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No Shame

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Jou's arm reached for the pitcher of tea at the center of the table just as Akinobu was picking up a piece of karaage. In his haste to avoid a collision, Akinobu dropped his piece.

He picked it back up. Looked around. No one else at the table had noticed.

Keep it together, he told himself, exhaling. Family dinners were going to be a fixture of his life for the foreseeable future. Now was not the time to think about the events of a few hours prior. Or the noises he had made. The fact that it had happened at all -- and in the house, of all places, where he lived, and had previously vowed never to do anything of this nature. He was going to have to dry the futon where they'd done it outside, for the whole neighborhood to see.

"I have a question for the table," Mayumi announced. "How old do you think you need to be to have sex?"

Akinobu glanced sharply over at Jou, whose suddenly wide-eyed expression was telegraphing Dude, don't look at me, I didn’t tell him anything.

When it seemed like nobody else was going to answer, Akinobu made himself say, "W -- what makes you ask?"

"Taiga-nii was saying you had to be at least twenty. Don't you think that's too old? I think it is."

"I think this isn't appropriate dinner table conversation," Taiga said, from where he was sitting at the head of the table. He looked uncharacteristically stiff-jawed.

"I'm not asking you. I'm asking Aki-chan."

"I --" Akinobu said, feeling his face redden. "I, uh ... I think that’s a very individual question. It all ... it all depends on how ready the person is. Emotionally speaking." He hadn't felt ready at all when Jou had done it with him for the first time just a few weeks ago, and yet his body had moved almost on its own. It was like he'd been possessed.

"Well, you know what I think is a good age? Seventeen," said Mayumi.

"Maybe we shouldn't talk about this while we're eating?"

"Why? Isn't sex normal? Why doesn't anyone in this family want me to make the most of my youth? If I don't explore my sexuality now, I could end up with trauma. Or repression."

Akinobu said, "I don't think anyone's saying you can't explore your sexuality."

"I'm saying that," Taiga said, tight-voiced. "Seventeen is too young."

Mayumi turned to him with a scowl. "You're such a hypocrite. How old were you when you did it for the first time?"

"Out of high school." Taiga announced this with an air of triumph.

"Well, what about Jou-nii?" Mayumi demanded, turning to Jou.

Jou, who had just popped another piece of karaage into his mouth, looked abashed as he swallowed. "Uh ... thirteen? Don't copy me, though. I didn't even know about birth control."

Mayumi turned back to Taiga as if to say, See?

Taiga's scowl deepened. "Did you not hear the part where he regrets it?"

"I dunno, regret is kind of overstating it," said Jou. "It was fun and all. I just meant --"

"He means it's important to use protection," Akinobu cut in. "We all just want you to be safe. Right, Taiga-nii?"

"No, what we want is for you to wait until you're older."

Mayumi interjected, "You don't need protection if you do it with a guy, though. Right?"

Akinobu's mouth went dry.

He doesn't know anything, he reminded himself. At worst, Mayumi could only suspect just how personally acquainted Akinobu with this topic. At best, he wasn't thinking of Akinobu at all. It was probably just a coincidence. A terrible coincidence.

"Actually, you probably still should," he said, faintly. "Is that ... something you're considering?"

"Maybe," Mayumi said, just as Taiga said, "No."

Akinobu glanced at Taiga inquiringly.

"Doesn't matter whether it's with a guy or a girl. He shouldn't be doing anything until he's at least graduated high school," Taiga said gruffly.

Akinobu swallowed."Putting that aside ... what got you thinking about this, anyway, Mayumi? Is there, um ... someone you like? Someone at school?"

Instead of answering, Mayumi just looked pointedly at Taiga.

"... Taiga?" Akinobu asked, feeling increasingly lost. But Taiga said nothing.

With a bizarre sense of abandonment, Akinobu turned back to Mayumi and said, "Well, he is right that there's nothing wrong with taking your time. Even if you do have someone you like, there's, um, a lot of things you can do before you get to ... adult activities."

"Nobody's letting me do anything, because they think I'm a child," Mayumi muttered.

"No one at this table thinks you're a child," Akinobu said, frowning at Taiga. "We just don't want you to do anything you'd regret."

"And don't I get a say in what I'd regret?"

"Of course you do. It’s just that, with something as -- emotionally weighted -- as, ah, as sex, it can sometimes be good to wait until you have more experience."

"But I can't get more experienced if I'm never allowed to actually do anything!"

"I was thinking more in the sense of life experience ..." It also wasn't like any of them could stop Mayumi if he really did want to fool around with whoever it was he liked, but Akinobu knew better than to mention that fact with Taiga's expression looking increasingly stormy.

Mayumi's own expression grew suddenly sly. "Come to think of it, how much life experience did you have when you did it for the first time, Aki-chan?"

Akinobu froze.

It's funny you ask, went a voice in his head. It was just last month, in fact. You know when Taiga took you shopping for new winter clothes? Well, as it so happens ....

"Aki-chan's a virgin," Jou interjected. Akinobu turned to stare at him, incredulous. A moment later, so did everyone else.

Jou's eyes widened, as the reality of his own words seemed to sink in.

"... I mean, just look at him. Who would he lose it with? There's no one. Just, uh, books. That's all I meant."

"Jou," Akinobu said, strained.

After a beat, Mayumi said, "Well, that's no fun."

"There's no shame in being a virgin," Taiga said sternly.

"I'm not saying there is! Maybe Aki-chan's okay with it, but I --"

"You could stand to learn a few things from Aki--"

"If everyone's done eating, maybe I should clear the table?" Akinobu said loudly.

Everyone stopped talking.

"Apologize to your brother," Taiga ordered Mayumi, after a moment had passed.

"You too, Taiga-nii."

Taiga shut his mouth, looking chagrined.

After dinner, Akinobu was vigorously washing dishes in the kitchen when he sensed Jou's presence in the doorway.

Cheeks reddening, he renewed his scrubbing. Jou didn't move. When he'd gotten through nearly the whole stack and Jou was still there, he sighed and asked, "What is it?"

Jou hesitated for a moment more before coming in to stand behind Akinobu. Just having him so close made Akinobu's skin prickle with awareness.

"I just wanted to say sorry. For running my mouth at dinner."

Akinobu didn't know what to say to that, so he returned his attention to scrubbing the serving platter.

"I don't know why I said that about you being a virgin," Jou continued. "It just came out."

"You don't have to explain."

"Still. You were upset, right?"

Akinobu sighed.

"I'm not really upset," he said. "It's just ... you're really not a good liar."

"I know," Jou said, glumly.

"It's fine. I'm sure they didn't think twice about it. I shouldn't have panicked. But I hate the thought of anyone knowing; or even wondering."

"I get it. It freaks me out too, you know. Not like -- of course, I'm not ashamed of it, or you, or anything, it's just ...."

"I know what you meant," Akinobu said hastily. He glanced back towards the living room. Taiga and Mayumi were of course long-since gone to their own rooms, but it chilled his insides to imagine one of them walking in on this scene, even though he and Jou weren't doing anything more than talking. The familiar shame of it choked him. If he felt like this now, it was surely a sign that they were making a mistake. He should be strong enough to end this. He was older; he had the responsibility. But even now, he couldn't quash the part of himself that longed to turn around and hide in Jou's arms.

"What got into Taiga, though?" Jou asked. "I know he's protective of Mayutan, but he has to know he's at the age where he'd get curious about stuff like that."

"I don't know," Akinobu sighed, relieved to be changing the topic. He really was a coward. "He was so patient with both of us. Even with Mayutan, when he was asking all those questions about puberty back in junior high."

"Guess it's different when it's not a hypothetical."

"And he is the youngest," Akinobu said. "I know he's in high school now, but ... it's hard not to remember when he was small enough to hold. Even for me."

The image of a preschool-aged Mayumi, giggling as Taiga hoisted him up into the air, flitted into Akinobu's mind. Mayumi had only been four when their parents passed away; barely old enough to remember them. For most of his life, Taiga had been the closest thing to a father he'd known. Of course Taiga would find it hard to accept that he was growing up.

Akinobu wondered what their parents would think if they could see the four of them now. Was it awful of him, to feel relieved in some part that they were gone? The thought of Taiga and Mayumi finding out about his crimes was bad enough.

"Hey, let me help put those away," Jou said, stepping forward to take the plate Akinobu was drying out of his hands. Akinobu should have refused him; Jou never used to offer to help out in the kitchen before this thing between them began, and even now he was sometimes clumsy in his haste to help. But he let Jou take it anyway.