Chapter 2

As Orochimaru approached Yamato, the ANBU assumed his battle stance. The snake Sannin had a creepy smile plastered on his face, and he was a little too in control of himself for Naruto's tastes. "That bastard never loses his cool, does he?" Naruto thought to himself. "In that case, I should probably keep myself under control, too." He knew, of course, that that would be easier said than done, but he knew he had to try at least; he couldn't very well risk hurting Hinata or Sakura.

As the team watched, Orochimaru came to within speaking distance of Yamato, who still had yet to move. The team was waiting for Yamato to signal for them to come out of hiding and do something, but he simply stood there, seemingly listening to the Sannin.

Unbeknownst to the team, Yamato hadn't signaled for them for two main reasons. First off, he didn't want them anywhere near the snake summoner, but secondly, he was too shocked to do anything. Orochimaru, upon reaching a point where he could speak to Yamato without shouting, had said something the ANBU had never expected to hear from Orochimaru of all people. "I have no quarrel with you or your team," Orochimaru had said simply.

Yamato kept his eyes on Orochimaru carefully and asked, "Why should I believe that you don't have a quarrel with us when it is your goal to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village?"

Orochimaru grinned at the ANBU captain and answered, "While it is true I wish to see that village ground into dust, there is a much more pressing issue that must be taken care of first. You see, I heard a rumor a few days ago that a Leaf ninja had defeated a member of Akatsuki. When I saw you here, I assumed that the rumors were just that and that Sasori had shown up here as planned. Obviously, I now see that that is not the case, so I must assume that the rumor I heard was true. Now, since you're here, I assume that either you or someone with whom you have had contact is the one who defeated Sasori. That being the case, I have no desire to do you any harm. We have a shared enemy. I want Akatsuki destroyed as much as anyone."

Yamato thought about the man's words, then asked, "So, what you're saying is, you want us to help you get rid of Akatsuki so you can stab us in the back and try to destroy us later?"

Orochimaru laughed his rather distinctive laugh before responding, "If that was my intention, do you really think I'd be talking to you now rather than trying to kill you? No, indeed, I am actually offering you all a chance to join me!"

Yamato snorted. "And of course, you'd want to continue your inhumane experiments on us, just like you did to me all those years ago," he said, his contempt for the man in front of him obvious in his voice. "None of us will ever join you."

Orochimaru shook his head, seemingly disappointed. "I had a feeling you would say that. Kabuto, now!" he said.

The so-called "spy", Kabuto Yakushi, tossed aside his cloak and attacked Yamato. Yamato dodged quickly. Getting into close quarters with the "spy", he managed to slip something into the young man's pocket. Then he went on the attack, signaling his team as he did so. Yamato began to use Wood Style jutsu to attack Kabuto and Orochimaru as Naruto, Hinata, Sakura, and Sai showed up on the bridge.

Naruto was the first to attack, with Hinata as his backup. The two went after Orochimaru, pushing him back off the bridge to give Sakura and Sai as much room to work with as possible. Naruto created three clones, two of whom attacked Orochimaru along with Hinata, the combination of which kept Orochimaru from being able to attack effectively whilst Naruto and his third clone formed a Giant Rasengan. The two ran forward, plowing through his other two clones as they moved, dispelling them in the process. The giant ball of swirling chakra was plunged into the stomach of the reptilian man, who was sent flying into a tree with a resounding, and satisfying, crash. To Naruto and Hinata's shock, Orochimaru grinned at them before opening his mouth wide. He looked like he was throwing up or something, but what emerged was...himself?

Naruto looked at Hinata, his eyes a bit worried after that display. Hinata's eyes were hard, her lips set in a grim line as she contemplated their chances of victory against an enemy such as this.

Just then, Orochimaru addressed the two. "It would seem even the two of you combined aren't as strong as my Sasuke," he said in the creepy tone that qualified as "normal" for him. "You're not even worth my time."

Orochimaru was expecting to make at least one of the two ninja in front of him mad by saying that, which he did. What he got wrong, however, was the cause of the rage he elicited. Naruto growled out, "Don't talk about Sasuke...like you own him...especially in front of me!" He then let out a loud roar and fell to all fours as a cloak of red chakra formed around him. Hinata leapt backward away from him to get out of his way. Naruto moved so quickly the ground where he had been standing gained a crater with a two-foot radius after he leapt. Hinata shivered slightly at the display of raw power; it was a little creepy.

Hinata watched in shock as Naruto attacked Orochimaru with inhuman speed and power. "So this is the power of the Kyubi," she thought to herself, remembering as she thought it when she and the rest of the Rookies had been told about Naruto's burden. Upon reaching Chunin rank, they had been entrusted with his secret and told exactly what it meant. They had also been warned that, if he should ever exhibit signs of releasing the Kyubi, they should get out of his way for their own safety. In accordance with that warning, Hinata was currently staying out of his way, but she wasn't about to let him out of her sight if she could help it.

Meanwhile, Naruto's cloak had gained four tails. Naruto now looked like he was a solid mass of moving red and black chakra in the shape of a four-tailed fox. Orochimaru was taking quite a few blows from the thing Naruto had become, but he had yet to take any serious damage. The snake Sannin opened his mouth, and a huge sword sprang from his gullet. It impacted with Naruto's body just below his ribcage and sent him flying back to the far side of the bridge, near where the team had hidden while watching the encounter between Yamato and Kabuto. Hinata chewed one of her knuckles nervously as Naruto left her field of vision. Naruto simply used one "hand" to push the sword aside, showing that there wasn't even a mark where the sword had impacted. Moving quickly, he was back to where Orochimaru was in an instant. Hinata was shocked at how quickly the young man reappeared.

Naruto slashed at Orochimaru as he moved back to where the Sannin had been waiting, sending him skipping across the ground until he stopped nearly fifty yards away. Using the distance between them to his advantage, Naruto looked up. Hinata watched in shock as a huge ball of chakra formed above the boy. As they continued to watch, he compacted it down to the size of a grapefruit. Then, as Hinata watched in confusion, the boy opened his mouth impossibly wide and swallowed it. She saw Orochimaru's lips move, but she couldn't hear him as he muttered, "So that's what he's up to." Next, she saw him bite both of his thumbs. He slammed his hands to the ground, causing three huge gate-like things covered in spikes with chains hanging off them and with evil-looking faces glaring at Naruto to appear in front of him just as the jinchuriki spat a stream of pure chakra at him. Hinata watched as the chakra slammed into the first of the three gates. Her jaw slowly dropped open as it annihilated the three gates in a split second and slammed into the snake Sannin with full force, leaving nothing behind. Hinata slowly closed her mouth and waited to see what would happen now that Orochimaru was seemingly defeated.

xxxxxx

While Naruto and Orochimaru fought, Sakura and Sai faced off against Kabuto. Knowing that he was a medic, Sakura knew that any blow Kabuto landed on them could easily be fatal, and she had told Sai this. As such, the two were being extremely careful not to let him touch them at all. Having trained for two years in the art of dodging, Sakura didn't have much trouble avoiding Kabuto. Sai, for his part, was an ANBU, so he found dodging Kabuto relatively easy as well.

Kabuto was getting frustrated with his inability to land even a single blow on these two. Of course, neither of them was doing much to him, either, but he was beyond tired of this fight. Unfortunately, Lord Orochimaru had ordered him to leave them all alive in the hopes that they would take down another member of Akatsuki. Kabuto had tried to tell them this, but none of them seemed to be in the mood to listen. Kabuto snarled to himself, "This is so not worth it."

Sai stopped attacking. "What do you mean by that?" he asked, his voice as monotonous as ever.

Sakura stopped attacking as well, waiting to see what Kabuto would say. "I can't kill you, I was ordered to leave you alive, and you're both being seriously annoying. Let's just stop this fight and prevent any unnecessary damage to either of us," the silver-haired man said.

Sakura and Sai slowly assumed more relaxed poses, but both were still on guard. Kabuto smiled. "I'm glad you can see reason," he said, then simply vanished in a cloud of smoke.

xxxxxx

Hinata was surprised to see Kabuto show up out of nowhere. "Lord Orochimaru!" he called out. "The fight is over, please show yourself." To Hinata's surprised eyes, Orochimaru sprang from under the ground, his tongue wrapped around Naruto's neck, and lifted the boy into the air. He threw Naruto away from the battlefield before coming to rest near Kabuto.

"Well done, Kabuto," the reptilian man said. "Perhaps it is time we withdraw." Hinata thought about attacking them, but she thought better of it; she knew she wouldn't stand any chance against them. Just as she was about to turn and head back to find the rest of the team, however, she got another shock.

xxxxxx

As Naruto landed near where Sakura and Sai were still standing as they wondered what Kabuto's game was, Yamato moved in and slammed a hand onto the fox-like boy's chest. As he pulled back, what looked like a green string attached his hand to the boy. Several spiked pillars made of wood sprang up around Naruto. "HOKAGE STYLE ELDER JUTSU: TENTH EDICT OF ENLIGHTENMENT!" Yamato called out. Before Sakura's very eyes, the red and black mass of chakra surrounding Naruto began to recede, leaving a very raw-skinned Naruto behind. She moved quickly and began to heal her teammate. When Yamato turned to where Sai had been, he was surprised to find the boy had vanished. "So, Lady Tsunade was right. It seems Sai has finally begun to act," he thought to himself.

xxxxxx

Hinata was surprised when Sai showed up in front of Orochimaru and Kabuto. He had been riding on a giant bird made out of his ink. As she watched, he handed over a folder to Orochimaru. She was just far enough away that she couldn't hear anything the trio was saying, but she did see all three of them leave the clearing together. "So, that's his game, huh?" she thought to herself before leaving the clearing to find Captain Yamato; she had to let him know what had happened!

xxxxxx

Unbeknowst to Hinata, Yamato had sent a wood clone after Naruto, and the clone had already told him about Sai's actions. As such, Naruto, Sakura, and Yamato were already heading toward the battlefield when Hinata was on her way back to them, and the four met up midway. "Captain Yamato!" Hinata called out. "Sai has gone with Orochimaru and Kabuto!"

Yamato gave Hinata a small gesture to follow as the others kept moving by her. Hinata fell in with them, and the group kept moving. "Yes, I know," Yamato told her. "I have a wood clone following them."

"I wonder what Sai's main goal is," Sakura commented rhetorically.

"I'm not sure, but I can tell you who ordered it," Yamato responded. "Danzo Shimura is the head of a special training organization within ANBU known as the Foundation. This would make him Sai's superior and most likely the one who ordered Sai's betrayal."

Naruto filed away the name for later; now was hardly the time to worry about some old geezer back in the village, but he wasn't about to forget that this Danzo had put not only their mission but their lives in jeopardy by sending Sai with them. After a minute, he asked, "Didn't Granny Tsunade say her advisors insisted on Sai being sent with us, too?"

Yamato nodded. "That's true, Naruto, she did mention that. I guess those two must be in cahoots with Danzo. I'm not entirely sure why, but it's worth noting, for sure." Taking a deep breath, he added, "And if I find out Danzo is in cahoots with Orochimaru, those three old codgers had better pray to whatever god they pray to that I don't find them alive." As he spoke, his face took on an extremely creepy aspect, which made everyone else unconsciously back away from Yamato a bit.

"I hope he never looks at me like that!" Naruto thought. "That's creepy."

"I wonder why Captain Yamato hates Orochimaru so much," Sakura pondered. "Not that I blame him, but somehow I think he's had some dealings with the snake Sannin before this."

Hinata shivered slightly. "I can't remember anyone but Father making me feel so low as this with just a look before," she thought to herself. "I sincerely hope that's the first and last time I ever see that look on Captain Yamato's face!"

After that, everyone fell silent out of necessity; Yamato was too busy brooding over what he would do to the councilors if they were in fact in cahoots with Orochimaru to talk to anyone, and the others were too busy being scared of him to say anything. The remainder of the trip was, as a result, eerily silent; the only sounds the group made were the creaks of branches as they leapt from one to the next through the trees. Even the wildlife around them was oddly silent as they passed through the forest.

xxxxxx

After what felt like a lifetime but was probably only half an hour, Yamato called the group to a stop to make camp for the night. Naruto thought about protesting that they could keep going, but, between being honestly exhausted and not wanting to face Yamato's creepy face, he thought better of it. The small group made camp in the same eerie silence in which they had spent the last leg of their journey.

Once camp was made and everyone had done their part to prepare for the night, Naruto had finally had enough. He had been getting progressively more and more antsy as time had gone on, and the silent process of making camp had been the final push he needed. He let out a frighteningly feral yell, which caused what sounded like dozens of birds to take to the air with noisy squawks from their nearby roosts. He turned to the team with a grin. Yamato was looking at him curiously while Hinata and Sakura were looking at him like he had lost his mind. "Sorry," he said, sounding slightly sheepish. "I just couldn't take any more of the silence. It was driving me crazy!"

Hinata nervously started to giggle at the blond's antics. Soon, Sakura joined her, and eventually all three teenagers were rolling around on the ground, holding their bellies as they laughed uproariously. It wasn't that any of them found anything particularly funny, they were just releasing tension. Yamato shook his head at the three of them and, once they all calmed down, told them, "You're all insane." No one bothered to try to correct him.

It didn't take long after that before everyone retired to sleep. Naruto's sleep was less than restful as he continuously dreamed of Yamato's creepy face plastered on Orochimaru's body. It would be several years before that particular image would stop haunting him. Sakura didn't sleep particularly well, either, as her dreams were haunted by a creepy-looking Sasuke who laughed in a way that reminded her a little too much of Orochimaru. Even Yamato's sleep was less than completely peaceful; he kept reliving the experiments Orochimaru had performed on him all those years ago, none of which were particularly pleasant memories, and his dreams just made them all the more unpleasant.

As for Hinata, she slept deeply and well as her dreams were filled with Naruto. Mostly, she dreamed of him holding her in his arms as they slept together. Later, she would scold herself for being a silly girl and dreaming of things she would never dare hope would really happen, but, for now, she was content to just dream.

When everyone awoke the next morning, Naruto, Sakura, and Yamato were surprised to find that Hinata was in an extremely chipper mood. None of them bothered to ask, but they all wondered how she could dare to be so upbeat after the nights they had gone through; it just wasn't right!

After breaking camp, the group resumed their journey and arrived at what seemed to be an underground base within a few hours. Yamato's wood clone met them there and briefly explained the situation to them; the clone had seen his quarry enter this facility late the previous night, and he could sense that Sai was still in there, courtesy of the seeds Yamato had slipped into Sai's pocket and food the previous day. Upon hearing this, Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura all thought, "So, THAT'S why he bought us that insane feast! He was just making sure Sai got that seed into him."

After the explanation was over, Yamato handed each of the other three a seed. "Swallow this. I'll be able to keep track of you in case we get separated in here," he said. Naruto shrugged and swallowed it. After seeing that there was no ill effect from doing so, Sakura and Hinata followed suit.

That done, the small group turned their attention to getting into the facility. Yamato stepped forward and used his Wood Style to create a square tunnel into the wall. Surprising the others, the formation of the hole was almost entirely silent. Naruto grinned, Sakura nodded, and Hinata smiled, then all four of them slid into the hole and into Orochimaru's base. Everyone's eyes were hard, determined; in this very facility, they might just find Sasuke Uchiha and, they hoped, bring him back to the Hidden Leaf Village. Hinata activated her Byakugan, and soon the group had vanished from their point of ingress in search of the rogue Uchiha. The assault on the snake Sannin's base had begun.