Chapter Twenty One

The Bigger Picture

"You know what?" Naruto said drawing the attention of the other people in the room. "This blows." He threw the folder in his hands away in disgust and it slid along half the length of the conference table he was sat at.

Kakashi and his two subordinates had taken refuge in one of the conference rooms in the building, filling the large table with open files and laptops with lab results pulled up on screen. Kakashi ignored Naruto's outburst and went back to flipping through the known background of Orochimaru.

Sasuke rolled his eyes at his blonde friend. "Stop complaining, none of us want to be here."

Naruto grinned at Sasuke, an oddly sly look on his face. "Heh, I bet you'd rather be with Sakura-chan right?" Sasuke narrowed his eyes as Naruto continued. "Don't worry Teme, she's in good hands with your brother. I bet they're having a lovely meal together right now." His head craned towards one of the large windows in the room, blue eyes reflecting the silver stars outside. "What a lovely night. I'd say it's almost... romantic."

"Naruto." Sasuke growled and the blonde sniggered.

"Children." Kakashi chided, his voice bored. "The quicker we find something to pin on Orochimaru then the quicker we can go home."

With one last dirty look at his friend, Sasuke went back to the reams of paper that accounted for Orochimaru's bank statements. The man was filthy rich and the amounts on his account were almost indecent. Flights, restaurants, property. Orochimaru blew through more money in a month than most people earned in a year.

Sasuke was looking through a compiled listing of all of Orochimaru's many accounts. Some were for business use, others for personal uses, and more still that were scattered with apparently innocuous purchases. He spotted payments to their victim spread across several of the accounts – the man rotated the account the amount came out of. Which was a clever thing to do... if you had something to hide.

They couldn't arrest Orochimaru just because Rin Rikei had done some private work for him, and there was nothing illegal with the payments themself – it was the reason behind them that would really matter.

Sasuke's eyes were burning from the strain of staring at the numbers and he made to throw the pages away from him in frustration when something caught his eye. As he had noted, large amounts on the accounts were nothing out of the ordinary... but those were usually debits – Orochimaru paying for some ridiculous frivolity. On several of the accounts, scattered very sparsely were unusually large credits. Bigger than the salary Orochimaru received from his company and much larger than any interest payments.

Half a dozen or so payments to Orochimaru all for similar amounts and all paid in within a couple of weeks of each other. Sasuke read across the lines, looking for who the payment came from – no companies to be found, instead each payment came from a person... and all of the names were so carefully generic Sasuke knew he had hit upon something.

"Here." Standing up he spread the pages out on the conference table, feeling Kakashi and Naruto come up behind him. Grabbing a pen, Sasuke circled the six amounts and the pattern was much clearer to see.

Naruto whistled. "What sort of person has enough money to pay six figures in to someone's account."

"Someone who likely doesn't exist." Kakashi nodded, also recognising the oddly bland names on the paper. "It's a front for something They obviously stand out as unusual."

Kakashi took his phone from his pocket and made a brief call to the technicians upstairs. Sasuke listened as his boss asked for someone to run a trace on all six payments – work out where they had originated. "This looks promising." He spoke to Sasuke and Naruto once he had finished on the phone. "Anything else stick out?"

"No." Naruto shook his head. "Orochimaru looks almost suspiciously clean."

"Well then let's hope this leads to something." Kakashi's eye suddenly curved up in to a smile. "Come on, let's order some food in and wait for that trace to run."

It was a sign of how long they had been there that when the night shift clocked off and the building flooded with people once more, Sasuke could be found in the small kitchen, dark eyes staring blankly at the coffee machine.

"A watched pot never boils." Shikamaru intoned from behind him.

Sasuke snorted. "Very funny." He took a glance at his co-worker – clothes freshly pressed, face clean shaven – and realised how much he must have looked like he had been pulled through a hedge backwards.

Shikamaru moved to stand next to Sasuke. "Long night?"

"What tipped you off?" Sasuke stifled a yawn against a closed fist, eyes catching sight of the time on his watch. He'd been wallowing in this place for more than a full twenty-four hours (if you ignored the brief sandwich run from the afternoon before).

"You know, this tends to go better if you actually turn the machine on." Shikamaru reached out a hand a flipped a switch at the side of the coffee maker. Almost at once the hot plate came to life and the liquid inside began to boil.

Sasuke groaned and ran a hand down his face. "I hate my life."

"What else is new?" Shikamaru turned the corner of his mouth up. "Still not made any progress?"

"Some, we're just running traces now. Asked the labs to make a rush job of it."

"Well I have something that might cheer you up."

"Oh?" Sasuke reached for the now-steaming coffee pot and poured the dark liquid in to his mug, eager for the caffeine kick to keep him alert.

"Hmm. That case that Chouji and I are working on."

Sasuke paused and looked at the man. "Sakura?"

Shikamaru nodded. "Yeah the two men that attacked her. Well the big guy, who is evidently not the brains of the outfit, has decided to rat on his friend for a more lenient sentence."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, not liking the idea of either of the men getting off lighter than needed.

"Don't worry." Shikamaru said, recognising the look on the Uchiha's face. "When I said the guy isn't very bright I meant it. He admitted to all manner of robberies and assaults during his interview, complained that he was forced in to it by his partner and then asked for a plea bargain." Shikamaru smirked. "I tried to tell him that bargains don't tend to work out too well after you've already admitted to everything but I'm not sure he got it."

Sasuke couldn't help but feel amused – it looked like both men would find it hard to put up a defence now. It was one thing off his shoulders. "At least one of us is getting somewhere." Sasuke sighed, breathing in the aroma of his coffee.

Shikamaru went through the motions of getting his own mug prepared. "Where's Naruto?"

"Sleeping under the conference table. He slid out of his seat a couple of hours ago and I haven't been able to wake him."

Shikamaru laughed lowly. "Well I'll let you get back to it."

The men parted ways and Sasuke entered their impromptu base of operations feeling dead on his feet. His jacket and tie were slung over the back of chair and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. Naruto had gone one step further, removing his shirt in favour of the t-shirt he had been wearing underneath.

Empty takeout boxes littered the table and Sasuke spied the unpleasantly numerous ramen stains on various bits of paperwork. Putting his coffee down on the table, Sasuke checked his laptop but saw that there were no emails from the labs waiting for him. One of the windows on the computer had a live feed showing the progress of the IP trace they were running up in the lab. It was taking a long time as they were trying to pinpoint an exact location.

Yawning and rubbing his jaw, Sasuke was reaching for his phone to ring Sakura when Kakashi strolled in to the room. Looking at his superior, Sasuke's eyes narrowed at how well-rested and fresh-faced Kakashi looked.

"And where have you been?"

"Following up on some leads." Kakashi smiled, voice light and airy.

"Yeah sure." Sasuke muttered, taking a moment to drain the rest of his coffee.

Kakashi looked around the room. "Where's Naruto?"

Sasuke pointed at the surface of the table and Kakashi looked down. One of the blonde's feet was visible, poking out from beneath the table. Sighing, Kakashi gave a gentle kick to the shoe. There was a garbled mumble followed by a loud snore. Sasuke watched Kakashi's eye twitch and smirked – this should be good.

Kakashi walked to the side of the table and leaned across, raising a fist and bringing it down dead centre on the table. He hammered at the wood insistently and Sasuke heard the panicked yell from below and then, most gratifyingly, the loud thud as Naruto's head collided with the underside of the table.

Muttering various colourful phrases, the blonde man dragged himself from under the table, hand coming up to rub the bump forming on his scalp.

"Now that we're all conscious," Kakashi looked pointedly at Naruto here. "I want to discuss what we've got so far."

"We've got squat." Naruto grumbled finally letting his hand drop from his head.

"Maybe we can help with that." A new voice came from the door.

Sakura yawned loudly, sorely tempted to ignore the incessant ringing of the doorbell and go back to bed. She had stayed at Sasuke's the night before, hoping that he would slip in to bed next to her during the night but she had woken up alone. She was not sure what time it was, though she felt it was still early – Metsuki had not nudged her awake for breakfast yet.

Gripping the banister tightly as she stumbled down the stairs, Sakura paused and made sure the chain was slid across securely. Opening the door just a crack she was about to speak when a loud voice beat her to it.

"Good morning Sunshine!"

"Deidara?" Sakura was confused.

"Yep! We've come bearing breakfast."

Not needing to ask who 'we' included, Sakura opened to door and felt the brushes of air as Deidara, Sasori and Kisame passed her.

"I'm sorry about this." Itachi spoke from next to her. "I did try to stop them."

Sakura smiled tiredly. "It's fine. Just don't tell me what time it is. I'm a morning person and even I know it's too early to be awake."

Itachi laughed and agreed and they moved to join the three miscreants in the kitchen.

"I brought everything we need for a breakfast feast." Deidara chimed happily and Sakura heard him unload various items from a rustling shopping bag.

"There had best be meat involved." Kisame yawned, also apparently not appreciating being up so early.

"No!" Deidara snapped. "I'm making lovely fluffy pancakes just like my old roommate used to make."

"'Lovely, fluffy pancakes'?" Kisame mocked. "Do you even hear yourself sometimes?"

Sakura took a seat at the counter, failing to hide her amusement. There was a muffled rattling as Kisame shook a container on the counter top.

"And just what are they?"

"Blueberries." Deidara growled back.

"Blueberries? Look Blondie, I don't want fruit for breakfast. Men like me need good, hearty food to start the day off. Now unless you're planning on frying those damn berries in grease then I don't want them."

"Well good." Deidara sniffed. "I wasn't cooking for you anyway, I was doing it for Sakura-chan. Don't you have some sake to drink or something?"

The two continued to bicker and Sakura turned her attention to the side where she could just hear soft breathing. "You're very quiet today Sasori-san."

"Just Sasori, please." He intoned quietly. "And I refrain from talking when they carry on like this – anything I do say will get sucked up in the swirling vortex of sheer stupidity."

"It is treacherous." Itachi agreed, leaning on the counter on Sakura's other side. "Now if Tweedledee and Tweedledum would cease their bickering, we might all get some food."

At the mention of food, Metsuki perked up and let out a whine. "Someone else wants breakfast." Sakura noted wryly, sliding off her seat and making her way to the cupboard where they had been keeping Metsuki's food.

She dished out the food into the bowls loaned by Sasuke and hummed thoughtfully. "I should really get a set of dog bowls to keep here… I feel bad using Sasuke's crockery. I'll have to remember to grab the spare ones from my apartment."

"Why don't we go today?" Itachi suggested.

"Ah you don't have to do that." Sakura said. "There's no rush."

"Not a problem!" Deidra chimed. "We're happy to help."

"Might as well, we've got nothing else planned really." Kisame agreed.

Sasori voiced his agreement softly and Sakura knew when she was outnumbered.

"Great, we'll go after breakfast then." Deidara said when the girl offered no argument, turning back to the counter.

"How about we leave now and get food on the way?" Kisame suggested.

Sakura heard it very clearly as Deidara threw a spatula at the now-laughing man – the sound it made as it smashed in to the wall was quite clear.

The three men in the conference room turned to the door and watched as Neji entered the room closely followed by Shio. Both had very serious expressions on their faces.

"What's wrong?" Sasuke asked sharply.

Neji held a sheet of paper in his hands. "The lab has managed to pinpoint the location of the IP address."


"It's Orochimaru's address."

"That's great!" Naruto exclaimed. "Why do you look so down about it?"

"We've also figured out the other half of the formula and got the rebuilt message from Shin's hard drive."

"Then what's the problem?"

Neji rubbed at his eyes. "I've taken a look at the formula from Shin's hard drive and the one that was on his home computer. We were right to suspect they were two halves of a whole. When put together it makes a very clear picture." Neji passed the sheet of paper to Kakashi and Sasuke and Naruto peered over the man's shoulder.

It was still all foreign symbols to them, but Neji pointed to the top half of the page. "This half is basically a formula for a face cream; one of Orochimaru's new cosmetic's products I'm guessing."

"Why go to so much trouble to hide a beauty product."

"Because it's not." Neji frowned and tapped a finger on the lower formula. "This is what Rin Rikei was working on, what he discovered. The cream that Orochimaru is producing is not a face cream... or rather it is but the side effects it has tell a different story."

Kakashi shook his head. "You're not making any sense."

Neji sighed in frustration. "This," he jabbed a finger at the second set of symbols. "Shows the results of applying the cream to biological material. It breaks down the very building blocks of the cells. It makes more sense if you look at that full message that you found in Rin's office. He was smart and backed up everything he wrote in to data form. We managed to pull it from the hard drive."

Neji took another sheet of paper from Shio and passed it to the detectives. Three pairs of eyes shot to the text on the page, all recognising half of the message as that from Rin's notebook – but it was now complete.

Most recent tests have confirmed

the formula is unstable. The tests

show breakdown of stability

in tissue. Eventual failure of

cells. Necrosis soon follows.

Have advised that the project should

be abandoned. I cannot continue in

good faith. I am withdrawing my

consent. Orochimaru has been informed

that future perusal would be disastrous.

"Necrosis?" Sasuke echoed, eyes flitting to Neji for confirmation.

"Yes. We will want to get a sample to test ourselves but from Rin Rikei's files then this 'cream' attacks the cells resulting in cellular death."

There was a tense silence. "Why would he develop a cream that kills things?" Naruto whispered.

Sasuke's eyes went to the reams of numbers he had been studying earlier. "It's a front."

The others looked at him curiously. "The large payments in Orochimaru's accounts. He's selling this formula on." He met the eyes of Kakashi and then Naruto. "Think about it. Orochimaru can ship things worldwide under his cosmetic's company. If he can develop this in to a cream then what's stopping him from turning it in to a liquid... something that can get in to the water supply?"

"You're essentially talking about biological weapons?" Kakashi shook his head. "I can't believe he'd go that far."

"He's already killed two people to try and keep this a secret. When Rin figured out what had happened with his research he panicked and Orochimaru took him out of the equation completely." Sasuke smacked his hit on the table. "It all fits. The money in his bank, wiping all of his databases of any of Rin's work, murdering Rin himself." Sasuke shook his head. "It sounds impossible and as much as I dislike Orochimaru I never would have thought he'd go this far for money."

"Let's be wary. I think we have something... even if Orochimaru is not selling this formula on to third parties, we still have more than enough to suspect he killed Rin to keep the results of his experiments secret. I say we bring him in but let's not jump to conclusions yet."

"He's back in Oto now." Naruto piped up.

"I'll make arrangements with the Oto PD to allow us to infringe on their jurisdiction." Kakashi pulled out his phone and headed out of the room. He paused in the doorway and looked back at his two subordinates. "Get your stuff together, we're taking a trip out of town."

Sasuke cut a despondent figure as he parked his car and walked up the path towards his house. He was so tired that he did not even complain when he found his brother's friends sat in his living room.

Itachi raised an eyebrow at the lack of complaint from his younger brother. Sasuke shook his head and approached his girlfriend.

"Sakura." He placed a hand on her shoulder and the girl turned her head towards him, a brilliant smile on her face.

"You're back!"

"Yeah." He sighed and slid his hand down to take hers. "Can I talk to you?"

"Sure?" Sakura sounded uneasy and Sasuke led her to the kitchen.

"I'm going to Otogakure." He said as soon as they were out of earshot of the others.

Sakura blinked. "When?"

"Now. We finally had a breakthrough and we can bring Orochimaru in for questioning."

"That's great." Sakura nodded.

"I wish you'd be angry at me instead of understanding all the time." Sasuke muttered and Sakura wrapped her arms around him.

"For the last time, you do an important job. I'll still be here when you get back."

Sasuke pressed his lips to the top of her head. "I should be back tomorrow." He spoke against her hair. "Once this is done with I'm asking Kakashi for some time off and we're going on a trip somewhere. Just the two of us."

"Sounds good." Sakura smiled, nuzzling her cheek in to his chest.

"Do me one favour while I'm gone?" Sasuke asked, voice serious.


"Don't use any products manufactured by Orochimaru's cosmetics company."

Sakura's brows furrowed in confusion at the odd request. "Okay... not that I do at the moment but I'll make sure not to pick up the habit."

"Good girl." Sasuke smirked. His gaze travelled over Sakura's head and his eyes narrowed. "What is the mark on the wall?"

Sakura laughed lowly. "All you need to know is that it involved Deidara and a spatula."

Sasuke groaned and shook his head. "Please try and make sure the house is still standing by the time I get back." He pressed a lingering kiss to her lips before releasing her. "I need to go and get my gear together. I'll see you soon."

Sakura nodded. "I'll be here."

Rome was awesome but unfortunately I suck as yet again this chapter has been ready to go for weeks and weeks but I got distracted…

This one was also case heavy but the SasuSaku goodness is just around the corner once more so we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Thanks as always for the reviews, favs and follows.