Starting… Opening… Whatever.

Zodiac Viruses- chapter 10- Of Family and Honour- launching program…

If there was one thing Sasuke hated more than how the Hacker case was going nowhere fast, it was how people kept ending up in the hospital. And all this did was point to a disturbing theory festering in his mind. Quietly closing the behind him, Sasuke sighed heavily.

Sakura had been found on the floor of her room, her neck nearly crushed. She should have been dead, according to the hospital. But she wasn't. She was incredibly, ridiculously lucky and she wasn't dead. Even so, Sasuke had to force down a shudder every time he thought about her, a girl his age, in his class, his partner, lying as if carved from stone. Right now, a series of machines kept her alive. A sickly wad of guilt lumped deep in his chest. Surely there was something he could have done. But he had never suspected that Sakura would be in danger. No one had.

They had told her parents it was a freak accident; that Sakura had fallen forwards into the hardwood backing of her chair. The lie was bought with a thinning of lips but the parents didn't question the investigation. The Harunos would not interfere.

That was good, because nobody had any idea what happened in Sakura's room last night. All entrances to the second-story room had been locked. The Harunos had not heard anything out of the ordinary. Not even a crash. Short of catching whoever did this, it was unlikely they would ever find out.

Sasuke left her room behind, weaving between an endless line of doctors, nurses, janitors and relatives, heading nowhere in particular. Alone with his thoughts, there was nothing to distract Sasuke from the stench of sterilizing chemicals and old coffee. Sasuke had always had trouble thinking of hospitals as a place where people came to be healed.

He'd never particularly liked hospitals, the few times he'd visited before. One of his earliest memories was being carried into a waiting room for a flu shot, and then screaming almost as soon as he entered the doctor's room. Mikoto had been shocked – he'd heard her talking to Fugaku afterwards, Sasuke had never behaved like that before. He himself couldn't explain that sudden, childish fear. But he remembered that, at that moment, everything about this building had terrified him. The incident was one of the many reasons why Sasuke was behind in his flu shots.

But hospital life continued anyway, as if it truly didn't care what a paranoid teenage thought. As he stepped off the elevator into the bustling lobby floor Sasuke almost didn't see his father heading in his direction. He stood to the side hurriedly and bowed a greeting.

Fugaku acknowledged him with a nod, but didn't walk past. Instead, he motioned that Sasuke should follow him back out of the building and lead the way through a newly formed path in the crowd. Even those who didn't recognize Fugaku's position unconsciously parted to make way for him. Sasuke followed him silently to the car, waiting for the man to say whatever was on his mind.

They were halfway home when he finally spoke. "I'm pulling you off the case."

He said it the same way he'd comment on the weather and it took Sasuke a minute to realize what he meant. He stared at his father in shock – did he really think Sasuke was doing such a bad job? Did he even have a reason? Sasuke swallowed those questions before he could blurt them out. Outbursts wouldn't get him anywhere with Fugaku. Calm, cool and collected would- like Itachi was when he was particularly enraged. "…Why?" Sasuke held off mentioning his past success- barely.

Fugaku glanced at him, and Sasuke couldn't begin to guess what he was looking for, and frowned more deeply than usual as they pulled into the driveway. He turned the engine off but made no movement to leave. "This case has become too personal for you to make the appropriate decisions. Therefore you are removed from duty until further notice."

It was the textbook answer, and it didn't tell him much. But it would suffice if the decision was questioned by anybody. Sasuke bit his cheek and a voice, sounding much like Minato, resounded in his head, 'When in doubt, young padawan, use big words.' Sasuke took a moment to form the proper sentence. "Tou-sama, may I inquire as to how the investigation has become too personal?"

Fugaku was staring at him, even if it was only from the corner of his eye. "Itachi," The scowl deepened, "has not returned home for three days. I'm sure you've noticed. He has been declared missing along with several others, many of whom are on your list of suspects." A pause, "There is evidence that he is one of the hackers."


Itachi's bedroom was always dimly lit and impeccably clean, much like Itachi himself. It smelled of recently dried paint and room freshener, instead of the musky smell normally associated with a teenager's room. Paintings had been set gingerly aside, out of harm's way, to be completed during the next bout of insomnia. Sitting stiffly on the stool Itachi used when painting, Sasuke could only stare at them. His eyes were unfocused, and he saw the familiar details of the room more with his mind's eye than with his real eyes.

A made bed, a wall of small, shiny objects collected over time, a desk covered with art supplies. His father had already searched the room. There was nothing out of place. Nothing missing. Everything was as it should be- only that Itachi wasn't there. It wasn't unusual. Itachi stayed over at friends' houses all the time. Sometimes he was gone for up to a week, for whatever reason. He didn't always give warning, either, though Sasuke had seen him talk quietly with their mother after a couple of his longer absences. Their father had never seemed to care before. This time, though, he didn't seem to think he was coming back.

Sasuke knew better.

There was no way Itachi would leave…all this. His paintings. His supplies. He loved them too much. Sasuke stood up numbly and wandered over to his brother's desk. Everything was organized, sorted by function and usefulness and clearly labeled. Itachi always noticed when something had been disturbed; Sasuke had learned that the hard way years ago.

He noticed it suddenly; a flash of reflected light catching his eye. Mixed in with a small collection of ballpoint pens was one that stood out. It was made out of a white metal and decorated with tiny carvings. Sasuke knew that pen. Itachi never let it out of his sight. Never let anyone else touch it. He wouldn't have left it behind.

That was definitely out of place.

Swallowing hard, Sasuke stared at the pen. It wasn't like Itachi, no matter how he had acted in the past few months, to leave his most prized possession unattended. It wasn't like him to conspire against his own father. To blow up a conference building. Really, what did their father know? He hadn't even realized that this pen shouldn't be here. Surely this was all a misunderstanding. Itachi would come back in a day or two, like he usually did, and explain where he'd been.

Wouldn't he? An image came to him then, one of Itachi elegantly plucking a piece of cereal from his brow and a half-forgotten conversation ending on a serious note.

"Be careful out there, Sasuke. If you're not, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble. Hackers can be dangerous."

A simple warning, given by someone who had no doubt heard stories from his father's coworkers. Honest concern for his younger brother, heading into a new job. Only now it sounded more ominous. What did Itachi know about the Zodiac Viruses? Nothing, back then, if he was like the rest of the police force. And he wasn't, because he hadn't even been part of the force then. Maybe he'd known something they didn't. Maybe because he was one of them. And hadn't he been absent during almost all major hacks?

How well did he really know his brother? Sasuke shook his head, trying to banish the thought, only for it to come back stronger than before. Itachi's absences, his disappearance, how he strangely he acted when Sasuke had approached him with the meeting of Fugaku and the Hyuuga… There was no excuse, no reason Sasuke could think of to explain them all.

Except one.

Perhaps Fugaku had been right. Sasuke fought to keep his breathing even. Itachi being a hacker would explain just about everything. How hard would it be for a police officer, even if he wasn't officially part of the force, to give the network details to others? Playing two sides would be easy for Itachi; quiet, genius Itachi. It would have been even easier to hide from their parents. After all, neither Fugaku nor Mikoto had heard a sniff of Sasuke's friendship with Minato. If Sasuke could pull off hiding information in his room, Itachi could do the same.

Taking a shuddering breath, Sasuke tried to accept and assess the possibilities as a good police officer should. But everything was pointing to the fact Itachi was more than he had ever shown anyone in their family.

And now he was gone.

Quietly bowing his head into his arms, Sasuke could only accept the fact he no longer knew if Itachi would return and try to quell the rage burning inside him. His gaze returned to the pen, slightly mesmerized by how the light danced off of the metal. Hesitantly, because the vision of Itachi materializing behind him with a death glare the moment his finger entered the pen's personal bubble popped up in his mind, Sasuke reached for the pen.

In his hand, it didn't seem all that special. Sure, it was heavier than most and the metal was obviously high quality but nothing really explained Itachi's fascination with it. But Itachi loved that pen and if Sasuke kept it with him it would likely bring his brother to him eventually.

He hoped.


It was only when his door was locked that Sasuke finally hit something. With a sharp crash his desk lamp hit the wall, sent there from a particularly strong backhand. Glass from the light bulb flew everywhere, and a shard sliced his cheek.

Standing in the near dark of his room, Sasuke began to think. Hackers. Bombing. The note. Police. Hyuuga. Fugaku. Minato. He glanced at the pen he'd stolen from his brother's room.

Itachi.

Somehow they all tied together. Somehow everything connected, like a jigsaw puzzle. He had all the pieces… or did he? Sasuke sat down heavily on his desk chair, his gaze still on the pen. Was there a variable he hadn't counted? Like why hackers would leap to violence. They would have to have been provoked somehow. Interference from the police was unlikely- they had already shown that the police weren't a real threat with the hacks on the main frame. So what could possibly provoke them enough to act outside of cyberspace? To attack a conference of politicians?

In the back of his mind something clicked- the note and the conference- as two pieces slid into place. The note said they refused to have other like them, so they attacked the politicians. With the politicians gone, the attacks stopped. Why was everything coming back to the note? To the conference. In fact, what had the conference been about?

Perhaps that was the missing piece.

He needed the information Minato had given him. Sasuke stood, and quickly dug it out of its hiding place. Something was in here. It had to be. But every way he looked at it, every time he looked at it, the file was the same as before. If there was some clue to everything in there, Sasuke couldn't see it. And he didn't really have any other options.

He threw the file on the floor, watching the papers scatter, and didn't really feel any better. He'd have to pick them up later and rearrange them; even if it was useless, it was the only information he had right now. He was off the case, and Minato was gone, and he'd taken Naruto with him. There was Jiraiya, but Sasuke didn't even know if he was still in the city.

Absently, he picked up the pen again. Rolled it in his fingers and closed his eyes, told himself to think. Itachi would have been able to piece this together. All he needed to know was what was being discussed at that conference. The news said it was a meeting on inflation, but that didn't fit with the hacker's note- if the note could be trusted. A cover-up? But what for, and how had the hackers' figured out what the true purpose was? It wasn't exactly easy to spy on conspiracies.

He sighed and bent to pick up a piece of paper by the chair leg. He shouldn't leave these out in plain sight. He had barely finished returning the file to its hiding place when his phone went off. "Hello?"

"Sasuke?" The Uchiha blinked at the familiar voice. It had been a while since he'd heard from Kakashi.

"Speaking. What can I do for you, sensei?"

"You can meet me at the park in 30 minutes."

"…All right." Before Sasuke could question further there was a dial tone. Though the conversation was strange, he decided not to dwell on it. He grabbed his coat and left the house without looking back.


The air nipped at him, somehow cooler than it was on his visit to the hospital. But the park wasn't far away, two blocks maybe, and Kakashi was already waiting.

He had to do a double-take to confirm the silver-haired man sitting on the bench was Kakashi. Band-aids covered his fingers, silver hair was partially covered by wrappings, he had an arm in a sling and the only eye in view was purple. If it wasn't for the orange book Sasuke would have been prepared to say Kakashi was a no show. "What happened to you?"

The gym teacher glanced up, smiling sheepishly, "A run-in with an old friend." Sasuke raised a brow. "What about you? That's a nasty cut."

It took Sasuke a moment to remember the broken lamp- which he had yet to clean up- and the subsequent flying glass. He kept his face stony. "My face met glass."

Kakashi stared at him a moment, then flipped a page and started reading again, "Right. Anyway, how have you been? I heard Fugaku-taicho took you off the case."

Sasuke scowled, not answering until after he sat down. His gaze traveled to the toddlers playing in the sandbox and then to the children bounding around on the play structure, "How do you know about that, already?"

"A bird told me. I saved it from a black cat on my detour route from my apartment. It was very grateful." A thin brow raised at that, and Kakashi turned a page. "Actually, I guessed."

"You guessed?" That was less believable than the first reason. The Uchiha glanced at his teacher, "Based on what?"

"Years of experience." A sideways glance showed a less than amused Sasuke. "I was kicked off, too. So were the others."

Sasuke returned his gaze to the playground, the group of toddlers now being picked up by their mothers and fathers, "Tou-san said I was too emotionally involved."

"Funnily enough I got the exact same reason. So did everyone else." Kakashi flipped another page, far too quickly for him to possibly be reading the pages, "And rumours in the lunch room suggest no one is going to be replacing us."

That got a blink. "They're ending our case."

"Apparently. Which is odd considering the recent breakthrough in it. We are fairly sure we know who was financing the Hackers."

That was news to Sasuke. When had that happened and why hadn't he been informed? His father would have had ample time to tell him. After all, he'd only been taken off the case this morning. "Oh?"

"Yeah. We discovered a serial number from a computer from the restaurant that had exploded. It traced back to one Namikaze Minato. We had a raid on his house and everything. Didn't turn up anything, though."

"Minato?"

It was only when Kakashi glanced up, bruised eye watching Sasuke critically, that Sasuke realized his mistake. He winced inwardly, but kept calm, waiting to see how Kakashi would pursue the matter. "You know Namikaze, Sasuke?"

Sasuke shrugged, trying for casual. "Peripherally. I met him once when I was out with a friend. He stopped to chat and demanded I refer to him as 'Minato.' It was very odd."

"Oh?" Kakashi carefully closed his novel, standing up as he pocketed it, "I would advise against meeting him again. There was evidence he was either the leader or a key component of the Tetsubun Prison Break a few years ago. That escapade released Zabuza Momochi, among others, back to the streets."

"If there was evidence, why wasn't Min-…Namikaze convicted or detained?" Sasuke remembered that day well; almost everyone in the area did. His mother had refused to let him or his brother walk to school and made Fugaku drive them to and from. Not with so many criminals running about with free reign over the street for weeks. It had been a disaster.

"You've never been placed in the position where you've had to arrest some as high-profile as Namikaze." Kakashi sighed, "Someone with that many connections, power and money can't be detained by three coincidences, a money trail and a few phone records. Let alone convicted. You need to have hard evidence, along with motive and means, before state or a judge would even act. That's why the rich don't seem to care about laws."

Sasuke nodded, "'There are no laws for the rich and famous.'" He had heard that from Fugaku himself, usually after a case that had fallen through because of connections the suspect had.

Kakashi snorted his agreement, "Couldn't have said it better myself. As I said, avoid meeting him again." The officer waved goodbye and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Sasuke to wander home on his own.


Closing the door to his room, Sasuke leaned against it. He had almost forgotten about that part in Minato's history. Minato had never been convicted, and Sasuke had taken that as innocence, but Kakashi seemed to believe it was only his money that prevented that. The Uchiha didn't know the details, told himself he couldn't make a decision on the matter, but he mostly certainly could see Minato getting off from a charge with some smooth talking.

Oh yes, Sasuke could definitely see the return of 'business' Minato in a Police interrogation room. He almost pitied whomever was in charge of the interrogation; the blond didn't seemed like someone who spooked easily and Sasuke doubted the usual techniques would gain anything more than a lawyer from Minato. If what Kakashi said was true they would need a warrant to go any further, and it was unlikely any judge would grant such a request against such a highly respected member of the community.

Sasuke sighed. He wasn't getting anywhere with what he had. And he still couldn't believe that no one had told him, the lead investigator in the hacker case, about the breakthrough. It didn't make sense. He had been part of the team up until this morning, which meant he should have been informed of the raid on Minato's home. And then there was the whole business of the case being closed just as a substantial breakthrough was made. He had never heard of anything like that happening before.

Nothing was making any sense.

"You aren't much, are you?" The growl came from directly in front of Sasuke, and the startled Uchiha barely had time to glance up. But there was nothing there.

Instantly wary - that voice hadn't come from his head - Sasuke held back a swallow. How had someone gotten past the security on the house? Sasuke put his back to the wall, scanning the room nervously. He heard a quiet chuckle, then right beside his ear: "Moderately smart."

Sasuke turned fast enough to have whiplash, and stared at the empty space beside him. "Terrible reflexes. It's a miracle you haven't been killed off yet."

This time, when Sasuke's gaze settled on where the voice should have been, he was rewarded with the sight of a man staring straight through him. The man was familiar, his long blood-red hair tied back as the base of his neck and his leather jacket was unbounded to reveal a tee-shirt. But it was the those eyes, blood-red and practically glowing, that placed where Sasuke had seen him before.

It was at Minato's, in the pouring rain- that strange visitor that Minato didn't like to talk about. The man lowered himself into Sasuke's desk chair and helped himself to the file folders Minato had lent Sasuke, like he'd known exactly where they were hidden all along. And all the time the man kept his gaze locked on Sasuke's own.

Sasuke fought to keep his breathing even, fighting the urge to bolt even when he turned his attention to the files, absently flipping through them. A glance at the door showed that it was locked, and how that had happened he could only guess. Sasuke held no illusions about his chances of getting out before the man killed him for trying. But he could have easily stolen the files and have disappeared long before Sasuke returned. "What do you want?"

The man peered over the papers briefly before dismissing him. He only answered after he closed the folder, apparently content with whatever he had gleamed from it, "There are many, many things I want. The question is, is there anything I want that you can give."

He grinned then, showing a fang that looked mighty real. Sasuke stiffened for a moment, before relaxing slightly. You couldn't react as fast as possible if your muscles are bunched into a single position, his brother had said. "Well, do I have anything you want or do you break into people's houses for fun?"

For a moment, Sasuke feared he'd gone too far. He stiffened but continued to look the man in the eyes, which had narrowed into slits. The moment passed, and the redhead chuckled under his breath, "I'm not sure whether to commend you on your balls, or put you in your place." He tossed the files back to Sasuke, who had to scramble to catch them. "Sit down."

Careful to keep his back away from the man, Sasuke did as he was told while always keeping both eyes on the redhead. "I have a deal that you should be interested in. An 'I'll help you and you'll help me' sort of deal." He paused, brow mockingly raised, "Unless this concept is beyond you, of course."

Taking a breath, musing the proposition over, Sasuke tried to call up the calm, eerie confidence he'd had with Minato. It was harder to do with this man, but within a few moments Sasuke was thinking clearly and relaxed. "Be more specific. What exactly do you want?"

The man raised a brow at that, and seemed to narrow his eyes thoughtfully. But it was gone as quickly as it had appeared, and then he was all business. "I want Uzumaki Naruto back. You vow to help me in his retrieval and I'll help get you the information you so desperately need."

Sasuke stared for a moment. "Why are you after Naruto?"

The man scoffed, and a silent 'moron' went unspoken.

The Uchiha took the hint, "Why do you want Naruto… back?" The question was more hesitant in nature than Sasuke would have liked, though his voice never wavered from its monotone.

"Better." The redhead took a moment, but Sasuke couldn't read his expression. "I once made a promise that I would protect Uzumaki. Getting him back is how I intend to fulfill that promise."

"So you won't hurt Naruto." The returning glare answered the question. "Why isn't Naruto safe with Minato?" An honest question. Naruto had never seemed like he was being mistreated or that Minato was anything but watchful of the boy.

A cold smile was part of the answer, "Why do you seem to think he's safe?" Sasuke paused, just like was he was expected to, and the man continued. "I'm going to tell you a story. Believe what you want of it. A long time ago a woman makes a mistake. Nine months after that she has a son, only the father disowns him to save his reputation. A few years afterwards the mother is killed in a car crash and the child is taken away to a place where something happens to him. Eventually the boy and some of his peers escape in a fire and now the father wants the boy because the boy is living proof of a conspiracy rivaling most fiction novels. One that is nearly complete."

Sasuke stared at the man, "Alright, suppose I believe you, " Not that Sasuke did, "Naruto would be the boy, and that in turn makes Minato his father. But what's the conspiracy?"

"The creation of beings so unnatural that even the average demon is wary of them." The redhead's expression didn't waver, even as he added that last part. It was crazy – this man was crazy – but somehow it seemed credible tonight.

"Demons? Unnatural beings? That doesn't add much creditably to your story."

The man leaned back into the chair, "Human, I told you could believe it or not. I'm only here to get Uzumaki now that the idiot made a mistake." Just for a moment, the redhead seemed inhuman-something beyond Sasuke's vocabulary. Whatever it was, it made Sasuke think of flames. "Do you accept the deal?"

Sasuke mused it over. He didn't trust the redhead, but at the same time he couldn't trust Fugaku or Minato, who had vanished under suspicious conditions. And Itachi… Itachi had hidden more than Sasuke had ever realized before. "How do I know I can trust you?'

The smile was more of a smirk, "You can't."

The entire story could be a lie, but Naruto had told him his mother died in a car crash. And, now that he thought about it, Sasuke had never heard Minato call Naruto his son- despite the physical characteristics the blonds shared. Too many coincidences to be ignored completely and even Sasuke had to acknowledge he was in a corner, "I'll accept on the condition you don't harm Naruto, Minato or myself when I help you get Naruto back."

"Agreed." Without a sound the man stood, "What do you need?"

Holding back a blink, Sasuke stood as well. If he couldn't trust the man, he would have to treat him as an asset. "Can you find out what the meeting was actually discussing before it was blown up and any information you say is part of this conspiracy?"

"Child's play." The man scoffed, "I'll even figure out who's behind it before nightfall in three days' time."

"Good. I'll see you then."

The redhead smirked at the comment and headed towards the window. He turned after opening it, "Nice eyes." And was gone before Sasuke could question the strange comment.

Once the man was gone, and the adrenaline had faded away, Sasuke had enough sense to look in the mirror. His regular onyx eyes stared back at him, nothing was unusual about them. A little red around the rims, but he hadn't been sleeping well since he joined the investigation. Shrugging off the strange comment, Sasuke set about finding a new hiding spot for the files.


"You know, Oba-chan" Naruto begin, taking a sip of his hot chocolate and huddling in his wool sweater, "Maybe you should ask Oji-san to let Minato in before he freezes."

Over where she was preparing more hot chocolate, 'Auntie' replied, "I will, Naruto-kun. Just as soon as he apologizes for releasing Pein's fifth birthday pictures to the press."

The blond turned his gaze back to the snow-crested window, where one Namikaze Minato glared through while huddling in his blue parka. Snow falling leisurely behind the CEO, who had begun to shake his fist at Naruto (who, in turn deliberately misinterpreted the action and waved back which led to swearing if Naruto's lip-reading was accurate), was moderately picturesque.

"Konan-san," Itachi seemed to have adapted to the cold much better than Kisame, who was shivering underneath the blankets he had stolen from the couch, "As much as I understand Pein-san's grudge, we need Minato alive and well."

The blue-haired woman sighed quietly, and went in search of her husband. Returning swiftly, she opened the front door of the manor/cabin. "You are allowed in under the condition you do not speak to Pein unless it's an apology."

Little more than a shivering mess, Minato stumbled inside. Glaring as hot as he probably wished he was. "Y-you guys are all jerks."

Zodiac Viruses- chapter 10- Of Family and Honour - ending program...

The Zodiac Viruses And Police List

Hackers

Rat- Itachi- Age-16-Program- Sharingan

Ox- Kisame- Age- 18 Program- Shedder

Tiger- Gaara Age-14 Program-?

Rabbit-Deidara Age-18 Program- C1

Dragon-Neji Age-15 Program- Byakugan, Kaiton

Snake- Anko Age- 17 Program- Snakes + Ladders

Horse- Iruka Age- 25 Program-?

Sheep- Hinata Age-14 Program- Byakugan

Monkey-Shikamaru Age-14 Program-Shadow Valentine 1

Rooster-Chouji Age-14 Program- Overload

Dog- Naruto Age-14 Program-?

Boar-Ino Age-14 Program- Shadow Valentine 2

Cat- Sasori Age- 18 Program- Puppet

Leader- Minato Age- 36 Program-?

Police

Captain: (Removed from Case) Sasuke- age- 14 Partner- Sakura

(Removed from Case) Sakura- age 14, Partner- Sasuke

(Removed from Case) Tenten- age 15, Partner- Asuma

(Removed from Case) Asuma- age- 28, Partner- Tenten

(Removed from Case) Lee- age-15, Partner- Gai

(Removed from Case) Gai- age- 28, Partner- Lee

(Removed from Case) Kakashi- age- 28, Partner- doesn't have one.

Tsunade- age- 50, Partner- NA


AN: ... I have no comment on this fic, only that my love of the series is waning like the setting sun.