Chapter 38

Muta was not used to being pursued.

Well, to be precise, Muta was not used to being pursued in a romantic sense. One did, as a shinobi, often enough face times when the enemy was after you, so in that sense of the word at least Muta was quite used to being pursued.

But in the area of attraction, and relationships, and romance, well, Muta was attempting to remember the last time someone had singled him out to flirt with, let alone made an effort to indicate any interest with intent.

It wasn't that he had never had a relationship before. There had been a brief fling with one of his genin team-mates before the two of them had agreed they were better as comrades. There had been an even briefer fling when Muta had been stranded in Tea waiting for a information-bearing merchant who was almost three weeks late. The apprentice herbalist had been a nice enough diversion, all things considered, and then it had turned out that he knew rather more about the movements of shinobi from the Hidden Moon Village on the mainland than he probably should have, and Muta had taken care to carefully extract every iota of information the man had accidentally learned from his cousin's wife by seducing him.

There were other ways he could have gone about it, but Muta had always favoured efficiency, and frankly, the apprentice had been easy enough on the eyes that it had been no hardship.

Even if Muta had not been seducing him for intel though, it could never have worked out. The man treated insects with disgust, and Muta saw him squash an entirely harmless huntsman spider when it would have been easy enough to scoop her up and put her outside.

It had however, been quite a while since Muta had last had anyone make any reference to the idea that he might make a worthy bedmate. It wasn't that he was unattractive. He knew that much, judging by the looks he got on occasion, and the not-soft-enough comments and giggles from civilians who watched him go by.

On the other hand, looks weren't everything, and the combination of being an Aburame clan member, and a typically reserved Aburame clan member at that, was hardly a draw for most, especially when considering the nature of their primary jutsu.

It was not that Muta was not from a prestigious Clan, however, even (or perhaps especially) amongst the Clans there was a definite hierarchy.

Moreover, the Aburame had never been overly wealthy. Too numerous for that to be true. Only the strongest Aburame children could host the kikai beetles, and for that to mean anything in the scheme of things, there needed to be plenty to choose from.

Muta's elder brother and twin sister had been passed over for the honour, but Muta had two nieces who were looking like they were going to be good candidates, though their other siblings had thus far not shown the same promise. That hardly mattered though. Aburame kept blood close, and there was always plenty of work for the civilian members through the hives and the gardens that both provided food for the insects and a secondary source of income for the clan as flowers, vegetables and fruits were sold at the Konoha Market.

Aburame believed that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, but that it took individuals to make a hive. All were vital parts. Sure, sacrifices would always be made to protect the hive, but it was only logical to ensure that such sacrifices were limited whenever possible, for anything else was a waste.

And the Aburame as a Clan hated waste.

Torune being taken from them was a waste. Also a shame and a devastation. He and his father, who had been born outside the clan, and had sought strength outside of it when his wife's death had left him feeling disconnected from the Clan customs. The fool had been taken in by Danzo's lies that Torune, clever, vicious Torune, could be made greater through the special Root training. He had been lost from the hive for years, and even when he was returned to them in body when the Yondaime had discovered Danzo's treachery, it was a mere husk, good only at killing. Aburame prided themselves upon being coolly logical and precise above all else, but Torune's completely flat detached affect was something else entirely. It was not the need to consider things carefully and critically that caused Torune to remain expressionless, it was feelings so repressed as to be almost non-existent.

Worst of all, Danzo's training had ensured that he was no longer loyal to the hive. To the Aburame, that meant Torune was dead to them.

The Aburame had since been even slower to trust outsiders with the wellbeing of their children, and all offers of training from outside the Clan that weren't personally vetted by the Yondaime were viewed with suspicion.

This had effectively ensured that the traditionally reserved Clan be viewed as even more stand-offish than before. The only Clans with a similar reputation were the Hyuuga and the Uchiha, and both of them being far richer and more integrated with Village politics made them seem to be exclusive, rather than exclusionary in nature, regardless of the accuracy of such statements.

It was fascinating how the perception of wealth could put a bright shine on all sorts of behaviours, Muta mused.

Though perhaps he was being unfair.

It was no secret why the civilian police force was almost solely composed of born Uchiha, Uchiha who had married in, and prospective Uchiha spouses. (The latter group might not always consider themselves to be such, but that did not change the fact that the Clan had a tendency of closing ranks around talent they wanted to appropriate like the walls of a pitcher plant around a fly.)

Truth be told the Uchiha Police did considerable work in impressing the Konoha civilian population with the more glamorous side of being ninja. The Yondaime was a shining symbol in their eyes, but it was the Uchiha who made efforts to help little old ladies carry their groceries (to extract intel, little old ladies tended to have the most accurate gossip and most extensive networks), break up brawls (non-police Konoha-nin were banned from touching civilians with violence) and kindly tell their shinobi or kunoichi neighbours to keep it down on weeknights (the police would provide sound-proofing seals to shinobi homes for a reasonable fee, and since the trade off was not getting Uchiha "fun-suckers" turning up everytime a post-mission wind-down celebration got a little raucous, most nin were more than happy to pay the fee).

It was perhaps apt that the Uchiha Clan were traditionally aligned with Cat summons. They tended to fastidiously ignore things that did not fit well with their worldview.

So imagine Muta's surprise that the Uchiha Clan Heir (although he had heard that said title was currently quietly in dispute due to Itachi being taken off the active shinobi roster, to be exact not that he had been taken off the roster, but rather the rumours as to why…) had apparently set his Sharingan eyes on him.

Normally, Muta being a tokubetsu jounin at a relatively young age would have been more than enough for most to assume that any Uchiha interested in him was looking for some jutsu to copy, and that would have made sense were he not an Aburame.

The current generation of Uchiha had a tendency to shun the Aburame, perhaps in the hopes that everyone would collectively forget that here was one Clan, at least, that was inherently able to nullify the edge that a Sharingan could bring to a battle.

No move or jutsu copying, no genjutsu, and worst for the average Uchiha, being able to see a thousand kikai surrounding one did not necessarily help with dodging them.

The Aburame, of course, were generally speaking too polite to point this out, and tended to ensure all members knew enough water or earth jutsu to ensure that any pissing matches that ended in fire would not end in the total devastation of a personal hive.

So especially considering however the rumours Muta had heard about the Uchiha Clan Heir lately, Muta was concerned that perhaps this was not a positive thing that somehow Muta had caught Uchiha Itachi's attention.

For one thing, trouble seemed to follow the man like a plague. There had been several incidents involving traitors. The fact that from what Muta's cousin Mushimaru had mentioned in passing that the Uchiha had spent all night in Interrogation apparently with some story to tell, and well…

The first time Muta had met Uchiha Itachi, the man had very clearly been under the influence of something. Certainly this could be explained away by a spar including poisons getting a little out of hand, however, it was not uncommon for shinobi to use "poisoned" as a euphemism for recreational use of such substances. Muta was not in the habit of judging other shinobi or kunoichi on their coping habits, but nor did he especially wish to get involved with the sort of person who would take the sort of risks that chemically dealing with their problems without the oversight of a mednin would involve.

Muta was feeling very cautious, to say the least.

And considering that Muta liked to embody the thoroughness and clarity of logical critical decision making that was taught by the Aburame Clan Elders to each and every child from early on, Muta felt that such caution was well-merited, to say the least.

But what Muta needed the most at this point was more data.

After all, it was perfectly possible that Uchiha Itachi was in fact not as the rumours Muta had thus far heard portrayed him. It was certainly possible that he was in fact a functioning and loyal shinobi, just one in need of a great deal of rest and recuperation after his mission that had gone horribly wrong in Sound.

Yes, more data would be best.

But what method would be the most efficient in gathering it? Muta wondered to himself, sipping idly at his cup of brown rice tea as he mused on the balcony of his brother's house.

He posed the question to his twin sister when she came to join him, and she rolled her eyes.

"You have already listened to the gossips, so now all that remains is to form your own impression of him by oh, I don't know, actually talking to him," she said. "You said he invited you to spar with him yes? See how that goes, and then maybe try talking to him afterwards while you're both cooling down. Then, if you're enjoying his company, ask if he wants to spar again sometime, or maybe even ask if he wants to get some food."

Huh. His civilian sister made rather a good point.

"Thank you Yori."

Yori shook her head in what looked to be exasperation. "Honestly. No wonder you never date."

Muta channelled just enough chakra to make his kikaichu buzz.

Yori snorted. "I'm not saying they help, but on the other hand, Aunt Hotaru."

Muta considered the example of his seduction-specialist kunoichi aunt whose string of ex-lovers was starting to approach triple digits, and had to admit that once again, his civilian sister had a point.

Yori sighed noisily. "You're doing that thing again. Where you get surprised that I have a working brain even though I didn't go to the Academy. You've been spending too much time with Akio and his friends again."

"He is my teammate," Muta muttered, although he did not deny that she had read him like an elementary scroll. It was not the first time she had accurately noted that he was unconsciously adopting biases, and Muta castigated himself for needing her to mention this more than once.

Yori poked him in the shoulder. "You might be the shinobi, but I'm still older than you," (she ignored him muttering, "by 53 minutes," and continued blithely,) "and as your big sister I'm telling you for your own good that you need to spend less time with those idiots before their views become contagious and you miss something on a mission because of it."

She did not complete her statement with 'and get yourself or your comrades maimed or worse', but she didn't have to. Yori might never have attended the Academy, but she was echoing a sentiment that was very similar to one that Himura-sensei had tried her best to hammer into her students' heads. (Occasionally literally. It was rumoured that Himura-sensei had previously been a rising star in Torture and Interrogation before something very classified had happened and she had retired to teach instead.)

Muta bowed his head in acknowledgement, and Yori let it go. She knew better than to push him when he had already listened to what she had to say.

"So," she said, sitting down next to him close enough that their arms touched. Muta considered idly the grounding sensation and mused that it had perhaps been too long since he had taken actual quality time with his family. "Itachi is the one who spars with Shisui all the time, yes?"

"Yes. They are cousins after all," Muta replied, wondering why his sister was asking him about a well-known fact.

Yori paused.

Muta did not rush her. He saw little point in discomforting her by demanding she (as Kikyo would have said) 'spit out whatever she wanted to say already'. (Besides, he owed her increased courtesy for letting her civilian status flavour his treatment of her. That had been very ill-done of him.)

"Do you think you could get me an introduction to him?"

Muta blinked. "To Itachi?"

Yori scoffed. "No. Well, him too if he's going to be spending time with you. No, I meant Shisui." Uncharacteristically, she sighed a little. "He's so dreamy. And actually polite to be nice rather than polite to establish social protocols like some clanmembers of his I could mention."

"… I will ask if he would be amenable." Muta frowned. "When exactly have you had a chance to learn about Shisui's manners without interacting with him?"

If Yori sighing was uncharacteristic, then her blushing had Muta subtly checking her chakra signature.

"…I have changed my mind, and I do not want to know," he decided.

….

As Itachi waited at the training ground for his… meeting with Aburame Muta, he wondered what exactly he was doing.

It had been a very long time since Itachi had felt even the most academic stirrings of interest towards anyone, and even then, Itachi had generally abstained from any sort of sexual contact. After all, it was far easier to complete a seduction mission by simply dropping the mark into a genjutsu where their own mind provided the imagery than it was to actually go through the act, and Itachi found little pleasure in spending the night with someone when there was a genuine risk that they were some sort of Konoha plant who thought he was disloyal.

Even if his missing-nin status had not been a significant obstacle to having even the smallest vestige of a normal relationship, there had also been the fact that Itachi had spent the last few years of his life incredibly sick from the infection that had settled into his lungs during that one bad mission in Mist.

It would have been easy if any of the other members of Akatsuki could be trusted, but even if that had been the case, considering that Kisame was not interested in men, Deidara hated Itachi's guts for the role he had played in the Iwa missing-nin's recruitment, Tobi was a relative, Pein and Konan were wrapped up in each other and Itachi's tastes did not run towards necrophilia or puppets, it was not as though Itachi had had any real options there either.

(Orochimaru did not even bear speaking about. Itachi's only regret was that he had not killed the renegade Sannin too dead to mess with Sasuke when he had had the chance.)

Itachi was not sure what it was about Muta that appealed to him exactly, but even though he had not exactly intended to ask the Aburame out on a date, (he really did just want another sparring partner,) he would be lying to himself if he was not currently feeling some… anticipation?

Yes, thought Itachi. Anticipation was the correct word for it, but really, he was getting ahead of himself. First he would have to ensure that Muta and he had the same mission briefing.

As though summoned by Itachi's thoughts, Muta shunshined into the training ground.

"I thank you for the courtesy of being punctual," he said, coming to a stop a few metres away.

Itachi found himself frowning slightly. "I effectively asked you for a favour, considering our relative ranks," he said, wondering what level of rudeness the Aburame was used to that Itachi being slightly early for their meeting was noteworthy.

Muta raised an eyebrow. "I did not know that Uchiha were capable of humility, but you seem to be an odd candidate for exhibiting such. Why? Because I am well aware that you are a match for Anko, to the point that you appear to enjoy riling her for entertainment purposes."

Itachi allowed himself a small smirk. "She is a formidable sparring partner," he freely admitted, neither confirming nor denying that he annoyed her for sport.

Muta's expression did not change, but Itachi read something in the slant of his shoulders that seemed akin to amusement.

"Shall we begin then?" the Aburame suggested. "Rules?"

"No Clan Jutsu," Itachi decided. "Otherwise anything goes." He would hate for this to end too quickly.

"A fair proposal," Muta agreed. "I would hate for this to end too quickly."

Itachi frowned internally. That statement had had entirely the opposite tone to what he might have expected. Almost as if…

Oh. He had almost forgotten that Aburame were immune to genjutsu.

Hmmm. This might be more of a challenge than he had originally thought.

Excellent.

...

A/N: It has been brought to my attention that some of my readers consider a male/male relationship to be a deal breaker.

For 40 cents a word I will write the hetero alternate universe that you want. Proceeds to go to Joy radio Australia's best LGBTI community radio station.

Otherwise, kindly go find something else to read. If you don't like it then I'm not writing it for you. :) Pay me or keep your boring opinions to yourselves.