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The Ace Up Their Sleeve

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Suna didn’t like to brag, but he did pride himself in his observational skills—especially when it came to his sister’s snooping. He couldn’t be sure if it was just because she was such a terrible liar, yet so consistently quick to butt into other people’s business, but Suna could always tell when Ai was scheming when she shouldn’t be.

This time, however, he couldn’t pinpoint what it was that his sister was trying to accomplish… but he knew it had to do with him.

His suspicions arose when Ai brought home someone new. He had returned from university for his break only a couple days before Ai, and despite usually being followed by a tenacious Oda, Ai had shouted “I’m home!” by herself, this time. Suna’s passive question as to why Oda hadn’t accompanied her was met with a vague “Oh, him? He’s staying at his own damn house, for once,” so he had left it alone. Since her mood didn’t seem much out of the ordinary, he assumed Ai and Oda’s relationship was still going swimmingly.

However, the very next day, Ai had left early in the morning without a word and soon returned with another young woman tailing her, looking neutral as a person can be. There was nothing inherently suspicious about that, but it was out of character for Ai to just bring someone into their house without having ever mentioned them beforehand.

As the newcomer took off her shoes to enter the Sunakawa household, Ai ran over to the living room, locating her brother and retreating a split second later to usher her friend (he presumed) out of the front hall. Suna wasn’t sure if he had imagined the satisfied, almost smug look when she saw him studying alone a second ago, but her face held a questionably bright grin when she scooted this new person to stand a few feet in front of the table at which he was studying.

“Makoto, this is my friend, Sakiko Yukimura,” Ai introduced, still smiling. “This is my brother, Makoto. Say hi, Makoto.”

Suna blinked warily at his sister, turning his head to look at the girl standing almost uneasily next to her. “Hi. It’s nice to meet you.”

Yukimura nodded awkwardly. “Likewise.”

Ai looked back and forth eagerly between her friend and her brother, and that’s what really set off Suna’s alarm bells. What was she trying to do here?

The first and most obvious thing that came to mind was that Ai was meddling in his (nonexistent) love life again, even though he’s told her plenty of times that he’s just not interested in dating. This girl, Yukimura, seemed to be around their age, maybe somewhere in-between, and she was rather plain-looking, in the average way. Suna never did find himself caring about that kind of thing, but he was still really not in the mood to be caught in one of Ai’s setups like this. Whatever Ai was planning, though, it didn’t look like Yukimura was privy to it, so Suna let himself subconsciously relax.

Ai seemed to have run out of patience at their lack of interest in continuing the conversation, so she spoke up once more. “Saki goes to the same university as I do, we’ve been in a lot of the same classes, but we only just found out we’re studying the same thing! We’ve been hanging out recently, and she really hit it off with Oda, too.” Ai’s attention switched primarily to Yukimura as Suna nodded along to her continued introduction, but he still wasn’t sure what Ai was trying to get at. Yukimura looked kind of uncomfortable being put on the spot, so Suna took to staring dubiously at Ai until she realized he wanted to get back to studying. “Well, we’ll be in the kitchen, Makoto, see you later!” she said, still smiling as she grabbed Yukimura’s arm to drag her into the next room.

Even as Ai banged around in the kitchen, pouring some drinks for her and Yukimura, Suna could hear her whispering to her friend. “So, Saki. What do you think?”

His stomach dropped. So she was trying to set him up with Yukimura.

“Ai. For the last time, I can’t just tell what kind of person your brother is after meeting him for two seconds. Why did you even bring me here, honestly?” Yukimura sounded exasperated, and Suna let out a breath. At least she didn’t seem to want to go along with whatever Ai was plotting, either.

“You know why!” Ai still sounded way too enthusiastic for Suna’s liking. “You’ll get another chance later, now let’s just have some lunch.”

“You meddle too much, Ai,” Yukimura said fondly, reflecting exactly what Suna had been thinking (but maybe with a little less fondness).

A second later, Ai popped her head back into the living room, where Suna had made approximately no progress with his studies. “We’re having sandwiches, do you want anything?” Suna shook his head. Pursing her lips, Ai tried again. “Are you sure? You can’t study on an empty stomach, Makoto.”

“I ate a half hour ago,” Suna explained, amused and still apprehensive of the way her shoulders slumped at his rejection.

“Well,” she sighed dramatically, “we’ll be in here, if you need us.” Suna didn’t bother telling her that she’d repeated herself as she walked away. Maybe the less he humored her, the less exhausting she’d be.

… No such luck. Ai brought Yukimura into the living room a minute later, sitting on the couch and—not turning on the TV as he’d anticipated. She was being unusually persistent to get him to talk to her friend, and that was somehow even more suspicious. He had nothing to say, though, so he kept trying to concentrate on his studies.

For several uncomfortable minutes, Ai stared at him so relentlessly, he could practically feel her goading him into talking to Yukimura. He glanced up once, giving her a look that said Stop that, I’m trying to study, and he saw that Yukimura was blessedly minding her own business. In fact, she was taking another bite of her sandwich when Ai’s eyes glinted and she said, “So, Saki. How’s your sex life?”

Yukimura choked. Suna’s jaw practically dropped to the floor as he stared at Ai with wide eyes, asking her silently why the literal hell she would say that at this particular moment. As Yukimura gasped for breath, the look on her face told Suna that she was thinking the exact same thing. But, for some reason, he didn’t detect any surprise that the topic came up at all.

“You—” Yukimura rasped when she caught her breath, clearing her throat before continuing. “You’re really good at this, aren’t you,” she muttered.

Suna shook himself out of his shock and tried to escape the situation before it became even more unpleasant. He pushed himself up to stand, pulling at the papers in front of him. “I’ll—” he started, but Ai cut him off before he could properly excuse himself.

“No, Makoto, it’s fine! Don’t mind us, we’re just having some girl talk, nothing to be afraid of!” she said, smiling in a way Suna could only describe as pure evil. She stared him down until he sat back at his seat, more reluctant than ever. He weighed his options, ultimately deciding as he let go of his papers that sitting through this unfortunate conversation would be less taxing than arguing with Ai, at the moment.

The self-satisfied look on Ai’s face almost made sitting down not worth it. “So, as you were saying, Saki?”

Yukimura gave her a deadpan look and then sighed. “We’ve been over this, Ai. There’s no sex life to speak of. I’m asexual.”

That gave Suna pause. He’d been avoiding eye contact for the past minute or so, but he cautiously raised his eyes to see what kind of expression the two girls in the room were making. Yukimura’s face was still neutral, but Ai had taken to glancing back and forth between the two of them again, almost searchingly. When she saw that Suna’s attention had been piqued, her smile was back, and it took on a less ominous meaning as she urged her friend on. “I know you told me already, but I don’t get it.”

Yukimura’s patience seemed a bit forced, but it looked like her amusement got the best of her as she cracked a smile. “Being asexual just means that I don’t feel sexual attraction.” Suna’s eyes were on her as she gave this definition, because his assumptions about Ai’s plan were all out the window and he felt as though this term was strangely familiar to him.

“I still don’t understand,” Ai said loudly, shaking him out of his reverie. “How do you not want to have sex? Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy yet!”

Yukimura’s eye twitched. Her fingers tapped against her leg as she breathed deeply, her next sentence close to mechanical. “That’s a common misconception about asexuality. You might not get it because you and Oda are so horny for each other all the time—” Suna had to suppress a snort at Ai’s affronted Hey! “—but sex isn’t that important to everybody. I’ve never felt physically attracted to anybody, and I never will.”

Ai seemed a bit sour that Yukimura had taken the opportunity to roast her, but she asked again, “What does that even mean, though? Don’t you want a boyfriend?”

Suna’s eyes had been flicking between Ai and Yukimura like a tennis match, but he focused on Yukimura as she pondered her answer for a minute.

“No,” she decided, “That’s not really what asexuality means. Just because I’m asexual doesn’t mean I’ll never date anyone or have sex, it just means that I don’t feel sexually attracted to anybody. That’s it. And it’s more of a spectrum, anyway. Means different things for different people.” Her fingers still tapped against her leg. “Don’t confuse it with being aromantic, either.”

Ai hopped on that tangent immediately. “What’s aromantic?” Suna felt that odd sense of familiarity again.

“Well, sexual and romantic orientations are two different things. Aromantic means you don’t feel romantic attraction. Asexuality and aromance are associated with each other, but you can be one but not the other, vice versa, neither, or both.” Yukimura’s eyes flickered to Suna’s for a split second, and his heart inexplicably jumped. “They’re both still a spectrum, though. It can get complicated.”

Suna didn’t know how to feel about this new information. He was feeling something… weird, in his heart, and he couldn’t identify it. He kept finding, though, that every time he tried to think about it, Ai would interrupt with a new question.

“Are you gonna be an old, unmarried cat lady, then?” she said with obvious exaggeration.

This seemed to strike another nerve with Yukimura, but she answered nonetheless. “I’m asexual, not aromantic. Marriage is also a complicated topic here, but again, that doesn’t have to do with being aromantic.”

“But nobody will want to marry you if you don’t have sex with them!” That one got to Suna as much as it got to Yukimura. He didn’t understand nor like this feeling, but Yukimura’s next words made him stop again before he had the chance to evaluate his emotions.

“You know, Ai, I know you’re practically on top of Oda at any given opportunity, but there are plenty of people who don’t find sex important in a relationship, even if they aren’t asexual. And actually, there are probably a lot more asexuals in the world than you think.” Her gaze trained on Suna again as she continued. “It’s hard to get solid stats about this kind of thing, but some studies say between one and eight percent of the whole world’s population are asexual, more or less. There are a few reasons why it’s hard to pin down a number, but the main one is that most people don’t know what asexuality even is.” She was looking straight at him, now. Out of his peripherals, Suna could see Ai looking at him, too, but his thoughts were going a mile a minute and he could only stare back at Yukimura with an expression that he could only imagine was more vulnerable than he’d prefer.

Something about everything this girl had said in the past five minutes was really getting to him, especially that last part. He vaguely remembered seeing the word floating around on the internet, but he hadn’t given it much of a thought until now, hearing what it really meant. Something deep in him churned, reaching out to tell him that this is something he understands, this is something he can call himself, but Ai spoke again, and he almost didn’t notice the victory in her voice.

“I suppose I’m convinced. Well, anyway! Let’s go hang out at the park, Saki!” As she made to stand, Suna felt an unwarranted wave of panic crash into him as he realized he had more questions, so many more questions, and he didn’t know if Ai would ever bring this girl back here, he couldn’t just let her leave without asking—

“Wait!” he blurted out. They both turned to look at him, and his throat closed up. This was unfamiliar territory. He did have questions, but articulating them was a completely different story. Plus, based on the look on Ai’s face, he didn’t want to give away exactly what he was thinking quite yet.

The two women glanced at each other and slowly settled back into their seats, watching Suna patiently in his hesitance. His face burned, and he realized belatedly that this might have been what Ai was planning all along. Something akin to gratitude washed over him, and he finally found the question he needed from Yukimura.

“How did you realize you’re asexual?” he asked quietly. Eye contact became difficult once again, but he heard a faint laugh and chanced to tear his eyes from the floor and peer up at them. Yukimura’s lips quirked in a small smile as she considered his question, and Ai’s face was a perfect blend of surprised and triumphant. Heat flooded his cheeks again, and his eyes slid back to the floor, raising a hand to cover the lower half of his face in a weak attempt to evade further embarrassment.

“I think,” Yukimura began, and he faced her again as best he could, “it was a combination of things. When the topic of sex first came up with my parents, I was kind of… confused, as to why people would do that? And that feeling never went away. I never really got why people wanted sex, and I assumed for so long that it was because I wasn’t ‘ready’ or ‘mature’ enough or whatever.”

That was definitely familiar to Suna. Whispers surrounded him for years starting in middle school and following him all the way to university, questions of whether he’s a late bloomer and even accusations that he’s gay, despite his personal opinion that whatever the boys around him found stimulating didn’t have anything to do with him. A specific memory of Takeo came to mind from when they started high school, asking what kinds of girls Suna liked, and all Suna had thought in the moment was how irrelevant that topic was, how little it mattered to him. And now, he was starting to understand why that is.

Suna’s attention drifted back to Yukimura’s monologue. “It seems like people’s bodies make everyone else lose their goddamn minds, and even knowing what I do now, I still can’t empathize at all.” Her fingers drummed against her leg restlessly, and Suna was reminded of how he seemed to be the only one who didn’t think of bodies as sexual vessels—not even Takeo, he knew, was invulnerable to the revealing nature of swimsuits. “Little things like that, I couldn’t relate to. It got more prevalent in college, when people like Ai—” she shot a cursory glance at her friend that told Suna she was about to say something else embarrassing “—talked about sex so casually, as if it’s all they thought about, and I honestly had no idea if something was wrong with me.”

Swimsuits, Suna thought. They’re just clothes. Clothes that show more skin than other clothes. He’s had to talk down his best friend, who respects women as if it was his sole purpose in life, from getting too worked up seeing his girlfriend in a swimsuit. There’s nothing wrong with me.

“Hey, I don’t talk about sex stuff all the time!” Ai pouted. Suna’s guard was down, and he snorted, evoking a betrayed look from his sister.

Yukimura laughed. “I know, I know. But you do stare at Oda a lot. Like, excessively. Inappropriately, even.” Ai’s face was redder than Suna had ever seen it, and as she shoved her friend’s leg, Ai glared at her brother and waved her arms emphatically.

“Don’t listen to her, Makoto! Oda and I have a relationship appropriate for our age group! I only say appropriate things about him to the appropriate people!”

Ai’s face only grew more flushed as her friend and brother burst out laughing at her expense, and eventually, she had to give up defending herself, hanging her head in resignation. But seeing the utter radiance of her normally stone-faced brother’s expression as he laughed along with Saki, Ai allowed herself a moment of satisfaction, and her mouth curved in a subtle smile.

Suna’s chest was warm as their laughter died down, and the tension he hadn’t realized was even there left his body as Yukimura resumed her story.

“I figured it out a couple years ago, actually, because a celebrity came out as ace. It was a big deal, for some reason—probably because sex appeal is used in pretty much every type of media these days—” she made a face at that, and Suna couldn’t help but nod with an equally displeased expression, “—and I did some of my own research after that, and I was a little hesitant to call myself ace right off the bat… but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, y’know?” Her fingers tapped slower, almost methodically. “Honestly, if I didn’t know that asexuality existed, I don’t think I’d ever have fully understood that part of myself. I don’t know what would’ve happened otherwise, anyway.”

Her fingers stopped tapping.

A second later, realizing she’d ended in a bit of a dark place, Yukimura’s hands clapped together. “Well, at least I do know! And I should probably be going now, right, Ai?” She looked to Ai for her cue to leave, and thankfully, Ai stood, thus dispersing that heavy conversation for the time being.

Suna said nothing as Ai walked her friend to the door, and he realized belatedly that he ought to thank her. Thoughts were resuming their unmitigated cyclone, and it wasn’t until he heard the door closing that he realized Ai had said she was going out with Yukimura, and he was left alone once again. A vague sting of guilt pierced his chest, but then it occurred to him that his sister would, in fact, return, and he could relay the message then.

And… he should thank Ai, too, for thinking of him, even if it meant she pried into his personal matters like this. It was probably for the best that he was alone with his thoughts, too, after finding out what he just did.

He let out a deep sigh, now that he was free to emote without judgment. Standing from the table, Suna picked up his school papers and brought them back to his room. Studying could wait, he decided.

For now, he had some things to think about.