wado and Shusui for his next move, blue flame traveled down the hilt of the blade to the very tip. The image of Naruto and what he did to Utakata quickly flashed into his head. The fires blinked out of existence as he readjusted.

"Nitoryu: Nihonshu!" He yelled cross cutting Naruto with each of his swords driving him further back. Zoro looked on at Naruto quickly regained himself. As the slash wounds quickly healing up, Naruto send his tails at Zoro once again. Zoro simply dodged the blow. But this time a hand shot out from one of the tails grabbing an unsuspecting Zoro. Naruto brought the tail that held Zoro to his face as the swordsman struggled to get free.

"Zoro!" Sakura yelled as she began to run over to help.

"Stay back!" Zoro yelled. "Revive Yamato!" Zoro turned back to Naruto as he began to bring his claw down. Zoro struggled and freed one of his arms. "Yakkodori!" Zoro yelled sending the crescent shaped projectile towards Naruto face. The rampaging Jinchuriki roared in pain and threw Zoro towards the ravine.

Sakura continued to heal Yamato. Zoro continued to struggle to get free of Naruto not to far away from her. Kabuto had disappeared. Naruto…. She couldn't get it out of her head. Was there nothing she could do to help her friend and teammate? She had pushed him so hard in the past and it had resulted into this. She had to make it right. A roar of pain snapped Sakura's head from healing Yamato to Zoro falling and Naruto holing his face. With his hands still on his face, Naruto's tails swept around connecting with the still falling Zoro sending him into the ravine.

Sakura could just watch as this transpired. Naruto finished holding his face. He looked around for the green haired boy he was fighting but he wasn't no were to be seen. Naruto once again refocused his rage, this time on the pink haired girl in front of him. Sakura gasped as Naruto stalked towards her a creepy smile formed on his face. Once again Naruto sent a tail towards his target. Sakura grabbed Yamato and jumped backwards to safety. Naruto let out a low growl as he prepared to launch another attack.

Reacting off of instinct she appeared above Naruto and punched him into the ground. The ground buckled under the force of Sakura's strength. Naruto was more resilient than the stone beneath him. He once again let out a burst of chakra sending Sakura back. Naruto glared at her with pure hate. He stood up on his hind legs and let out another roar and prepared another attack. Sakura prepared to defend Yamato and herself.

As Naruto took one step towards Sakura, Zoro appeared before her. The white sheathe of the Wado Ichimonji in his hand.

"Shishi Sonson!" He said. Naruto let out a roar as he tried to reach the wound on his back. Sakura watched as Zoro turned back to the thrashing Naruto.

"Sanbyakurokuju Pound ho!" Zoro yelled blasting the Jinchuriki in his midsection sending him tumbling backwards. "Did you see where Kabuto went?" Zoro asked her as he watched Naruto slowly getting up glaring back at him.

"No but…."Naruto let out a low growl drawing Zoro attention away from Sakura and he watched as the Pseudo Nine Tails opened his mouth wide. A big black sphere of energy quickly formed in front of it. He had seen something like this with his dealings with Utakata.

'With Yamato down, I can't just let it blow up here.' Zoro thought as he rushed towards Naruto. Not wasting a moment Naruto blasted the sphere of energy at Zoro. Zoro prepared the Wado once again, a brilliant pale blue flame formed instantly along the blades edge. He had to act fast. He sliced at the black sphere. His sword slowly cut through the sphere of pure chakra. Zoro eyes widen as his blue flames started to spread across the sphere with his blade still inside. The ball began to bubble and Zoro quickly withdrew this blade and dashed towards Sakura.

"Run!" He yelled as he grabbed Yamato and Sakura quickly complied as the ball exploded behind them. The force of the blast still sent them flying forward for a couple of yards.

Zoro quickly rose to his feet. "Continue to heal him." He said as he rushed back to meet Naruto. 'This fight is getting more and more out of hand.' He thought as he made his way back to Naruto. 'I still don't know where Kabuto is so I can't leave Sakura and Yamato along for long. I can't just ignore Naruto. He could start rampaging towards a populated area. I could try and draw this fight out as long as I can...'

Zoro stopped that train of thought. He knew drawing out the fight would mean a greater risk for him and those with him. He was beginning to tire but Naruto seemed unfazed, just getting angrier. He couldn't allow himself to fall here. Luffy and the other Straw Hats expected him to be at Shabondy, but Naruto was one of his best friends here. Zoro closed his eyes for a second and then reopened them with a newly found focus.

'I have no choice. I'll have to kill Naruto.' Zoro reached where Naruto stood. It didn't take long for the feral boy to recognize the object of his current malice. Zoro placed the Wado in his mouth and drew his other two swords. 'Heh, don't know how I'll explain this.' Zoro thought as a flicker of blue flame formed on the tip of the Rettenjo and Shusui. He began to twirl his swords and a blue ring of fire formed before Zoro.

'The least thing I could do is end it quickly.' He said. "Santoryu Ogi!" Zoro said.

He began to jump towards Naruto eyes focused on his throat when suddenly wood burst out of the ground wrapping around Zoro and Naruto. "Hokage-Shiki Jijuun Jutsu! Kaku'an Nitten-suishu!" Yamato yelled as he ran past Zoro and placed his palm onto Naruto's chest before jumping back pulling back a blue stream of chakra. Naruto screamed in pain as Yamato slammed his hand onto the ground causing multiple pillars to surround Naruto.

Zoro looked on as the cloak dissipated from around Naruto revealing a blood covered body. As the pillars returned to the earth they came from Naruto fell down to the ground. Sakura ran to his side and immediately began to heal him.

Yamato walked over to the still trapped Zoro. "I should report this to the Hokage, Zoro." He said. "Hmm your Sanzen Sekai. You really intended on killing him."

"There was no other way." Zoro said. "Seeing that you stopped him it all worked out." The both of them looked over to Naruto who had sat up and was talking to Sakura.

Yamato sighed as he released the jutsu binding Zoro. "Thanks for your efforts though." The older man said. "This could have gone worse."

Zoro raised an eyebrow. "Sai… he's moving with Orochimaru." Yamato said loud enough for Sakura and Naruto to hear it.

"Huh!?" Naruto said.

"He's doing what?" Sakura said in disbelief.

"Follow me." Yamato order and the four quickly left to where Yamato's clone last seen the snake and the artist.

They entered the newly created crater. "The ground is still fresh." Naruto said as he pressed his foot into the ground. "First the bridge is destroyed, then the crater here. What on earth happened?"

Yamato, Zoro, and Sakura stared at Naruto. "Do you remember nothing?" Yamato asked.

"Oh yeah… How come I was unconscious?" Naruto pondered.

"O-Orochimaru got to you and left you unconscious." Sakura said after a couple of moments passed.

Naruto looked on with a slightly perturbed look on his face. "So that's it! Damn him!" Naruto finally said as he shook his fist in anger.

"Did he get you too Zoro?" He asked as he addressed the battle worn Zoro.

"Yeah." Zoro said not missing a beat.

"Heh, I guess I still have some way to go to catch you if he was able to get me so easily." Naruto said as he entered into deeper thought.

"Is it going to be fine between you and him?" Sakura whispered to Zoro.

"Why wouldn't it be." Zoro said. "This isn't the first time I've fought a friend."

Sakura nodded slightly and left Zoro alone. Zoro gripped his hands. Ever since he got into that fight with Naruto his body felt strange. He felt more sore than usual. Every nick and cut that Naruto had caused on him seemed to throb with a low tolerable pain.

"Zoro, are you ok?" Naruto asked. "You seem out of it, did Orochimaru poison you again."

"Naruto, it wasn't Orochimaru that did this to him." Yamato said before Zoro could say anything. "The bridge, this crater, Zoro's wounds. They were all caused by you."

As Yamato began to explain what had happened and how he felt about Naruto's true strength, Zoro looked inward at his own. 'In this state, someone on Orochimaru's level would be a problem.' He thought. 'I have to reserve my energy.' He said as he looked at his stagnating wounds.

*Later Outside Orochimaru's Lair. *

The four looked at the stone formation that hid the lair of the Snake Sanin. "We'll conduct the infiltration in file; me first, then Sakura, Zoro and Naruto at the rear." Yamato said.

"What's our method of infiltration?" Sakura asked.

"We're taking this by the book, so we'll use a Doton technique to approach from underground."

The group made where way towards the innards of the lair from there underground approach.

"Just like I thought, it seems their hideout is surrounded by rock." Yamato said as he examined the object blocking his path.

"That's nothing. I'll just bust it open with my Rasengan!" Naruto said, just the thought of Sasuke being so close got his blood pumping.

"Hold on!" Sakura said. "If you go and use a showy jutsu like that, they'll figure out we're here in no time!"

"Infiltration always requires silence…." Yamato said as he began to examine the rock.

"Zoro, why don't you just slice the rock?" Naruto asked as he turned to the green haired swordsman.

"I just don't see why we just didn't bust down the front door." Zoro said as he moved up to the rock.

"Here we go…" Yamato said. "Zoro you're not needed for this. For this kind of hard rock, all you need to do is just apply a little force to a small crack" He said as he pressed into the crack in the rock and it began to crumble. "See, just like that and we've succeeded with the infiltration. We'll look for Sai first." Yamato closed his eyes to try and get a lock on Sai. He quickly picked up on the stationary Sai, but what bother him most was one of the ones that should have been with him them was moving away from the group. Yamato looked back, Sakura and Naruto were there.

"Naruto. Where's Zoro?" Yamato asked.

Naruto scratched his head. "He was right behind me up until….." Naruto realized what had happened.

Yamato sighed. "We'll deal with Sai first. Then we'll find Zoro."

*Somewhere else*

Zoro continued to search for Sai through the dimly lit passage way. The others seemed to have gotten lost along the way.

"So much for a successful infiltration." Zoro said as he continued down the corridor.

"Zoro. Not the person I was expecting on finding here." A snake like voice rang out from behind him.

Zoro quickly turned around to see Orochimaru standing before him. "Have you came with Sai to join me?"

"Like I'd ever join someone like you." Zoro said as he placed his hand on the Shusui anticipating an attack from Orochimaru.

"Wait Zoro, hear me out." The snake said raising his hands to signify his intent not to attack the swordsman. "I really have been following you progress. Your little rivalry with Kisame hasn't gone unnoticed. Join me. I can give you the power you need to topple him and the rest of your enemies!"

Zoro watched the sanin closely. "You should know I have no interest in anything you have." He said drawing his Shusui.

'His chakra is unstable but still, I don't want to chance an all-out fight with him with my body in this condition.' Orochimaru thought as he ran over the situation. 'If I leave him alone he'll just continue to wander and I'll have Sasuke retrieve him. It should be a great test for him.' The sanin licked his lips. "Fine then." He finally said with a sinister smile. "Continue looking around and think about my proposal." And with that the snake sanin appeared to melt into the ground.

Zoro went on high alert. He searched from side to side to see if it was a typical ninja trick by Orochimaru. After he was sure that he was in the clear he went to sheathe the Shusui. As the tip was on the edge of the scabbard then he heard a huge explosion then he sensed a murderous aura that he'd never forget.

"Sasuke…." Zoro said in a low tone. Before his eyes holes formed in the wall leading towards the source of the feeling. He knew this was Orochimaru's work but he didn't hesitate to run through them. The lights continued to get brighter and brighter as did his rage as he ran towards where he felt Sasuke. As soon as he hit the end of the tunnel, he saw Sakura on her knees, Naruto laying on the ground and Sasuke with his sword in Yamato's chest. Sakura looked at Zoro which caused Sasuke to turn towards him. Zoro forgot about all of his injuries. Sasuke immediately pulled his sword out of Yamato.

"Yakkodori!" Zoro yelled launching the crescent shaped attack at Sasuke.

Sasuke quickly jumped out of the way. Yamato watched as the attack missed him by mere inches. The dodged attack continued on slicing in half stray boulders before exploding against the wall of the hole.

While he was in air, Sasuke launched multiple senbons at Zoro. Zoro deflected one only to receive a shock, and quickly charged his blade with flame to take out the rest of the attacks.

As the flame died down, Sasuke reappeared with his blade positioned in a familiar stance and a sneer on his face.

"Chidori Shishi Sonson." Sasuke quickly disappeared and the sound of metal clashing against metal rang out. Where Zoro stood a flash of blue lightning dancing around an upward line of blue flame.

"Figures you'd know how to deflect your own attack, Zoro." Sasuke said as he turned to face Zoro from up on the rim of the crater. His face couldn't hide his rage. The black blade of the Shusui still had lightning dancing along with the blue flames. He slung it off and prepared to counter attack.

"Zoro." Yamato called out. "You know your orders. If you continue, I'll have to inform Tsunade of everything." Zoro clenched his teeth. He gripped the blade of the Shusui so hard that his hand began to bleed.

"Why don't you get it!?" Naruto yelled. "Your body's is going to be stolen by Orochimaru anytime now!"

"If that happens then it happens." Sasuke said. "Revenge means everything to me. As long as I have that nothing else matters. For me and Orochimaru, killing Itachi right now would be impossible, I doubt if we could kill even you Zoro. But if I am able to accomplish my goals through just offering Orochimaru this body of mine, then he can have my life and my afterlife for that matter."

Zoro spit on the ground. "I can't stand this." Zoro said as he drew the Rettenjo. "This mission was to retrieve this traitor. If he just intends to be a body for Orochimaru he is a threat to the village."

Yamato nodded. "I agree. It is time to get serious."

"Indeed Zoro. I'm through with you and Konoha." Sasuke said. "Now things end…" Sasuke did multiple seals before raising his hand into the air.

"Now, there's no need for that jutsu, Sasuke." Orochimaru said as he joined Sasuke.

"Remove your hand." Sasuke ordered.

"There you go again." Kabuto said as he appeared with the other two enemies of Konoha. "Forgetting exactly who you're talking to."

"I have no reason to stop….." Then Sasuke looked down. "Ah you're still interested in that shitty swordsman."

"That…and you know quite well what Akatsuki is up to. We want to have our guest here take care of as many of them as possible. Even just one would be fine. If the other Akatsuki members get in your way, your revenge plan could hit a snag."

"That excuse is pathetic." Sasuke said.

"If it increases your revenge succeeding by even 1% you'd allow it right?" Kabuto asked.

"Let's go." Orochimaru ordered. After a brief look the three of them disappeared.

*Days later Konoha – Hokage's tower*

Zoro stood in front of Tsunade and Shizune. True to her word the next day after his return to the village, Tsunade had Shizune escort Zoro to the tower as soon as she made it there.

"From Yamato's report you really helped them out from your dealing with the Naruto to saving Yamato from Sasuke." Tsunade said. Zoro eyed Tsunade.

It seemed that Yamato kept out the info that Zoro tried to kill the boy that Tsunade cared for like a grandson. "I just did what I was told to." Zoro said.

"Thanks. Without your presence, no telling how things would of ended up." Tsunade said with a smile on her face causing Zoro to relax a little bit. "As much as I hate to do this, Sai will take your spot in Team Kakashi." Tsunade said. "Danzo has tied my hands when it comes to you. I'm going to try and convince the council from letting you be transferred to the Root."

"What!" Zoro said as his jaw hit the ground.

"Yes, you're not associated with anyone right now. I tried to get you placed with regular ANBU as a short term fix but Danzo was quick to present that his group would be better for you. And the council agreed."

Zoro couldn't believe it.

"But I was able to get them to hold off on officially placing you there for now." Tsunade said. "Please just bear with me. Your first assignment is here."

And with that Iruka stepped into the room. "Let's go Zoro." He said as he placed his hand on his shoulder.

*Academy – Classroom*

Zoro stood in front of a room full of genin and academy level students. The kids eyed Zoro as if to judge his every movement. This was growing increasingly awkward. He silently wished that Usopp was here to take some of this… unwanted attention off of him. Zoro looked around and the only face he recognized was Udon who waved at him till he returned the gesture which garnered murmurs from the crowd.

"Why am I even here?" Zoro whispered.

"Just sit tight." Iruka said as he stepped in front of the podium. "Good morning class."

"Good morning, Iruka-Sensei." The class said in unison.

"Alright, I'm glad that you all have you here for this special class that Tsunade organized. I'm glad to see so many of you hear with the short notice we had issued." Iruka turned towards Zoro. "I would like to introduce Roronoa Zoro. He will be the special guest instructor for today."

"Good morning, Zoro-Sensei." The class said in unison.

Zoro couldn't help but be taken back by the gesture.

"Good morning." Zoro replied.

"Now we're going to go over the basics of swordplay." Iruka said tossing Zoro a wooden sword. "Zoro if you please."

While doing as he was told, all the little eyes watched Zoro's form. Many of them where taking notes, while others followed along with an invisible blades.

This went like this for like two hours, Zoro going over basic swordsman stuff and the kids absorbing it all.

"Alright class we're taking a break." Iruka said. The class stood up and began to chat amongst themselves.

Zoro walked over to Iruka. "What is the meaning of this?" Zoro asked. "I was expecting some menial task, but this is crazy."

Iruka sighed. "Zoro look around you. What do you notice?" Zoro looked at the class.

Each kid in some sort or manner had a sword of some sort, some with one handed blades and others with two handed swords.

"This is your doing Zoro." Iruka said. "Nearly all of these kids where present back during your stand during the Chunin exams. A whole new generation of swordsmen and women, this is a new thing for Konoha."

Zoro watched as a genin girl walked over to him and placed her hand on the hilt of the Wado. Zoro simply removed the blade from his side and let the girl hold it. She lit up at the simple gesture.

"Alright class we're going to go outside." Iruka said. "We'll judge your form."

The girl returned the sword to Zoro and bowed in thanks before following the rest of the class outside. Suddenly this task didn't seem so menial.

*Couple of weeks later Hokage's office*

Ever since the Sasuke mission, Zoro had been doing odd jobs around the village that ranged from training genin and academy kids to guarding the gates. While he wasn't a part of the Root, nor has he heard anything else about it. He stood before Tsunade but this time it wasn't just Shizune with them. Zoro looked at Asuma, Shikamaru, and a person he didn't quite recognize standing on the back wall.

"Zoro, today I have an official assignment for you." Tsunade said as she looked at the swordsman. "Yamato informed me about your… intentions when it comes to the Kisame. With the recent movements of the Akatsuki I'm starting a group to travel the land of fire to search for the members of the group for capture. If that is not possible, all groups are authorized to use lethal force against them. Roronoa Zoro, you along with Nara Shikamaru and Hagane Kotetsu will be members of Asuma's Team. Today, I'm giving you a day off to prepare for this. You are all dismissed."

The four of them left the office. "Nice to see you again, Zoro" Kotetsu said. "Guess this beats being a gate guard huh?"

"Yeah." Zoro said as he nodded. But his thought wasn't there. His mind was on this new situation he was in. This was truly a gift. He would have to thank Tsunade the next time he saw her in an unofficial manner. Kisame…. once again he had a path to get to him.

"Hey, Zoro!" Asuma yelled snapped back to normal. "I'm going to Kurenai's place after this. She's been asking about you a lot so you're coming with me."

Zoro once again simply nodded. Shikamaru noted Zoro's look. He's known Zoro for a while, yet he has never seen him so focused.

"This is surreal, the only two of the rookie nine to get promoted of that exam on the same team." Kotetsu said. "With Asuma leading us, there is no way we can fail."

"That attitude isn't one we should take into this dangerous mission." Asuma scolded. "Zoro, besides my interactions with Itachi, you are the only other one of us who has dealt with them. We'll be relying on your expertise on this mission. Get with Shikamaru and give him what you know about them."

Asuma sat across from Kurenai who sat by her former student Zoro. The two of them talked, or more like Kurenai spoke and Zoro answered. Asuma couldn't help but notice the big smile on her face. She worries about the boy. Zoro visits her every now and then, but not as much as she would like. Roronoa Zoro, without a doubt the physically strongest genin he had ever seen. Still the mystery that surrounded the boy wasn't something he could get over. Not when he was so close to the mother of his future child

"Well I'm going to go." Zoro said.

"Already?" Kurenai said. "I've been here for hours." Zoro said with a slight chuckle.

A light blush formed on Kurenai's face as she looked at the time. "You're going to be ok finding your way back, right." She said placing here hand on her hips.

"I'll manage." Zoro said as he walked out of the door and began walking down the stairs.

"Wait, Zoro." Kurenai said as she shut the door behind her. "Before you go, I'd like to ask a favor."

Zoro looked at Kurenai. "What is it." He said.

"On this mission, I want you to watch over Asuma." She said as she rubbed her belly. "I don't want our child to go on without knowing his amazing father. So if you would."

Zoro smiled at his former teacher. "You got it." He said then continued down the stairs and start on his way.

She couldn't help but feel a little better that her lover was being watched over by one of her students.

Zoro continued along his twisting journey towards his apartment. The sun had set and the moon began to illuminate the city of Konoha. The town was still in full of activity. Zoro looked around. Through the crowd he noticed something out of place. He stared in the general direction. And staring back at him was someone who shouldn't be there. Standing there was Luffy staring back at him.

"Luffy?!" Zoro said as he moved towards his straw hat clad captain. Once he reached him Zoro placed his hand on his shoulders. "What are you doing here Luffy?" He asked.

"I'm not this Luffy, Zoro." A familiar voice rang out of the body.

"….. who are you?!" Zoro said.

"Keep it down." The imposter said. "I'm risking allot just to come here. Follow me."

Zoro didn't understand. This guy looked exactly like Luffy. Was he dreaming? He had to be sure. He pinched himself. The pain made him obvious of the reality he was in. One more test. He stepped in front of this "Luffy". Zoro placed his hands on the fakes face and pulled.

"That hurts you know." The imposter said as he pondered Zoro's action. With a flash of his Sharingan Zoro knew who this was.

"Itachi! What are you doing here!?" Zoro said in a lowered voice.

"Don't worry Zoro, I'm here to do no harm." Itachi said.

"How did you mimic that form!? Is he here?" Zoro asked.

"This is just a simple genjutsu and henge technique." Itachi explained. "I pulled this from you using my Mangekyo. I figured you'd recognize someone from your home."

Such an in depth explanation, this was definitely not Luffy. "I came to ask a favor of you." Itachi said looking around to insure no one was around.

"I won't join…" Zoro said before Itachi held his hand up.

"If you would please abandon you pursuit of Sasuke and leave him to Naruto." Itachi said and Zoro looked at the transformed missing ninja with shock and hatred.

"That's not a simple request." Zoro said. "He's second on my list after your partner."

"I know this isn't a simple request with your history with my brother." Itachi said. "I'm asking this as a favor from a friend to another friend."

"You consider us friends?" Zoro asked skeptically.

"Am I wrong? You haven't once moved towards you swords in any manner." Itachi said.

Zoro didn't fully trust the Itachi, he is part of an organization that is actively hunting one of his true friends yet Itachi hasn't acted against him.

"I'll consider it." Zoro said. Itachi smiled.

"I knew I could trust you. I have a plan I'm about to put motion to deal with Sasuke, and If that doesn't work I want you to do as you please." Itachi said as he jumped onto a building. "I'm warning you. The Akatsuki is still out to recruit you or kill you. Be on your guard."

With that Itachi disappeared into the night. Zoro had looked up and he was back at his apartment. What was Itachi's deal? Every time they have met he has helped him in one way or another. His hate for Sasuke had exponentially grown yet he just said he would consider ceasing hostilities for Itachi. Even though he wouldn't admit it out loud, maybe he did consider Itachi as a friend.

Danzo stood on the roof far away from the secret meeting between Zoro and Itachi, his presence hidden from all. This meeting didn't bother him because he knew where Itachi's true allegiance lied. But he had gained what was probably the most useful information he could had ever hoped to gain, the Akatsuki's continued interest in Zoro. Itachi seemed to be implementing a contingency plan, he wouldn't risk being seen here if it wasn't dire. With the power in his hand he could turn Zoro into a tool worth of him, a tool more useful that Itachi ever was.