Faith of the Heart

Disclaimer: While I do not own Naruto or any of the characters or other aspects of the story created by Masahi Kishimoto, I do own this story. Do not plagiarize my work.

Chapter 9: Gaara's Gambit, Part 1

"I can't believe they were headed for River Country the whole time. We probably passed within ten miles of them on the way to Suna," Naruto grumbled.

"And you're mad that we might have been able to catch up with them before they reached their hideout if we'd known about it while we were on the way to Suna, aren't you?" Hinata finished the thought for him.

"Well, yeah."

"It would have made rescuing Gaara-san easier if we knew beforehand, but if we hadn't gone to Suna, Kankurou would be dead," She pointed out before leaping to the next branch.

"That's true, too," Naruto replied thoughtfully. He didn't think Gaara would have wanted them to save his life at the cost of his brother's. He paused, seemingly mulling something over. "Am I really that easy to read?"

Hinata looked over her shoulder and smiled, not saying that, at least to her, the answer was usually yes. "It's not a bad thing, Naruto-kun. I know what you're thinking because I know you. You always worry about whether or not you could have done more to help your friends."

"I know, but I kinda like…"

"…being unpredictable?" Hinata finished for him again.

"Ero-sennin was right, there has got to be a Yamanaka somewhere in your family tree," Naruto pouted. His pout turned into a smile though when he heard Hinata giggle at the childlike expression on his face.

"Naruto, can I ask you something?" Sakura asked hesitantly from behind, startling him.

"Sure thing, Sakura-chan. What do you want to know?" Naruto replied as they leaped through the forest canopy.

"How long has Akatsuki been after you?"

"I don't know," Naruto answered in an unusually solemn voice.

"Two Akatsuki members, one of who was Sasuke's brother, Itachi, came to Konoha to find Naruto. That was three years ago. Kidnapping Gaara is the first move, that we know of, they have made since then," Kakashi answered for Naruto.

"Why would they wait for three years?" Sakura asked.

"Maybe it wasn't so much that they weren't after him, as it was they couldn't go after him. He and Hinata were traveling with Jiraiya during most of that time, after all," Kakashi theorized.

"No, according to my sources there's a more important reason," Chiyo interrupted. "In order to draw out a 'bijuu' that has been sealed within someone requires a certain amount of preparation. That is what they have been doing the last three years."

"What exactly are the bijuu, anyway?" Sakura asked the Suna Elder.

"What! How can you be Tsunade's apprentice and not know that?" Chiyo asked in astonishment.

"She doesn't know, because in Konoha everything surrounding the bijuu is handled with extreme secrecy," Kakashi pointed out.

"I suppose it would have to be since you have the Kyuubi," Chiyo said with a nod toward Naruto. "The 'Bijuu' are demons with tails. In essence, they are sentient masses of chakra that have taken the form of giant animals. For example, Suna has had the Shukaku, which is currently sealed within Gaara, for a long time. It's the Ichibi that takes the form of a giant tanuki."

'The 'one-tailed'? Does that mean there are others besides the Kyuubi, Nibi, and Shukaku?" Sakura asked.

"That's right. There are nine in all, each with a different number of tails. The more tails a bijuu has, the more power it possesses. In addition to that, each bijuu is believed to have unique abilities, like the Sukaku's mastery of sand," Chiyo continued. She paused for a moment in thought. "I can understand you knowing about the Shukaku and the Kyuubi, but where did you hear of the Nibi if you did not even know what a bijuu is? The Cloud possesses the Nibi, but no one has heard anything about it in over fifteen years. There were rumors its last known jinchuuriki was killed in battle, possibly taking the demon with her."

'Oopsie,' Sakura cringed.

"She heard about the Nibi from me," Kakashi jumped in to save Sakura. "Sakura was only recently told of the Kyuubi's true fate. Naturally, she was curious about jinchuuriki, so we discussed it while waiting out a sand storm on our way to Suna. I believe I mentioned an encounter I had with the Nibi's jinchuuriki when I was a teenager."

"Is that so?" Chiyo asked suspiciously.

"Every word," Kakashi answered truthfully.

Meanwhile, said jinchuuriki was occupied by a barely visible, moving chakra signature that she had caught a glimpse of using her activated Byakugan. Almost as soon as Hinata spotted it, the signature vanished. She tried to find the signature again but couldn't pick it out again amongst the background clutter of the forest. She frowned. The chakra signature wasn't much stronger than what she would have expected from a woodland animal, but something didn't fit. The signature was too fast and purposeful in its movements. Hinata channeled a small amount of the Nibi's chakra to her Byakugan. The yellow, cat-like pupils reappeared, her vision instantly became sharper, and her visual range increased. Sticking out like a flare to her now enhanced Byakugan, a chakra signature appeared inside the trunk of a large tree ahead of them. A black and white head flanked by a pair of Venus flytrap-like jaws briefly emerged from the tree trunk. The collar of a dark colored robe covered with what looked like cloud designs was barely visible where the strange individual's body met the tree. Then the head submerged itself back into the tree without leaving a trace of the fact it had ever been there. Hinata stared for a moment in disbelief before she realized she needed to do something.

"Kakashi-sensei, there's a small stream up ahead. Didn't you say we needed to stop for water, earlier?" Hinata called out in a loud voice from where she was running point.

Kakashi instantly spotted the hand signal she was frantically waving behind her back. "Yes, I did. Let's take five, everyone."

"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei," Hinata replied before leaping down from the trees to land next to a rock outcrop that jutted out of the forest floor between the stream and the tree their observer was hiding in.

As soon as everyone landed behind the outcrop, Kakashi whispered to Hinata, "What did you see?"

"I'm not really sure. There was nothing there at first, but then I saw a chakra signature run through the ground and up into that large tree with the moss on it about fifty meters directly southwest of us. Now, there's someone inside of the tree. Whoever it is stuck his face out of the tree and was staring straight at us," Hinata said with a shiver. "If I hadn't activated my Byakugan when he was moving, I never would have known he was there. As it is, I can barely pick him out from the forest's chakra clutter."

"Are you positive this person is inside the tree and not using some kind of camouflage jutsu to blend in with the tree's surface," Kakashi asked.

"Positive," Hinata answered.

"Akatsuki, most likely their lookout," Kakashi said as he looked at Chiyo, who nodded her head in agreement. It would have to be someone at the level of the members of Akatsuki. While jonin, chuunin, and even some skilled genin, could phase through non-living matter like dirt or rock, phasing though living matter such as plants or animals that had their own chakra was strictly the domain of an extremely small number of S-ranked shinobi and bloodline clans.

Kakashi frowned under his mask. "This is a problem. If he hadn't already seen us we could just circle around him, but as it is he's sure to follow us or…"

"I've got an idea," Naruto interrupted. The cackle that followed the blonde's words caused Hinata and Sakura to simultaneously gulp. Hinata turned to Sakura with a questioning expression on her face.

"I just had a flashback to the time Naruto talked Sasuke-kun and me into trying to see under Kakashi-sensei's mask. You?"

"Practical joke Naruto-kun pulled involving a goat, Jiraiya-sensei's hair turning the same color as yours, and a fifty-five gallon drum of maple syrup. Please don't ask, I don't want to talk about it," Hinata replied with a shutter.

Zetsu had just started to report this second group of intruders to the other Akatsuki through his projection in the cave. He eased his head out of the tree to spy on what the group was up too. The dark-haired girl was kneeling by the stream, filling up the group's canteens and water bags, and the pink-haired one standing not far away casually talking to the others who were out of sight behind the outcropping.

"Back in a minute, I've got to answer the call of nature, if you know what I mean," a blond-headed boy called out as he emerged from behind the rocks and hurried pass the two girls. Zetsu recognized him immediately as the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, Naruto Uzumaki. The pink-haired girl yelled back, "Don't announce it, Baka!" Naruto was headed in the direction of the tree Zetsu was hiding within.

Zetsu went silent and started to suppress his chakra as much as possible while still sending chakra to his projection in the cave for the extraction jutsu. There was a slight chance that the teen might be able to hear him or sense his chakra if he got close enough. Better safe than sorry. His caution turned out to be justified, as Naruto walked straight up to the tree, made sure the bush next to it provided some privacy from the others' view, and then reached for his pants zipper. Both of Zetsu's halves rolled their eyes.

Unable to resist his natural prankster instincts, Naruto stopped and looked right at the portion of the tree he'd been told Zetsu was peeking out from. "Hey, Akatsuki-teme, how about some privacy here?"

Startled, Zetsu finally noticed the radio earpiece in the teen's ear. When he stole a quick glance at the other Konoha shinobi. The dark-haired girl stood and turned to face him while touching the throat-microphone of her own radio. The bulging veins and distinctive eye color marked her as a member of the Hyuuga clan. The wrinkled old woman, who Zetsu now recognized as the one of the Suna elders, stepped out from behind the rocks with a big toothy grin on her face and her bony middle finger extended skyward. Zetsu turned back to the teen below, too stunned that he'd been detected to even react.

'How can she see us?'

'Even the Hyuuga in the first group did not notice our presence,' his other half agreed.

Naruto grinned. He still couldn't see Zetsu but trusted Hinata's voice in his ear when she told him the Akatsuki member wasn't reacting and appeared confused. "I've got a message for you and your buddies: we're going to get Gaara back and kick all your asses! Bunshin Daibakuha!"


Naruto's clone exploded right next to the base of the tree, shattering its trunk. The force of the blast flung Zetsu backwards as his hiding place disintegrated around him. The Akatsuki lookout blacked out from the g-forces generated during his involuntary flight and lost the connection with his projection back in the cave. Only the pain of slamming into another tree managed to rouse him back to his senses.

He pulled himself to his feet and glared at the four Konoha shinobi and Suna elder he had been covertly observing moments before. The S-ranked missing-nin was smoldering, both literally and figuratively. His clothing, hair, and flesh were singed from the explosion. Small wisps of smoke rose from various places in mute testimony of the blast's power. A foot long fragment of wood was embedded in the Venus flytrap jaw that shielded the left side of his body. He pulled the fragment out and dropped it to the ground. A murderous wave of killer intent could be felt emanating from him. The Akatsuki member was furious that he'd been caught by such a simple trick. However, as much as he wanted to flay Team Kakashi and Chiyo alive, he didn't have time to exact his revenge. He had to quickly reestablish his connection to the sealing jutsu back in cave. Not only that, but he could not kill the Kyuubi's vessel without incurring the wraith of both Pain and Akatsuki's true leader. Reluctantly, Zetsu began to retreat. He was just about to phase into the ground when he heard a sound from behind him and sensed a build up of chakra. He turned to find Naruto hurtling toward him with a rasengan churning in his outstretched hand.

Thick, thorn covered vines erupted out of the ground and shot straight toward the airborne shinobi. Naruto redirected his arm downwards and used the rasengan to buzz saw through the vines trying to snatch him from the air. Flipping head over heels in mid-flight while using the rasengan to fend off the vines, he reoriented his body so he'd slam feet first into Zetsu.

"Naruto-kun, it's a clone substitution!" Hinata yelled out in warning.

Releasing the rasengan, Naruto quickly formed a shadow clone that grabbed him by the jacket and flung him up and over what appeared to be Zetsu. Right as he passed over it's head, Zetsu's clone burst open to reveal more vines. The vines tried to wrap around Naruto but only succeeded in ensnaring his shadow clone, dispelling the chakra construct when their thorns ripped into it. The real Naruto landed on his feet facing the mass of vines.

"Underground!" Hinata yelled while pointing at a spot just in front of Naruto, once again directing her teammates to Zetsu's hiding place.

"Naruto, out of the way!" Kakashi barked. The blond leapt backwards without hesitation, fairly sure he knew what his sensei's next order was going to be. "Sakura, now!"

"Right!" Sakura slammed her fist into the ground causing the earth to shake and heave upward.

Naruto landed on his feet fifty feet away from the others. He looked up expecting to see a similar result to when Sakura pulled the same move on Kakashi during the bell test, namely a stunned opponent sitting among the rubble. He was sorely disappointed. Five vines shot out of the ground and spread out like a fan between Zetsu's location and the opposing shinobi. Everyone instantly noticed that these vines were different than the others when dozens of seedpods sprouted along the length of each one. The pods rapidly swelled until they were over two feet long and then exploded launching a shower of needle-sharp senbon-like seeds in every direction. Hinata surged forward a short distance in front of the others and performed a kaiten, blocking the attack from hitting Sakura, Kakashi, and Chiyo. The shadow clone that had been impersonating Naruto dove behind a tree but was destroyed when one of the seeds sliced right through the tree and hit the clone.

"Oh, crap!" Naruto was midway through performing a kawarimi when he received the clone's memory of seeing the seed blow through the tree trunk. He instantly realized the substitution technique wouldn't work. "Kaiten!" He spun around in an extremely bastardized version of the jutsu his girlfriend had just preformed. The move stopped Naruto from being skewered, but it had been an act of desperation. Where as a Hyuuga depended on precise chakra control to push a simultaneous and even efficient distribution out of all the body's chakra points, Naruto just pumped out a massive burst of chakra and spun like mad. It worked, but only because the trick to using the kaiten wasn't the simultaneous release of chakra from all the body's chakra points. The only challenge in that was having the control to ensure that you didn't use too much chakra and exhaust your reserves in the middle of a battle. Naturally, for someone with Naruto's insane chakra reserves this wasn't much of a concern. The real reason only members of the Hyuuga clan could master the jutsu was because only someone with the Byakugan could perform the inhumanly chakra-powered high speed spin required and still be able to fight instead of being disoriented and staggering around like a drunken monkey on roller skates like any normal human. This was a fact that Naruto quickly became reacquainted with when he stopped his rotation. He tried to stand up straight, but his inner ear was trying its damnedest to convince the rest of his body that the forest was still spinning around him. He ran back to the others following an unintentionally winding path and nearly falling several times. He almost made it when he tripped over his own feet and face planted right in front of Kakashi.

Naruto spat a leaf out of his mouth and sheepishly grinned. "I meant to do that!"

"Of course you did," Kakashi said, playing along with his subordinate's self-depreciating humor despite being genuinely impressed with the speed Naruto had reacted to his predicament and his unorthodox solution.

"You do know you could have just used a kawarimi, right?" Sakura asked, having not realized the full effects of the attack yet.

"And trade places with what, exactly?" Naruto replied while he tried to stop the world from spinning by grasping the sides of his head. Sakura looked around and was surprised when she noticed what Naruto already knew. The whole area looked like a giant pincushion. Many of the needle-sharp seeds had blown holes straight through the trunks of the surrounding trees. A few of the smaller trees had been cut in half by the barrage of thorns. Even the rock outcropping had been demolished. The only places spared were directly behind where Naruto and Hinata had preformed their respective kaitens. "Just be glad I didn't blow my cloths off this time," Naruto added as Kakashi helped him to his feet.

Hinata's face turned beet red at the mention of the results of Naruto's earliest attempts to copy the kaiten. The knowing, amused look Sakura flashed the Hyuuga teen reminded her a little too much of Jiraiya's reaction when she made it back to camp with toilet paper stuffed up both nostrils and dragging a naked and dazed Naruto wrapped up in her rain cloak. The sannin had blackmailed her into staying quiet about his 'research' for weeks afterward. "Naruto-kun, maybe now isn't the time to bring that up."

Meanwhile, Chiyo had kneeled on the ground and poured a vial of a greenish liquid in a puddle before her. She then ran through a rapid series of hand seals and then slammed her palms down to either side of the small puddle. "Doku chijou ami no jutsu." With her Byakugan, Hinata saw chakra strings weave themselves into a spider web-like net over the ground in front of them. The liquid in the puddle rapidly flowed along the chakra strings, which spread it evenly across the ground. Suddenly Zetsu burst from the ground acting as if he'd been burned.

"Despite your appearance, I see you're just as vulnerable to neurotoxins as the rest of us. I'd suggest you keep that in mind and stay above ground where we can see you," Chiyo announced to the Akatsuki lookout as she climbed slowly back to her feet.

"Hey, Stinkweed, you ready for a real fight now?!" Naruto yelled.

Zetsu snarled. "Stinkweed?!"

"We'll crush you! Midori no tate!"

A mass of vines burst forth from beneath Zetsu's cloak and wrapped around the missing-nin. The bramble of vines began to weave together into a vaguely humanoid shape that towered nearly thirty feet over the five shinobi below. At the end of each massive arm the vines twisted together into three drill-like spikes that turned brown as they hardened.

"Naruto," Kakashi sighed as the massive giant took a step toward them, "must you taunt the S-class missing-nin?"

Naruto turned and grinned at the masked jonin before rushing into battle. "It's what I do."

"Don't let your bare skin touch the ground, the poison I used can affect you as well," Chiyo advised.

"Gotcha!" Sakura yelled as she charged in preparing to deliver a devastating chakra powered punch. Her fist collided with one of the massive arms that had moved to block her, knocking Zetsu back and causing his plant armor to ripple as it absorbed the impact. She barely dodged the counterstrike as the other arm swung around.

Naruto stepped into the arm's path with his swords drawn. He slashed the arm, chopping off the end third. A blue-tinged shimmer effect extended several feet from both blades and a slight humming sound could be heard.

Kakashi was startled when he recognized Naruto had just used Asuma's hein technique. He didn't have much time to consider the implications in the heat of battle, though.

Naruto made a gash in the leg of Zetsu's midori no tate and another in its stomach. Hinata leaped onto the giant's chest and preformed her shugo hakke rokujuuyonshou. Instead of using the technique as a defense, she drove the beam of chakra emanating from her hand into the giant with a palm strike. There was a cry of pain from within as the beam struck home and pierced Zetsu's shoulder, but Hinata had to leap away to dodge the three spikes of the remaining hand trying to brush her off.

"Did you get him?" Naruto asked.

"No, he moved inside it at the last moment. I only managed to wound him."

Kakashi burned the midori no tate with a katon jutsu. However, Zetsu simply shed the outer layer of his armor, regenerating the missing arm and other damage in the process.

"Damn it, we don't have time for this!" Naruto yelled. He created a shadow clone and together they formed what looked like an oversized rasengan. Then he and the clone charged Zetsu. "Oodama rasengan!"

Gaara stood in a white expanse of nothingness staring at a mirror image of himself slowly getting smaller in the distance. He could feel his own strength slipping away along with the demon being ripped from his body. Despite his impending doom, Gaara felt oddly detached and calm, partly because his thoughts were becoming increasingly less lucid as he grew weaker.

"Why?" Gaara asked his reflection. "Why do I still fight to hold onto this existence?"

No response came, but the empty white expanse suddenly dissolved and was replaced by a wind-blown desert. The ground beneath Gaara's feet rumbled, and a great mound began to rise in front of him. The mound began to take on features Gaara was all too familiar with. Two pointed ears. A snout. Golden eyes. Blue markings etched across the surface of the creature's head.

However, something was different. The demon seemed to be breathing with a great deal of effort, and in places the sand that made up the gigantic head before him was crumbling away. Shukaku was in pain. When the demon spoke, it was not the voice of a drunken, raving madman Gaara had known all his life. This voice was sober, lucent, and came in pained gasps. "Human…they are attempting to remove me from your body. When the process is complete, my power will be subjugated to their will, and you will be dead."

"I know," Gaara replied.

"You plan to stand here waiting for death?"

"That does appear to be the only option open to me," Gaara answered with seeming indifference. The idea of dying didn't bother him as much as he thought it would. He would be free of the demon and the constant battle for control and his sanity he had endured since birth. As Gaara felt himself slowly succumbing to death's cold grasp, the idea of finally being able to rest from his long struggle, to no longer have to endure the heartache and rejection of others, was a seductive siren's song calling his name. Still, there was something holding him back from turning and fully embracing his end. He tried to remember what it was that was so important to him but couldn't. All his memories were hazy and distant. However, that did not mean the memories were beyond the demon's reach.

Shukaku cackled. "The Kyuubi's vessel? That's what you're trying to remember? I don't see why he is so important, but if that is what you need to fight, so be it." The demon surged some of its remaining chakra into Gaara. The hazy began to lift from Gaara's thoughts and the memories came rushing back. He could hear a voice full of emotion, understanding, and determination:

"Because he was like me. Because he lived knowing the same kind of loneliness and sadness I did. I thought he was strong 'cause he survived that solitude fighting only for himself. But I was wrong. His strength isn't real. Strength doesn't come from fighting alone. Real strength is not what you have when fighting for only yourself."

Another memory, the same boy's voice still full of determination but now also exhaustion and sympathy:

"What you must feel being alone and incomplete. What your pain must be. I understand that…but for the people that are precious to me, to be able to…" The voice paused to catch his breath. "The people that are precious to me…if you are hurting them and if you are trying to kill them I will stop you! Because they rescued me from the hell of being alone. They acknowledged my existence. That's why they are all the most important."

"Love," Gaara said to himself. "That's what made him so strong that day. That's why I keep fighting, I wished to experience what it means to love others and be loved in return."

More memories came flooding back to him.

His sister Temari hugging him for the first time.

His brother swearing to stand by his side when he told him he wanted to become Kazekage.

His sensei, Baki, standing before the council and proudly declaring that not only was Gaara the strongest shinobi in all of Suna but he would also be the best Kazekage the village had ever known.

His apprentice, Matsuri, excitedly wanting to show him the latest jutsu she'd mastered.

His own surprise when he heard the people of Suna actually cheering for him when he was sworn in as Kazekage.

There was so much he had experienced thanks to his few precious people. He owed them so much. What kind of kazekage…no, person…would he be if he just abandoned them by giving up?

"So you've made your decision?"

"Yes, I intend to fight and not yield as long as I am able."

"Good. Something has happened that has weakened their jutsu. I should be able to resist it, but I don't know for how long, so make your actions count."

"Why are you helping?"

Shukaku cackled, sounding more like his old self. It was a something Gaara found oddly…comforting. "Better a prisoner inside a brat than a mindless slave to someone insane enough to think they can control the combined power of my siblings and me. Even I'm not that crazy!"

The rest of the Akatsuki stared in surprise at the empty spot Zetsu's projection had occupied moments earlier. Unnoticed below them, Gaara opened his eyes. He was in unbelievable pain. It felt like his very soul was being torn asunder with the Shukaku that was slowly being ripped from his body. He looked up at the figures standing on the statue's fingertips. He recognized the four Akatsuki physically present. Itachi Uchiha and Kisame were the only two confirmed members of Akatsuki. After receiving Jiraiya's warning that Akatsuki was on the move again, Gaara had felt compelled to review all the intelligence Suna had on the shadowy organization. The files on Itachi and Kisame were likely still sitting on his desk in the Kazekage Tower. The blond haired man opposite Itachi and Kisame he instantly recognized as the one he had fought. Putting together the scarred Iwa headband with the use of exploding clay he'd witnessed during the fight, Gaara was able to deduce the man's identity. The blonde was the missing-nin Deidara, who was wanted for acts of terrorism in his own country and three other nations. Then there was the last of the four. At first Gaara did not recognize the large, squat figure, but when he saw the articulated jaw of a puppet beneath the Akatsuki member's torn mask he quickly figured out it was Sasori of the Red Sands. There was no other puppet user who was of sufficient caliber to be a member of Akatsuki and also a missing-nin. Gaara was well acquainted with the story of the Suna missing-nin. His skills as a puppet master were legendary in Suna, and he also happened to be a distant cousin of the Sand Siblings.

The odds were decidedly not in Gaara's favor. Deidara was likely the weakest of the four, yet he had already demonstrated that even he was capable of defeating Gaara one-on-one under the right conditions. Even if Gaara could somehow break free of the jutsu they were using, in his present condition he did not stand much of a chance against four S-ranked missing-nins. Gaara had very little of his own chakra left and, any chakra he borrowed from Shukaku was instantly drained away by the extraction jutsu. He was hovering several feet above the ground and could only move his head and barely his arms. What's more, he also had no idea how long Shukaku was going to be able to resist the jutsu. He couldn't win this fight, but maybe…just maybe, he could ensure Akatsuki didn't win the battle.

Gaara stealthily moved what was left of his sand armor to his back to avoid letting the Akatsuki spot the sand falling to the cave floor below. Once on the ground, the sand seeped into the cracks of the rock and began breaking up the minerals a few feet below the surface to make more sand. Gaara knew he had to hurry. He had, at most, a minute or two before they realized he was awake. It wasn't enough time to generate the amount of sand he was going to need. If his plan was going to work he needed to buy more time. He needed a diversion, one that would use as little of his remaining chakra as possible. Gaara locked his eyes onto Deidara. The blond hair reminded him of another technique he'd once experienced. 'Perfect.'

Judging by the weak sounding cackle Shukaku emitted, he too approved of what Gaara was planning to do.

It was at that moment that Pain looked down and noticed Gaara was awake.

"Impossible." All the other Akatsuki members turned to look at Gaara. None of them spotted the tentacle of sand that shot up the backside of the finger of the King of Hell statue Deidara was standing on.

Gaara glared menacingly at Deidara. "We're not done with our fight."

Knowing Gaara was still trapped in the extraction jutsu and should have been completely paralyzed from the neck down, the former Rock-nin cockily asked, "What are you going to do about it, blink me to death?"

A sinister smile, the likes of which hadn't been seen on Gaara's face in almost three years, appeared. To Deidara's amazement Gaara's arms moved. He slapped his hands together and made a jabbing motion with only the index and middle fingers of each hand extended. "Leaf's Ancient Supreme Technique: One Thousand Years of Death."

Suddenly, Deidara's eyes bugged out, and he went rocketing across the cavern holding his butt with his one remain hand. "AAARRGGGHHHH!"

On the finger of the statue where he had been standing, Gaara's sand clone stood with its fingers extended in the same pose as its creator. Deidara's trajectory carried him straight toward a grinning Kisame, who rather than trying to catch Deidara, ducked, allowing Deidara to continue his flight into the cave wall beyond.

Itachi briefly raised a questioning eyebrow at his partner.

"I didn't want to disrupt the extraction jutsu any more than it already has been…at least that's the excuse I'm using if anyone asks."

Original Jutsu

Doku Chijou Ami no Jutsu (Poisoned Ground Web Jutsu): A web of chakra strings is used to evenly spread a poison across the ground which then soaks into the soil.

Midori no Tate (Green Armor): A plant-based jutsu that surrounds the user with a giant living suit of armor capable of regenerating any damage it receives.

Author's Note: Sorry for the extremely long delay in updating this story, but a combination of writer's block and a severe lack of free time due to other obligations (college and work) and a family emergency (finding out my father has cancer, which luckily the doctors caught early) got in the way of finishing chapter 9. My life is slowly getting back to normal, so I should be returning to a more regular updating schedule in the near future.

P.S. Sorry there's no bonus material this chapter. I'll make it up to you later.