Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Sakura still couldn't believe she had survived the battle against Sasori – although the same couldn't be said for the former Sand ninja's granny. The old woman had given her life to save Sakura's and in the end it had allowed Sakura the opportunity to finish off the puppet-master. Now she was busy mending the wounds of Guy-sensai's team. They had arrived in the cave shortly after her battle was over and they had agreed to head out after Naruto and Kakashi-sensai once they were all patched up.
Sakura looked up from what she was doing and pushed her pink hair out of her eyes when Naruto bounded into the cave carrying Gaara's still form. Naruto's bright yellow hair was caked with dirt and sweat and he looked exhausted, but he held the Kazekage's body firmly.
"Naruto! You got him back!"
The relief in Sakura's voice was evident. She finished bandaging Guy-sensai's injuries while Naruto walked across the cave floor and gently laid Gaara's unmoving body in front of her. He looked at her with tear-filled blue eyes.
"He won't wake up Sakura-chan."
Sakura's face clouded over when she took a closer look at the Sand-ninja's body.
"Naruto – I don't think I can help him. His chakra's gone."
Tears flowed unchecked down Naruto's cheeks. He fell to his knees and grabbed Sakura's hands.
"Please Sakura-chan. He can have my chakra – if you think that will help him."
Sakura pulled herself free of Naruto's grip and was about to deny the possibility, but she stopped herself. Maybe if I . . .
And with that she was lost in thought.
Naruto watched Sakura lean over Gaara and start talking to herself so he stood up and gave her some room to work. Guy walked over and slapped Naruto on the back, nearly knocking the younger ninja to the ground.
"Naruto – I'm glad to see the Akatsuki didn't get their hands on you. Well done!" The green clad jonin gave Naruto a toothy grin and a thumbs up sign. "I knew Kakashi had trained you well."
At the mention of his sensai's name a frown settled onto Naruto's face and he looked down at the cave floor.
Neji walked over to join them. "Where is Kakashi-san, Naruto?"
With that simple question the day's events came sharply into focus for Naruto. He clenched his fists and answered through clenched teeth.
"I don't know."
Guy grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing their eyes to meet.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
Naruto met Guy's fierce stare.
"Kakashi-sensai used his genjutsu to trick that bastard on the bird into scooping him up instead of me."
Naruto shrugged out of Guy's grip before he continued. "He pushed Gaara out to me and told me to get back here as fast as I could."
Naruto wiped at his eyes with the back of his sleeve.
Guy looked confused. "Why didn't the man on the bird make chase?"
Naruto sighed. "At that point Kakashi-sensai's genjutsu made it look like I was him and he was me. The guy just let me go."
He looked down at the floor again. "I don't know where they went."
Guy lowered his head in frustration. "Then Kakashi is lost to us."
An uncomfortable silence filled the cave.
Deidara flew through the day and part of the night in order to reach the rendezvous point for the Akatsuki's next stage. He guided his clay bird through the entry and came to a stop in front of the other members of the brotherhood. He jumped gracefully to the ground with a smile stretched across his face.
"Don't hate me Itachi, but I've managed to snare the nine-tailed brat from you."
Deidara waved his hand and dispelled the clay bird, leaving behind his prize. The young blond-haired man dressed in black and orange was already regaining his feet and crouching into a defensive position, pulling a kunai out at the same time.
Itachi Uchiha narrowed his sharingan eyes and shook his head at the ninja in front of them. He pushed his raven black hair back behind his ear.
"Deidara – I thought you were beyond being fooled by genjutsu by now."
Deidara bristled at the comment and crossed his arms.
"I didn't get fooled Itachi! I dispelled the illusion at once which is how I knew which one was really the nine-tailed brat!"
Itachi sighed. "Kakashi Hatake is not a novice in the art of genjutsu. You released only the first level of illusion Deidara."
Itachi faced the black and orange clad figure and lifted his hands into position in front of his body.
With that word, the figure of Naruto crouching in the corner swiftly transformed into that of Kakashi Hatake, one of the top jonin from the Village Hidden in the Leaves.
Deidara sputtered. "Impossible!"
Itachi lowered his hands. "Evidently not."
Deidara's anger at being fooled caused his face to flush bright red.
"Let me kill him now and be done with his interference!"
Zetsu stepped forward, opening his plant shell mantle to expose his half-black/half-white face and turned toward Deidara.
"I have watched this one with the nine-tailed beast for some time now. He holds a place in the jinchuriki's heart. If we kill him we will enrage the the boy."
Zetsu's darker half took over the conversation.
"But if we use the man as bait we can lure the boy to us willingly."
Deidara wanted to argue, but his Brother's logic could not be faulted.
"Then perhaps we should make sure our bait doesn't escape before we can use him, hmm?"
The others gave signs of agreement and together they cornered Kakashi in one end of the cave.
Deidara heard the Leader's voice echo through the cave.
"Remember Brothers, he is no use to us dead."
Deidara turned toward Itachi. "You are from his village. Is there anything we need to know about this one Itachi?"
"Yes. Expect the unexpected."
Deidara scowled. "That doesn't help, hmm?"
Kakashi crouched in the corner with his kunai at the ready. He was facing a wall of S-class felons, each bearing the black robes with red clouds which marked them as full members of the Akatsuki organization. Although he'd heard one of them say they wanted him alive, he knew this was not going to be an easy battle by any means.
Kakashi took a deep breath. Maybe I should have thought this plan out a bit further.
Before he had time to contemplate his predicament further, the members of the Akatsuki started to close in on him. He recognized a few of them:
Deidara – the blond creator of the clay birds and the person responsible for kidnapping the Kazekage. Kisame – the freakishly tall and unbelievably strong former member of the Village Hidden in the Mist. He was one of the infamous Seven Swordsmen of the Mist Village and his massive sword was already being leveled at Kakashi.
Then of course there was Itachi Uchiha. The man who single-handedly eliminated his entire clan in one of the bloodiest homicidal attacks in the history of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Of the entire Uchiha clan only Itachi's younger brother, Sasuke, survived. Kakashi knew from experience to avoid the man's sharingan gaze at all costs.
Kakashi also recognized the man with the black and white face hidden within the plant mantle from his Bingo book. Zetsu was said to be a master of plant life and rumored to be a bit of a cannibal.
Kakashi did not recognize the rest of those gathered in front of him. They were unknown elements and as such he would need to be especially careful of their approach.
A single Akatsuki member stepped forward from the group. He looked barely older than Naruto – with an eagerness in his eyes that put Kakashi on guard immediately. The young man turned toward the others.
"Let it be our turn to play. Everyone else has had a turn today it seems but us."
Another of the unknown Akatsuki members addressed the boy. "Very well. Just remember to leave him alive."
The others stepped back opening up more room for Kakashi and the young man to battle. Kakashi watched his opponent carefully as he turned back to face him. The young man's short brown hair stuck out in places and his dull gray eyes seemed to sparkle when he looked toward Kakashi. The grin that stretched across his face made Kakashi think the idea of this battle excited the boy immensely.
From one moment to the next the young man's body split into two – then the two split into four – those four split into eight – each seeming to peel away from the others.
Were these shadow clones? Kakashi had never seen clones created in such a manner. He narrowed his eyes and looked at them using his sharingan eye. His eyes opened wide.
Every one of these copies held the same level of chakra as the original. There was no diminishing from that level when each of the others appeared. Could this be a blood-trait?
"Dammit." Kakashi tensed while he waited for the new group to make its move.
He didn't have to wait long. Each one of the enemy ninjas pulled out a weapon – but each held a different one. There was everything from nun-chuks to kunai to katana.
All of them grinned at Kakashi again and swarmed toward him. Kakashi's hopes that these might still be clones disappeared when he landed strike after strike against his attackers with a force that should have dispelled a clone. Instead of disappearing, these duplicates received the wounds and kept fighting.
The team of attackers drove him up against a wall and then finally to his knees. They worked together seamlessly to strip Kakashi of his weapons and place him into a headlock – effectively ending the battle.
Two of the duplicates stepped forward and proceeded to slam their fists into Kakashi's stomach, doubling him over and causing him to spit up blood. This was followed by knees crashing into his sides which caused his ribs to make a most disturbing cracking sound.
"ENOUGH!" The voice from beyond Kakashi's attackers caused the smile to finally disappear from all the duplicates faces. After a few more well placed kicks, the punishment was stopped.
Kakashi was left gasping on the floor while the duplicates were reabsorbed into the original body. He noticed all of the injuries he'd managed to place on the individual duplicates were transferred back to that final body. Kakashi narrowed his eyes in contemplation of just what this jutsu may have been.
The young man absorbed the final duplicate and then turned to address the others. "You never let us have any fun."
Kakashi used that moment to release a hidden kunai from the sole of his sandal and threw it unerringly into the young man's back. The force of the blow knocked the man to the ground. Kakashi's aim was true enough that the bastard should be dead – but he watched as the man slowly pushed himself back to his feet.
One of the duplicates remained on the floor with Kakashi's kunai still lodged in its back. So – I managed to cause him to sacrifice one of his bodies. That's something at least.
Kakashi watched the young man turn toward him with such a look of hatred in his gray eyes that he thought for sure he'd launch straight at him. Instead the boy laughed and addressed his comrades.
"I guess you were right about this one Itachi – expect the unexpected. So what do we do with him now, if you won't let me kill him?"
Itachi walked toward Kakashi. "He won't cooperate of course – which leaves us with very few options."
Itachi moved quicker than Kakashi's eyes could track – even with the sharingan – and the next thing he knew his leg snapped under the force of Itachi's hand. The pain of the sudden break shocked Kakashi into inaction and caused a shout of pain from him.
Itachi stepped back. "If he can't walk – his escape will be easier to prevent."
Kisame joined him. "Brutal as usual Brother."