AN: Gah, sorry it took so long, an OC was arguing with me, it's all her fault. Well, that and I got bribed. Yes, I'm susceptible to bribery, BEA87 found that out when she made fanart for me for 'New Bloodlines'. Check her out on deviant art under the same name, she is truly awesome. Ja and enjoy.

Several Months Prior to Present

When the band that included Naruto and Gaara joined up with the band that included Asuma and his two students, Ino and Chouji, and Baki, Asuma was worried, but not overly concerned. This was war, and the various bands joined and parted at random. Regretfully there had to be very little organization in the remaining resistance; that made it harder for Akastsuki and Orochimaru to find and annihilate them.

But then Asuma started looking for his third student, the one he was forced to admit was his favorite, Shikamaru. Shikamaru had joined up with Naruto and Gaara because the latter was still sunk into grief-filled apathy and couldn't lead. But the older man couldn't find his student. The more he asked, the more concerned he got.

There were many "I thought he was leading the medics out" and "I heard that he was helping Gaara get out." There were also several "I was told he was covering the retreat" and "Last I saw him he was packing up supplies and yelling at us to move out. Thought he was going to cover our ass, like usual."

Shikamaru taking on the laborious task of rear-guard was unusual, and yet completely typical of the youth. The boy wouldn't lift a finger to help himself, but he would be the first to take a hit to protect his precious people.

So Asuma continued to grow more and more concerned as the last of the Jinchuuriki's band regrouped with Asuma's band, but Shikamaru had yet to appear. Finally, he encountered someone who he was certain would know; Temari.

"Have you seen Shikamaru?"

Asuma blinked, mouth still opened to ask that very same question, Temari had beaten him to.

"No, I haven't, I was going to ask you that." The older man answered. Temari bit her lip and looked around anxiously. It occurred to him then that the girl may be one of the folk harder hit by the war, her personality change was painfully clear. "Where did you see him last and what was he doing?"

Temari blinked up at him, "He was still in the camp, asking the scouts to lay a false trail. I was helping Gaara, he needed me and-"

"It's alright, Gaara had to be your primary concern." Asuma assured her as her tone became more anxious and guilty. "Do you know if any of your scouts are in yet?"

She nodded and led the way, the older Jounin at her heels. Kankurou was already there, interrogating one of the scouts.

"What do you mean you just left him?" Puppet-user roared at the trembling, saluting scout.

"S-sir, he told me- he ordered me t-to cover the retreat." The scout stuttered. Another scout entered the scene, this one clearly exhausted, and clearly held some authority.

"Kankurou-san," She said, then turned to Temari and Asuma, "Asuma-san, Temari-san. I have a little news."

"Report," Asuma ordered briefly, while Kankurou looked at his sister, then flinched away guiltily. The puppet-user clearly knew something, and didn't want to confess it just yet.

"While I and my team were laying the false trail, we passed within eye-shot of the attackers. I was heavily concerned with the weapons they were wielding; nets, bolos and the like." The wo

man shrugged a little, "I was concerned, but I was certain that those weapons would be useless against our people."

Asuma nodded, slavers' weapons like those would be useless against a shinobi of significant rank, under normal circumstances. "What was your last encounter with Shikamaru?"

"He and Gaara-sama were questioning me as to enemy disposition and Shikamaru-san instructed me to lay a false trail." The scout leader shrugged again.

"Kankurou, what about you?" Asuma asked. The puppet-user flinched.

"He- he headed back." The Suna Jounin mumbled, "He-he said he was going to make sure no one was left behind." Silence reigned for moment before Temari uttered a choked noise.

"Th-that- that's what his f-fa-father said-" She finally managed.

"I know," Kankurou all but whispered, "I hadn't remembered though, until we got here and it was too late." No one could miss the puppet-user's guilt and remorse. To him, Shikamaru was a treasured friend and needed supporter of his sister. That he hadn't stopped that person from going on a suicide mission was tearing him up inside.

Asuma stood apart, locked in thought for a moment. Then he strode away, calling back over his shoulder: "I'm going to organize a small party to go look for Shikamaru. If you wish to come, meet me by the main fire in ten minutes."

Ten minutes later found Kankurou, Temari, Ino, Chouji as well as Kiba and Asuma. All of the younger shinobi immediately deferred to Asuma, who led the way. It was easy to backtrack since the Sand-sibs had just recently come this way, and they swiftly reached the former campsite. The signs of a brief, violent battle littered the area along with several untidy corpses. Typical of a slaver's battle, to abandon their dead, Asuma noted. He instructed all but Kiba to scout the area for visible sign of Shikamaru; Kiba was to use his and his dog's nose.

The few weapons that were recovered were again typical of a slaver's raiding band, and the three syringes that were presented to Asuma only confirmed that. A quick test on a treated scrap of paper showed that the drug was a cheap knock-out variety. Kiba's quiet, solemn report on the lack of blood from Shikamaru was the last piece of evidence.

"Shikamaru is undoubtedly alive." Asuma stated to his small team. The youths responded as their war-altered personalities dictated; Kankurou heaved a sigh of relief, Temari burst into tears, which made Ino fuss over her as a way to repress her own response, Chouji just showed relief and Kiba nodded before turning to his three-legged Akamaru. "However-" Asuma regained everyone's focus, "-However, it is very safe to assume that Shikamaru is now enslaved."

"We have to go after him!" Ino demanded immediately.

"Yeah, we've got to rescue him, we've got to!" Chouji insisted. The other three added there own votes towards a rescue, and Akamaru barked his own deep affirmative.

Asuma sighed and let his regret show, "With what resource are we to do this?" He asked. Silence answered him as the youths' looked at him in denial. "Shikamaru is a shinobi, a Jounin. He will be too valuable to the slavers to be badly mistreated. I know it's painful to admit, but for the moment, we will have to trust in that. The fastest and best way to rescue him is to end this war, and then go search for him." He will probably be in better condition than the rest of us by that point, Asuma added silently.

His team all looked at him, then dropped their eyes in defeat; they couldn't deny the logic of their superior's words, however painful they might be. Right now they had to focus on the people within their reach; and trust that Shikamaru's value and wit would keep him safe. That was all that they were able to do.

Back to the Present

Shikamaru was in shock. He couldn't believe what was now happening. He had been… sold? Someone had actually purchased him? An Akastsuki member had been mad enough to buy him?

He didn't think that anything good could come from this, but thus far he had few complaints. He had been hauled out of that stinking hole he'd been locked in and thrown into a shower. Shikamaru hadn't been granted enough time to get properly clean, but for the first time in weeks- months!- he was able to rinse off the caked sewage.

The gag was removed, a blessing to his raw and aching throat, and the worst of his wounds at least superficially tended to. And then clothes, gods clothes!- were thrown at him. Slaves were rarely permitted the honor of clothing, so Shikamaru had been without even a loin cloth from nearly the first moment of his enslavement. Any clothing, even a coarse woven, cheap woolen tunic and trews were a luxury beyond comparison. Going nude for months could really change your perspective on something as 'given' as clothing.

But then his slave collar was replaced. The simple leather thong with a quartz keystone was exchanged for an elaborate silver collar with an obsidian keystone.

The implications were chilling. The keystone held the geas 'spell' that held all slaves bound. The geas forced the slaves to do whatever the designated master wished. The master could just bind you into doing some simple labor until it was done, or he could command you to have sex with him. Of course the sex would just be simple rutting, since it was unlikely that the slave in question would willingly obey, but it could still be commanded.

Unfortunately for the masters, the more complex the command, the less likely it was that it was going to be fulfilled satisfactorily, or fulfilled at all. Some things required free will, like art or beautiful music, or good sex. Also, the more demanding and less appealing the order, the more chakra was required to force the slave to do it. The masters could order Shikamaru to kill someone, but the geas couldn't make him do it unless he already wanted to kill that person. There simply wasn't enough energy stored in that little keystone, energy collected from Shikamaru himself, to make him do it. But the geas still had enough power to keep him from actively suiciding, which was why he was slowly killing himself through passive starvation.

But a new keystone meant a new set of geas, and a new set of compulsions that he would have to obey. The chains binding him had just been exchanged for stronger ones, and Shikamaru didn't know how much slack these new chains may, or may not, have.

The Cold Iron collar hadn't been touched though. The Nara didn't know what that might mean, even though he wished he could be rid of its continuously burning presence. But he couldn't think of such things now, he was being presented to his new master.

Uchiha Itachi was standing in one of the many opulent waiting rooms the front of the slavery establishment had. Behind him, crouched in subservient positions were ten other slaves, all young adults, all seeming less traumatized than was normal here. The black clad Uchiha glanced over at Shikamaru and narrowed his eyes in displeasure.

"Remove the Iron." The new master commanded coldly. The owner, standing just in front of Shikamaru, started to sweat nervously.

"But- M'lord- He's-" the fat man stammered.

"I said, remove the Iron, now! Do not make me repeat myself again."

"But he's a ninja!" the owner protested, foolishly.

"There is no possible way that the boy could mold chakra in his depleted state; you need not worry about him performing jutsus, even if he could with that hand." The unspoken words; 'how stupid are you, to have not figured that out yourself' hung in the air between the two masters.

"Couldn't you, uh, couldn't you take off the, uh, the collar once you, um, you leave?" The fat man asked hesitantly. Itachi just stared at him, icy contempt radiating off of him in waves. The fat man gulped obviously, and quickly tore the collar off of Shikamaru's neck.

The violence of the removal proved to be a hidden blessing; the pain of the new cuts and burns kept Shikamaru from fainting as his chakra suddenly surged into motion. Needed energy flowed immediately to his many wounds, leaving him feeling light-headed and dizzy. It felt good, knowing his native power was accessible again. It felt like a limb that he thought was completely lost had been reattached. Or like his sight had been returned when he thought that he was blind.

He blinked, Itachi was standing in front of him, staring with a strangely sympathetic look. Shikamaru couldn't say when his new master had gotten there and that was frightening. A slave must always be aware of his master.

"Come," His master said gently. Gently? How strange. Shikamaru padded after his master silently, an easy thing since he was barefoot and had been for months. The other slaves also followed Itachi out of the building, but with a touch less grace. Not that it mattered, the new master only glanced back a time or two to ensure that everyone was keeping up, but ignored them beyond that.

This was something that Shikamaru didn't mind at all, it could be dangerous if a master paid close attention to you. He could notice that you hated him, that you hated you station, or the job you'd been put to. And what else could your master do but punish you if he noticed your insolent hatred? Also, if the master paid close attention to you, it could mean that he had intentions… intentions that you might not like…

Shikamaru stifled a shudder, and quickly turned his mind to his surroundings. How long had it been since he'd been outdoors? Too long. The feel of the sun on his skin felt like a blessing, and the cooling breeze definitely was. And the smells! And the sounds! Clean air and fresh grass, and the rich smell of earth and fallen leaves! The crisp sound of swaying grass, and wind moving through the trees and bird song! Gods, bird song!

Shikamaru drank it all in and stored the sensations away as a buffer against the future pain he would undoubtedly feel. And focusing on this kept him from focusing on the persistent ache in his battered, starved body. He had been beaten too often and then forced to sit in his tiny cell for too long to be forced on this kind of long march so soon. His wounds and his weak muscles were protesting quite loudly. Not that he could say anything about it; slaves made due with whatever was done to them and kept their complaints to themselves.

Itachi glanced back over his shoulder again, Shikamaru carefully kept his eyes lowered. He didn't want to receive a beating for insolence right now, not when he was actually enjoying himself a little.

The forced march lasted more than long enough for the youth, who increasingly yearned for a spot to just sit down. Not that he could, not without permission. Finally a nearly invisible campsite appeared sitting next to gently flowing stream. Another man dressed in the red-clouds-on-a-black-field cloak appeared, glaring at Itachi.

"Took you long enough." The shark-like man growled, "I about thought that you'd gotten fed up with it all and left!"

"Not just yet," Itachi answered genially. He noticed Kisame's gaze flick over the ten slaves before settling on the eleventh.

""What's that?"" The swordsman sent awkwardly via Ishindenshin no Jutsu, the Art of Telepathy. He'd never been very good with Ishindenshin, only being able to communicate readily with Itachi, whom he'd know for years.

""My own slave, that I bought with my own money,"" Itachi answered, ""I'm tired of having my housekeeper being maimed or killed and having to train a new one.""

""That's not what I'm asking and you know it!"" Kisame sent, a warning edge to his mental tone. Itachi stifled a sigh.

""Former Konoha shinobi, Jounin rank. He was the only one not completely broken; and I admit he intrigues me.""

Kisame frowned, ""Are you sure about this? Do you have any idea about what you're getting into?""

""No, not really."" Itachi answered almost cheerfully, making Kisame choke. The younger man took advantage of his partner's distraction to turn his attention back to the slaves.

"Alright, all of you strip and get in the stream." He ordered loudly, "You all need a bath and I refuse to tolerate the smell of you any longer." It was easy to see the many looks of relief and gratitude, even joy, one such look coming from his personal slave. But not all the faces turned to him reflected that.

"What? I can't do that!" One of the slaves, a woman with religious symbols tattooed to the back of her hands (1), cried out. "It's forbidden by the One!"

Itachi turned to her coldly while the rest of the slaves hurriedly did as he had ordered. "You will do as I say, regardless of what your god demands." He stated emotionlessly. The woman paled, then paled further still as Kisame loomed over Itachi's shoulder. The swordsman would have been intimidating even without his unique features; his size and stature only emphasized his confidence and battle aura.

"But- but-" The woman stuttered.

"Nah, Sherry, ye got no rights now, jes' do as mun says." The oldest of the slaves said, a man who looked to be in his early thirties. He came over and bowed deeply to Itachi and Kisame. "Ne, great lords, please don' punish 'er much." He begged, "'er religion don' let 'er learn better. She was taken frum 'er 'ome an' taken straigh' ta Cell. She ne'er learne' better nor that."

Itachi looked down at the groveling man, "Her punishment will be dictated by her actions." He said, not unkindly, "I will tolerate minor disobedience, but only to a point." He glared back at the woman. "That point is being reached; you will obey me or I will force you to obey me."

The woman blanched a dead white. "Bu- but-!"


With shaking hands, the woman finally striped and stepped into the cold water.

"Wash thoroughly," Itachi pointed to the old man, "You, show her, please." The old man started to bow in recognition of the order until the 'please' made him pause in incredulity. Then he bowed even lower before hurrying to do as he was told.

The young shinobi slave had been watching out of the corner of his eye the entire time. And Itachi had been watching him right back. The youth had been one of the first to get in the water and had taken advantage of the sandy bottom to scrub himself ruthlessly with the clean sand. He'd better be careful, he only has one skin and he seems inclined to scrub it right off.

Still, Itachi was rather relieved at the young one's over-enthusiasm. Locked up in cages and forbidden enough water to clean up with, it was hard for an outsider to tell who liked being hygienic and who didn't by appearance alone. But while it is a relief to know that I don't have to teach the boy to clean himself, I'd better stop him before he makes himself bleed.

"You," Itachi said, pointing at the youngest slave, "That's enough, any more scrubbing and you'll have no hide left to scrub." The boy blinked at him, "Come, follow me."

The Uchiha walked over to the travel packs that he'd left in Kisame's care, followed slowly by the boy. After a moment of rifling through the pack and mentally swearing at Kisame's disorganization, Itachi finally found what he was looking for; a bottle of medical salve. The boy was right behind him, watching carefully with lowered eyes.

"Turn around," The Uchiha ordered gently. The boy tried and failed to hide his flinch, but obeyed, exposing his bare back to Itachi. A bare back laced with half healed and new wounds. Itachi began smoothing the salve over those wounds, ignoring the boy's trembling. "Name." He ordered.

"N-Na-Nara," Came the hoarse response. The boy's voice sounded- rusty. Makes sense, considering that horrible gag. The youth cleared his throat, "Nara Shi-Shikamaru." He said in a slightly smoother voice.

"A Nara, huh." Itachi mused, mildly surprised. He never thought that someone from the ever-cautious Nara clan would ever put himself in the position where he could be captured. But then, I never thought that a Nara would ever sacrifice himself to cover an escape, even to the point of using Final Strike.

That had cost Orochimaru dearly, Nara Shikato using Final Strike. It had taken out two of the Snake's new Curse Sealed puppet-ninjas. Perhaps I should actually be wise and not allow rumor and common opinion to shade my own opinion, Itachi thought ruefully. Doing that, listening to rumor, was part of the reason he had joined Akastsuki in the first place.

He'd listened to the rumors of the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki and hadn't even known that the lonely blonde little boy was the 'mad, ravening beast' that the rumors painted him to be. Thus, he'd joined Akastsuki, thinking that all he'd be doing would be killing human shaped monsters that needed to be killed. Then he'd seen, really seen, Naruto for the first time; and realized just how wrong those rumors had been.

And the boy before him, of course he'd heard of the extremely clever boy that had been the only one in his class to become a Chuunin on the first try. That same boy had also been the author of many counter attacks that had been devastating against the enemy, be it Akastsuki or Sound. Now I know why it's been easier to attack the United Forces of late, they've lost one of their key tacticians. Interesting.

"Turn around," Itachi ordered again, breaking the silence. Shikamaru obeyed, still shivering in anxiety. "Look at me," he said. The youth flinched again and hesitantly looked up through his curtain of unbound hair. Itachi gently grabbed the youth's chin and tilted his head up to get a good look at him. Not bad, he cleans up better than I thought he would. Itachi gently wiped the last of the salve off onto a shallow cut above the youth's eye, which made the youth close that eye. Not bad at all.

Not that Itachi held physical beauty to be of great importance, he was too experienced for that. Intelligence, personality, cleverness, integrity, these kinds of things were far more important. Still, physical attractiveness was nice, certainly preferable to ugliness. Now he just needs to double his body weight and he may even become desirable.

Along side physical beauty, gender held no real importance to Itachi, just so long as the person didn't deny their gender. He'd bedded several men as well as women. He hadn't stayed faithful, but then, neither had they. Itachi hadn't taken someone who was so much younger than he as Shikamaru was, nor had he taken a slave to bed either. The idea was vaguely appealing, but not at the moment.

Shikamaru was in far too poor of health and was clearly unwilling. The mere idea of rape was a major turn-off; who would want to have sex with someone who didn't want it? Where was the fun in shoving down a biting, kicking, screaming person who was absolutely terrified? Bedding someone who was as interested in giving pleasure as in receiving it was far more appealing, at least to Itachi.

So Shikamaru was completely off-limits until he'd regained body condition and had come to accept Itachi. He might even stay off limits if he turned out to be completely heterosexual and utterly turned off of any kind of sex with another male. I'm getting ahead of myself. He may not turn out to be desirable at all. I'll just have to wait and see, but for now my primary concern will be this little one's health.

Shikamaru watched his master carefully, trying to figure out this weird being. Nothing he had learned in his months of captivity gave him any real clue as to why his new master was treating him this way. Already Shikamaru had been ordered to break two cardinal slave rules: never turn your back to your master, never look your master in the eye. It didn't matter if you were ordered to or not, a slave should never be so presumptuous as to do either thing. The fear of the inevitable punishment had made him shiver uncontrollably.

But what really threw him was the fact that his master was being tolerant, and gentle. Shikamaru could even go so far as to say that Itachi was being somewhat kind. And this made no sense whatsoever. What reason did a master have in being gentle and kind with a slave? Slaves were cheap and disposable; it didn't make any sense to put precious medical salve on one. And yet, Itachi had, and was even now handing the jar of salve to Shikamaru with instructions to use it on the wounds he could reach and then give it to his fellow slaves.

This was making Shikamaru's head hurt, but he did as he was told. For the first time since- since the beginning of the war!- he was completely pain free as he wiped salve over the last wound before handing the jar to the next slave. Movement at the center of the camp caught his attention. His master's partner was fussing over a pot by the small fire, growling whenever Itachi made a move to help.

"Back away from the food, Itachi." Kisame growled. "I don't need your anti-cooking karma botching things up." Itachi looked somewhat pained.

"'Anti-cooking karma?'" He repeated incredulously.

"I don't know how you did it, but you turned one packet, one packet!- of instant ramen into a congealed pile of mush. I don't need you doing that here."

"That was only one time-" Itachi defended, surprisingly weakly.

"So what about the three things of rice, and the instant soup, and the toast, and the eggs! Especially the eggs! How the hell do you boil eggs for a half hour and get them half burnt and half raw?" Kisame demanded. Itachi really looked pained now, and embarrassed.

"I don't know." He admitted reluctantly.

"Of course you don't know, you can't cook worth shit, so stay away from the food I'm going to be eating." Kisame huffed before turning back to the pot. They did that on purpose, Shikamaru noted, noticing the way both masters looked out of the corner of their eyes at the gathering slaves. They're trying to show us that they're human too. Why? Shikamaru didn't know.

Finally Kisame finished the cooking and started to fill small bowls while Itachi handed them out. Shikamaru accepted his and raised the bowl of thick soup to his lips, pretending to drink. His stomach grated painfully, begging him to turn pretense into reality. He resisted; maybe this master is better than the last one, but I'm still a slave and he's still the enemy. I refuse to serve my people's enemy.

When the Master's back was turned, Shikamaru carefully traded his bowl for his neighbor's empty one. His neighbor didn't ask, and Shikamaru didn't tell. That was another rule from the slave pens; you never knew when a casual question might lead you into a world of pain.

Finally, Itachi thought with relief when he spotted the tiny crevice that signified the entrance to the main Akastsuki base. The ten slaves had been delivered to an earlier branch cavern, and now he, his partner Kisame and his slave Shikamaru arrived at the cavern that held the personal quarters for many of the higher-up members.

A person stepped out of the crevice and both Itachi and Kisame came to a dead stop, both also breaking out in a cold sweat. The higher-up members just had to include her, didn't they? The woman who stood in the entrance was neither pretty nor plain, neither short, nor tall. She was young, perhaps a few years older than Itachi, and had strong Asian features, long, straight black hair and large black eyes.

Her face was also very expressive, and was right now conveying an expression of extreme irritation that did not bode well for the two men outside.

"Hello Itachi." She purred. Oh crap, she's really pissed right now. What the hell did I do this time? "I really must thank you for piling up all those nearly-dead slaves on my already over-worked staff." Oh.

Mei Lin, the woman who was currently contemplating Itachi's imminent and agonizing death, was the head of the Akastsuki medical department. She was really good at her job, too good. No one wanted to mess with her because she knew the human body inside and out and knew how to take it apart in the most efficient and painful way. Which was why Itachi was really, really nervous. And why the only other one beside him was his slave.

""Kisame, you traitor, where are you?!""

""Sorry, kid, you're on your own!"" Kisame responded, his mental voice weak with distance, ""I like breathing with both of my lungs!"" Since the last time Itachi and Kisame had increased Mei Lin's work load she had threatened to rip out a lung each, Kisame's parting shot was valid.

"Mei Lin-san, what a pleasure to see you here." Itachi, well, cooed. It was rather pathetic really, but one just didn't mess with a Medic as powerful as Mei Lin. Or as chronically PMSing as Mei Lin. Medic's were the worst kind of enemy, especially the one you had to rely on to patch you up. And when one had that woman's temperament… well, uh… She had become the Chief Medic as quickly as she had for a very good reason.

"Don't you 'Mei Lin-san' me, you arrogant bastard!" She scolded, stalking closer, "After what you pulled, I've half a mind to- who's this?"

The subject change didn't throw Itachi since he'd deliberately moved to reveal Shikamaru anyway. As cranky as Mei Lin normally was, she had a surprising soft spot for those in need, especially puppies, kittens and half-starved human youngsters. According to Itachi's calculations, Shikamaru should be well-nigh irresistible to Mei Lin.

He was right; the scary woman rushed right past the Uchiha without a second glance and proceeded to fuss the traumatized youth. Thinking he was now safe, Itachi started to creep off. Shikamaru was in good hands, evil though she might be, Mei Lin was a Healer through and through. Itachi could retrieve his slave later.

"And were do you think you're going?" Came the evil one's voice from behind him. Crap, he froze, on leg still elevated, pondering whether he should abandon dignity and bolt, or stay in the woman's unpredictable company.

"Get you too-sexy-for-you-own-good ass back here, right now!" Double crap. Highly resentful, yet surprisingly meek, Itachi followed as Mei Lin fussed Shikamaru into her clinic.

Shock again, it was becoming a familiar feeling. This, this woman had dragged him off to her clinic after brow-beating and embarrassing Itachi and was now poking and prodding him. Shikamaru wanted to protest, but didn't dare to. That and he was too tired. The walk here had been so long, all the youth could do was go along with whatever his masters wanted.

Now she was poking his hand, humming and hawing under her breath. Shikamaru watched listlessly. Then she seemed to make up her mind.

"I'm going to have to re-break some of these bones to make this hand usable again. Is that all right?" She asked the youth. He just started back at her blankly; he was a slave, why was she asking him anything?

"If doing so repairs his hand in the long run, then that would be ideal." Itachi answered for Shikamaru. The woman glanced over her shoulder to where Itachi was leaning against the clinic cave wall near the door.

She sniffed, then bent over Shikamaru's extended hand. "This is going to hurt." She warned. The youth said nothing. He felt, rather than heard, the snap as the first badly fused hand bone was broken to be reset. That was the last thing he heard or felt for a while as the blank blackness of unconsciousness swam up to engulf him.

(1) Once upon a time, after the fall of Rome, Christianity held that washing up was evil. I am not making this up, it's true. Christians didn't like Rome, or Roman culture and Romans used to bathe lavishly, so Christianity held the oppisite view, that bathing was bad and taboo. I'm dramatizing it here for my purposes, but there you are.

A.S.: #mutter, grumble, mumble-mutter#

Mei Lin: What's with her?

Itachi: You.

Mei Lin: Eh?


Shika: Ow, my ears…

A.S.: Oh, you poor thing, I'm so sorry, how can I make it up to you?

Itachi: For some odd reason, I think that I am no longer her favorite….

Notes: Quick history on Mei Lin. Once upon a time I thought of making a gen fic; you know, the kind where Naruto has a son, Sasuke has a daughter and Itachi breeds a whole litter? To help him make that litter, I needed a woman that wouldn't drive people too nuts.

She couldn't be a civilian, and I didn't think she should be a generic kunoichi either, there'd be too much rivalry. So, Medic nin. Also, she couldn't be too Mary Sue-esque, so I developed her to have a chronic PMSing attitude, the kind that could intimidate even the infamous Itachi. Thus, Mei Lin was born.

I abandoned the gen fic idea, over done and I couldn't make a decent plot, but Mei Lin stuck around. Then it occurred to me that Akastsuki would definitely be an organization that needs a full medical staff in any does. So, who to make the chief of staff, hmmm. Oh, hi Mei Lin, need a job? Hope she's not too Mary Sue, tell me if she is and how I should fix it, onegai?