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Karamatsu had just finished his part time job and was walking back home. On his way he stopped by the supermarket closest to their home to buy some groceries. He didn’t know if their mother had already planned today’s dinner but the things he bought could be used later as well so he bought them anyway.

 

It was afternoon so everyone except their father would probably be home. His only older brother, Osomatsu, was also likely somewhere else since he did always come and go as he pleased so there wasn’t really telling for sure. Karamatsu felt a strong need to help their parents as much as he could with whatever he could and it came really naturally from him. He thought it was especially important with such a big family as theirs with six brothers. From the moment he had gotten his first younger brother when he was three, he had always taken his job as an older brother seriously and did whatever he could for his beloved family.

 

Karamatsu slid the front door open and stepped inside the house saying: “I’m home!” as he lowered his shopping bag to the floor and started taking off his shoes. Instantly he heard quick running steps coming closer to him from the house and soon he saw how his second youngest brother, Jyushimatsu who was now seven years old, ran towards him.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan!” the young boy shouted and leaped up crashing to Karamatsu’s chest so that the second oldest stumbled few steps back before he got a hold of Jyushimatsu and managed to steady them. “Welcome home!” Jyushimatsu said loudly with his high voice and radiated happiness in his arms.

 

The second born laughed and ruffled his brother’s hair. “Hello my dear brother! I’m glad to see you too,” he said smiling affectionately. Lifting his eyes Karamatsu could see how their third youngest brother had followed Jyushimatsu to the front door. He walked close to the two of them and stopped to look at them little shyly even if he tried to mask it with the uninterested look.

 

“Hello Ichimatsu dear,” Karamatsu said smiling to the ten years old brother. Ichimatsu turned to look away but a tiny smile was tugging the corner of his mouth upwards. He took a few steps and lifted the shopping bag Karamatsu had left to the floor and with much struggle started to drag it towards the kitchen.

 

“Ah, let me carry that Ichimatsu,” Karamatsu said as he moved Jyushimatsu so that he was holding him with only one arm and hip and with his other hand he reached for the bag.

 

Determined Ichimatsu yanked it further from the second oldest. “I can carry it myself,” he said and continued his mission.

 

Karamatsu withdrew his arm and smiled amusedly. “Oh, I don’t doubt that,” he said and followed after the fourth born to the kitchen.

 

When they arrived to the kitchen, Karamatsu saw how their mother was sitting at the kitchen table reading some papers. She lifted her gaze upon hearing them and smiled kindly. “Welcome home.”

 

“I’m back,” Karamatsu said and put Jyushimatsu to the ground where he dashed to Ichimatsu and the two of them started to put the groceries to their places. Karamatsu smiled at the sight of them. They were so cute and the two of them were inseparable.

 

“Did you went to buy groceries again?” their mother, Matsuyo, asked frowning slightly but had a smile on her face. “You know you shouldn’t. Not all the time.”

 

Karamatsu only waved it off. “Nonsense. This is the least I can do,” he said and went to help the two younger brothers to place a box of nori to the upper cabinet when Jyushimatsu was halfway climbing on top of the counter. “Have you decided what we’ll eat today for dinner?”

 

“I got fish for today,” Matsuyo answered.

 

The second oldest nodded. “I bought ingredients to oyakodon,” he told.

 

“Yay! Oyakodon!” Jyushimatsu cheered which brought smile to everyone’s lips.

 

“Thank you dear. It will be perfect for tomorrow,” their mother thanked.

 

Karamatsu only shook his head as he took the now empty shopping bag and folded it before putting it into one of the cabinets. “Is Todomatsu sleeping?” he asked.

 

“Yes. He played earlier quite a lot with Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu, right?” Matsuyo asked the two and Jyushimatsu nodded viciously while Ichimatsu gave one nod. “He must have gotten tired but I think he’ll wake up soon.”

 

“Okay,” the second born answered. “I’ll go change to something more comfortable,” he informed the others and left the room. He walked up the stairs where they had a children's gate in both ends to prevent the youngest from falling down the stairs and getting hurt if he was running around without anyone looking after his every move. Karamatsu crossed the hallway and opened the door to his shared room with his brothers. It was dark with all the curtains closed and he switched the lights on as he stepped inside. That gained an annoyed groan from under the blankets on the futon where a familiar lump was laying.

 

It wasn’t at all unusual that the eldest was still in the bed when Karamatsu got back home from the work so he didn’t pay much attention to it. He had decided to try his best not to try to give any suggestions to Osomatsu as it always only led to bickering, the oldest getting angry and Karamatsu ending up apologizing. But Karamatsu couldn’t deny that he did get some joy from such small things like switching on lights when the oldest was still trying to sleep in the middle of the day.

 

“Good afternoon brother,” Karamatsu greeted as he went to the closet and started to look for suitable clothes.

 

Osomatsu groaned more. “Did you have to put on the lights without a warning? You know, I have a horrible hangover,” he mumbled from under the blankets.

 

Karamatsu glanced at him. “Again. Osomatsu-niisan that’s not healthy,” he said and started to undress.

 

“Mmmmm. But I had fun,” the oldest said. “Karamatsu could you bring your poor oniichan a glass of water?” he asked.

 

Karamatsu sighed and pulled on his blue hoodie. “Of course brother.” He finished dressing himself, went to the door and left the room.

 

Osomatsu was 22 years old, not studying or working. Karamatsu had heard how his parents and Osomatsu himself called him NEET. From the tone how his parent said the word it sounded kind of bad. Karamatsu himself had been really close as becoming a NEET and seeing how Osomatsu spent his days he dreaded the idea of that. He held taking care of his family and helping them much too important that he could spend days doing nothing and drinking as often as the oldest seemed to do. Karamatsu didn’t have any problem with the fact that the oldest was a NEET, he had seen his ups and downs and high school alone had been rough for him so in a way it was good that Osomatsu took time finding himself and figuring out what he wanted to do for living in the future. But when he didn’t seem to have any attempt on going on with his life, Karamatsu couldn’t help but worry about him. More than that he was worried about the eldest’s unhealthy way of living.

 

Karamatsu came down the stairs and peeked to the living room where he saw the third oldest brother sitting at the table doing his homeworks. “Hello Choromatsu,” Karamatsu greeted and decided to come change a few words with the other. He always wanted to know what was new in his brothers’ lives. Choromatsu lifted his head up and greeted him back:

 

“Hi Karamatsu-niisan,” he said.

 

“What do you got here?” the second oldest asked, sat down next to him and took the book that laid open next to the notebook Choromatsu had been writing into. Karamatsu frowned. “English?” he asked and Choromatsu nodded.

 

“It’s hard,” the third born sighed.

 

Don’t give up my brother! ” Karamatsu said in broken English, giving the book back and giving a one of his cool smiles to his brother.

 

Choromatsu frowned slightly. “I don’t think you actually pronounce the words well,” he said.

 

Karamatsu chuckled. “The most important thing is that you try your best!” he said and stood up. He patted his brother on the shoulder and walked out of the room but not before saying over his shoulder: “Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need.”

 

“Mmmm. Thanks,” he heard Choromatsu to answer.

 

The second oldest went to the kitchen and took a glass from the cabinet. Their mom was still there but the two boys weren’t. “Where did Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu go?” he asked as he started to fill up the glass with water.

 

“I think they went to play to the backyard,” Matsuyo answered focused on to the papers.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan is sleeping upstairs,” Karamatsu told her.

 

Matsuyo lowered a paper she had in her hand and looked at Karamatsu frowning slightly. “I thought, or hoped, that he had went outside since I haven’t seen him at all today,” she said. Then she let out a sigh, shook her head a little and continued reading.

 

“No, he’s home,” Karamatsu said before leaving the kitchen with the glass of water. He made his way to their room where the oldest was still laying under the blankets. “Here,” Karamatsu said as he kneeled down next to the oldest and put the glass down to the floor. Osomatsu groaned, sat up and drank all the water in one go.

 

He looked tired and, well, hung over as he looked at the second oldest. “Thanks. It took a while though,” he said and yawned.

 

Karamatsu raised an eyebrow but knew that Osomatsu said that just to tease him. “I chatted a little on my way,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

 

Osomatsu rubbed his face. “I’ve seen worse.”

 

Karamatsu nodded. “Good. Take aspirin if you need,” he said.

 

“Yeah…” the oldest mumbled before he fell back down, pulling the blankets up.

 

Karamatsu huffed and was about to inform Osomatsu from the days dinner when he heard a whine, at first small and quiet before it increased into a full cry which caused even Osomatsu to raise up his head looking towards the door. Karamatsu got to his feet quickly and left the room. On his way to their parents’ room he shouted to downstairs: “I got him!” Then he slid the cracked door of the bedroom wide open.

 

There on the futon of his parents was his youngest brother Todomatsu who was sitting up crying. Upon seeing Karamatsu the tone of his crying changed a little and he lift up his arms wanting to be hold by the older brother.

 

“Hi Todomatsu,” Karamatsu said with his sunny and kind voice that was a bit higher than how he normally talked. “It’s okay. Kara-niisan is here,” he said and bend over to pick up the crying youngest who was reaching towards him with his tiny arms. Karamatsu picked him up and rocked him in his arms calmingly. Quickly Todomatsu stopped his crying and gripped onto Karamatsu’s blue hoodie.

 

“Yeah? See, it’s fine,” Karamatsu spoke gently and petted other’s soft hair gently and kissed his forehead. Todomatsu placed his other hand on Karamatsu’s cheek, petted it twice and then a bright smile appeared on his face. Without noticing Karamatsu’s own smile brightened as well. There was nothing as sincere and beautiful as child’s smile.

 

“Nii!” Todomatsu said happily.

 

Karamatsu nodded encouragingly. “Yes! Niisan.”

 

“Niitan!” the youngest copied and gave a short laugh.

 

Karamatsu smiled proudly. “You’re so talented dear Totty. Soon I won’t get a say when you’re talking all the time!” he said and started walking back to the downstairs holding his baby brother in his arms, talking the whole time.

 

Todomatsu was few months over one year old and the youngest of their family. Karamatsu had been taking part of his care taking as much as he possibly could and there wasn’t a day he wouldn’t spent time with the toddler. Karamatsu had been really interested on all of his younger brothers and helping in their care taking but now that he was older, understood things better and had time, he had formed a so, so strong bond with him.

 

When Karamatsu had been so involved with everyday of the youngest life, it was almost unbelievable for him to think how fast the other had grown. He was already walking around the house, sometimes in alarming speed and only occasionally falling. Todomatsu understood talking and could say a few words like ‘mom’, ‘dad’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, names of his brothers (even if the pronunciation was all wrong) and few random words. Their mother had also almost two months ago stopped breastfeeding him. Todomatsu was such a big boy already and Karamatsu couldn’t be prouder. I was weird how that small boy could become anything in the future. Karamatsu had faith in all of his brothers but this small, precious baby that he had been nurturing with such devoting was his star of hope.

 

Karamatsu himself was now 19 years old. He had finished high school but was unable to get to the university he had wanted. He would admit that when Todomatsu was born in his senior year, much of his concentration and interest to the school was moved to the new born brother. Luckily Karamatsu had gotten a part time job from nearby shop. However, he hadn’t applied to any school that year because he had been so busy with work and helping at home. He didn’t have any regrets because long university days wouldn’t allow him to spend much time with his brothers. He was happy with how his life was now.

 

Karamatsu stepped to the kitchen with Todomatsu. “Mom!” the youngest said happily when seeing their mother and reached towards her with his small hands.

 

Matsuyo turned to look at them, smiling lovingly. “Hello sweetie!” she said and picket Todomatsu up from the second oldest. “Did you sleep well?” she asked and got a smile for an answer. Their mother looked at Karamatsu: “Thank you!”

 

Karamatsu flipped his bangs. “Heh! Don’t thank me. You know I would do anything.”

 

“I know you would and I can’t thank you enough,” she answered petting Totty’s soft, black hair. “I should start preparing the dinner soon,” she said and offered Todomatsu back to Karamatsu who picked him up gladly.

 

“Then I’ll change Todomatsu’s diaper and feed him,” he said and left the room with his brother.

 

On their way to the utility room to change Totty he saw how the oldest dragged himself down the stairs. “You’re up,” Karamatsu said to him with a smile.

 

“Unfortunately,” Osomatsu answered and walked next to them. “Hello my small man!” he said grinning happily to Todomatsu and ruffled his hair gently. The youngest laughed and grabbed Osomatsu’s nose with his hand.

 

“Oww!” Osomatsu said and pried himself free. “Nice! You’re so strong Totty. I bet you could beat Karamatsu in a fight already,” he said and chuckled rubbing the underside of his nose with his finger. Todomatsu giggled more at his funny older brother.

 

Karamatsu chuckled as well. “I'm sure. Now, we have some business to do, right Todomatsu?” he said and walked the two of them away.

 

---

 

After changing Todomatsu's diaper and feeding him, Karamatsu was sitting in the living room where the three school boys were doing their homeworks. Karamatsu was reading a magazine and helped them if needed. Todomatsu was again energetic and he was running around from the living room to kitchen and in the hallway. Osomatsu was laying on the living room floor a comic book in his hand but he had gotten too tired of reading it. Instead he was just laying doing nothing and he was playing with the youngest. Todomatsu came every few minutes to stand right next to the oldest or he might even poke him. Then Osomatsu would suddenly move and try to catch the youngest who always screamed high-pitchedly and escaped while the oldest said something threatening like 'Now I'll catch you!’ and when he caught him he said ‘This time you won't escape!’ even if he always let him wiggle away from his hold. Todomatsu's laughs were contagious and Karamatsu couldn't help but laugh himself. However, Choromatsu was getting irritated.

 

“Could you stop shouting? I can't focus!” he snapped.

 

“Sorry. This is too much fun without much work. You should go upstairs,” Osomatsu said.

 

Karamatsu smiled apologetically. “I'm sorry Choromatsu,” he said.

 

Choromatsu groaned and leant closer to his books. “Whatever. I'm soon finished,” he mumbled quietly. Choromatsu's first year in high school would soon end and he had a tendency to stress about things and the exams coming closer weren't helping.

 

Then Todomatsu ran again to the room and stopped next to the unmoving oldest who laid his arm laying over his eyes hiding them. The youngest babbled something to get his attention but Osomatsu didn't react. Then Todomatsu poked him to the side and scrambled further away letting out a scream but nothing happened. He looked confused and walked back closer to the oldest poking him again.

 

“Oto-nii,” Totty called and finally climbed on top of Osomatsu's stomach. He waited for some reaction and started to move around wiggling.

 

Then suddenly Osomatsu attacked and wrapped Todomatsu between his arms tightly. “I got you now!” he shouted and Todomatsu in his part gasped before starting screaming. Both of them were smiling brightly.

 

“This time I'll eat you!” Osomatsu told, stood up with the struggling youngest and ran out of the room Totty laughing and screaming. From the hallway they could hear Osomatsu blowing raspberries and Todomatsu giggling wildly. Then Todomatsu ran back to the living room screaming and jumped to Karamatsu's lap. Osomatsu lazily walked back to the room laughing. Todomatsu tried to hide himself better behind Karamatsu arms.

 

“Niitan!” he shouted. Karamatsu hugged him tightly.

 

“Worry not dear brother,” Karamatsu started. “I won't let him eat you.”

 

Then without a warning when Osomatsu had taken few steps further, a yellow flash collided with him making him stumble. “I want to play too!” Jyushimatsu shouted and Osomatsu got a hold of him. Ichimatsu followed curiously from his spot and Choromatsu held his head between his hands trying to focus.

 

“Did you do your homework?” Osomatsu asked.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded smiling brightly. “I did!”

 

“Good job! Then let’s go to the backyard so that Choromatsu can study,” he said and moved Jyushimatsu to his back where the second youngest hang with his arms wrapped around Osomatsu’s neck and feet digging to his sides for support. Osomatsu walked behind the third youngest and grabbed him to his arms where he struggled.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan!” Ichimatsu said annoyedly but his fighting was halfhearted. He most often wanted to be part of games but was too shy and reserved to tell it himself.

 

“It’s fine. Let’s have some fun!” Osomatsu said and carried the two brothers away Jyushimatsu laughing on his back. “Besides, it’s enough that we have one nerd in our family.”

 

Choromatsu gave an annoyed glance to the oldest’s back but didn’t say anything.

 

“Do you wanna go with them?” Karamatsu asked from the youngest who was still seeking safety from his lap. Todomatsu turned his head to meet his eyes but before he got to answer the front door opened.

 

“I’m home!” their father’s voice called.

 

“Dad!” Totty shouted and pried himself free and wobbled to the front door and out of Karamatsu’s eyes but he could hear the happy babble and Matsuzo talking to the toddler.

 

Matsuyo walked out of the kitchen to greet her husband. “Welcome home dear. The food will be soon,” she said.

 

“Thank you dear!” Matsuzo said and he appeared to the doorway to the living room. Totty was walking next to him. “Hello boys!” their father greeted Karamatsu and Choromatsu and both of them said their hellos. Todomatsu babbled something and came back to the living room to sat on Karamatsu’s lap who petted his hair and kissed his head.

 

Matsuyo appeared to the living room carrying glasses that she set on the table. Choromatsu closed his school books and moved them away from the table. “I’ll help you,” he said and went to the kitchen.

 

“Thank you Choromatsu,” their mom thanked and the two of them set the table.

 

The dinner was normal. Their parents always ate across the hallway in the kitchen while the boys had occupied the table of the living room. It depended a day whether Todomatsu would be eating with Karamatsu or their mother. Osomatsu was making funny faces, joking around and playing with the food while Jyushimatsu was laughing loudly and Ichimatsu chuckling and snickering. Karamatsu was trying to shush them and Choromatsu snapped to the oldest from time to time about how he at least should behave. They were so loud that even their mother, who was helping Todomatsu to eat, ordered them to eat and not play with their food which calmed Osomatsu down.

 

After the dinner Ichimatsu and Choromatsu helped with the dishes and the two oldests kept the two youngests happy. Jyushimatsu would have gone to help Ichimatsu for sure but from experience they knew that it was best to keep him away from the dishes.

 

Osomatsu laid on his stomach while Jyushimatsu were stepping on his back. The oldest called it massaging and Jyushimatsu was happy to help. “I think it’s about time to go to the bath house,” Osomatsu said.

 

Karamatsu glanced the clock and nodded. “I’ll go pack their baskets if you’ll take care of them again.”

 

“Sure!” Osomatsu said and rolled to his back causing Jyushimatsu to fell on top of him. Karamatsu smiled, tightened his hold of the youngest in his arms and stood up. He went to their room, decided clean clothes for Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu and packed their small bath house baskets.

 

Karamatsu made his way back to the kitchen where the two brothers had finished washing the dishes. Their mother and father were sitting there talking as Karamatsu appeared there holding the youngest still in his arms. “They’re going to the bath house soon,” he informed. “I can stay here and bathe Totty,” he told.

 

Matsuzo smiled at him but didn’t have time to say anything before Matsuyo said: “No. Go with your brothers for once. You stay behind to bathe him so often,” she said kindly.

 

Karamatsu looked down at the toddler in his arms who sensed the look and looked up to his brother so that their eyes met. Todomatsu looked at him questioningly before a smile appeared on his face. Karamatsu smiled back to him before looking back to their parents. “Fine. I’ll go this time,” he said and gave the youngest to their mom. Then he went to the living room where the rest of his brothers were.

 

“I’m coming with you this time,” he told them.

 

“Alright!” Osomatsu said and gave a thumbs up. Jyushimatsu cheered. The oldest stood up stretching. “Let’s get going then that these two can go to sleep.”

 

---

 

Karamatsu couldn’t deny that the trip to the bath house had been welcome. He had had a chance to relax when Osomatsu had looked after Jyushimatsu even if the second born couldn’t completely leave it to him when the second youngest was running around on the slippery floors and swimming in the bath where it wasn’t allowed. But it was nice when he had gotten an opportunity to talk with Choromatsu and Ichimatsu.

 

The three youngests were about to go to sleep and Karamatsu was brushing Todomatsu’s teeth. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu was brushing theirs next to them.

 

“I’m ready!” Jyushimatsu announced.

 

Karamatsu glanced at him. “Let Ichimatsu check it.”

 

Jyushimatsu turned to the third youngest and opened his mouth wide. Ichimatsu took his toothbrush, eyed his teeth and brushed few times. “It’s good,” he said.

 

“Thank you Ichi-niisan!” Jyushimatsu said, washed his toothbrush and dashed out of the room dragging Ichimatsu with him.

 

Karamatsu chuckled and put away Todomatsu’s toothbrush as well. “Let’s go then Totty,” he said and the youngest waddled after him. They went to their parents’ room where Matsuyo was taking out the futon. “He’s ready to sleep now,” Karamatsu told.

 

“That’s good. Come here Totty so we can go to sleep. Say good night to Karamatsu.”

 

Todomatsu gripped onto the second oldest’s pant leg. “No!” he shrieked.

 

“Come on now,” Matsuyo said and picked the cranky toddler to her arms. “Good night Karamatsu,” she said as an clue to leave them.

 

“No!” Totty shouted again and started screaming as he tried to wiggle himself free from the grasp.

 

“Good night!” Karamatsu said and left the room closing the door after him. He made his way to their shared room where Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu were already laying under the blankets. “Good night!” Karamatsu told them and switched off the light. Both of them answered to him. Karamatsu smiled and walked downstairs and to the living room where Osomatsu and Choromatsu were watching television.

 

He sat himself down to the sofa next to them. “Shouldn’t you be going to sleep soon?” he asked from the third brother.

 

Choromatsu looked at him. “I think you should too,” he answered. “I’ll go when this ends.”

 

Karamatsu smiled lopsidedly. “I suppose I should,” he answered.

 

Once the program ended Choromatsu left the room and Karamatsu rose up to follow after him. However, he turned to look at the oldest who was quick to claim the whole sofa to himself. “Will you join us?” the second oldest asked.

 

“Nah. I can’t sleep in many hours,” the oldest answered with a smirk. “Hey Karamatsu, would you join your niisan and come to play pachinko some day?”

 

Karamatsu smiled. “Of course brother. But I’m not sure when I have time.”

 

Osomatsu gave him a look. “Seriously, you work too much. Especially at home. You should take a day off. Mom can handle things on her own, you know. And you don’t need to be always be with Totty.”

 

The second oldest frowned. “I enjoy nothing more than being with my family. And the younger ones needs us oldests.”

 

“Sure, sure but not all the time.”

 

Karamatsu sighed. “I’d love to join you and I’ll do so when I can,” he said and left the room. Osomatsu made it quite often clear that he thought that Karamatsu was just trying too much and he should try to live more like himself but Karamatsu thought otherwise.

 

The second born brushed his teeth, changed to pajamas and slid the door to their room open. Jyushimatsu was snoring loudly and Ichimatsu breathed calmly next to him. Choromatsu laid next to them but Karamatsu knew he wasn’t asleep yet.

 

Quietly the second oldest slipped to his spot at the other side of Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu and watched his younger brothers smiling fondly before he closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Karamatsu opened the fridge and sighed before he closed the door again. He glanced at Todomatsu who was sitting in the highchair at the kitchen table playing with toys that the second oldest had brought to him. Deciding that he would be fine for a moment, Karamatsu left the room and walked to the living room doorway from where he saw how Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were sitting together watching television.

 

“Do you know where Choromatsu is?” Karamatsu asked.

 

Jyushimatsu turned to look at him smiling his permanent smile as he shook his head and turned his focus back to the program. Ichimatsu too turned to look at the second oldest always much more calm and collected than Jyushimatsu. He had a habit to keep his eyes almost half lidded.

 

“He said he can’t focus here,” Ichimatsu answered. “He went to find another place.”

 

Karamatsu nodded. “Okay, thanks.” He turned around and saw from the kitchen doorway that Totty was still sitting there without any problems so he headed upstairs and opened the door to their room. Unsurprisingly the lights were out and he heard an annoyed groan from under the blankets even if he hadn’t turn on the lights.

 

Choromatsu wasn’t there but there wasn’t any harm in trying to ask for the oldest’s help. “Osomatsu-niisan, could you go to the nearest konbini to buy a few bottles of tea? We don’t have any,” he asked.

 

The oldest grunted. “No way! It’s not even twelve o’clock!”

 

“I know but-”

 

Osomatsu threw a pillow towards him. “Let me sleep!” he whined.

 

Karamatsu sighed quietly and closed the door. Osomatsu usually stayed up later than any others from the family so most days he ended up sleeping on the living room couch because he quite often accidentally woke up his brothers if he tried to sneak to the futon in the middle of night because he wasn’t the most careful one. So when the other family members woke up in the mornings, Osomatsu moved grumpily from the couch to their shared futon. It was almost every other day like that.

 

Karamatsu walked to their parents’ room opening the door on his way. There he saw Choromatsu sitting in front of a desk, his school books laying around.

 

“Ah Choromatsu, here you are,” he said as he stepped inside the room. The third born turned his head to look at Karamatsu and Karamatsu immediately felt bad upon seeing his face. Choromatsu looked so strained with desperation in his eyes. He looked like he could just cry.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan,” he greeted him with quiet voice.

 

The second oldest frowned as he came to stood next to him. “You okay? You know, you shouldn’t stress too much about the exams because I know you’ll do just fine,” he reassured and offered him a smile.

 

Choromatsu let out a tired sigh and laid his head to rest on top of the open book in front of him. “But what if I don’t? Everyone is studying so hard to get into good universities. And I’m not even in any evening school. I don’t understand all of these things I should. It’s just… so frustrating!” he said gritting his teeth and avoiding to look at the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. As long as you do your best, I’m really proud of you.” Choromatsu let out a tired sound in response. “You shouldn’t strain yourself. Take a break. I’ll see later if I can help you with your problems, or if they are too hard for me” he said, slid a lock of his brother’s hair behind his ear affectionately before he left the room.

 

He couldn’t burden poor Choromatsu more so he couldn’t ask him to go buy the tea. It was understandable for him to be stressed up because the exam season was rough - Karamatsu remembered it well. And with their big family and their father being the only supporter while the second born did what he could they still didn’t have that much money so Choromatsu couldn’t go to an evening school like most students did. It pained Karamatsu and he had been thinking many times that if he took more shifts, maybe they would have the money that it would take. Maybe in the next semester.

 

Karamatsu walked down the stairs and went back to the kitchen to stir the nabe he was cooking. Todomatsu was whining unhappily in the chair since he had managed to drop all the toys to the ground or shoved them too far for him to reach.

 

“Oh, did you drop your toys?” Karamatsu asked in his sunny voice which made Totty to look at him and stop making noises. He was confidently waiting for Karamatsu to do something like he always did when Totty wasn’t happy. Karamatsu lifted up a toy, a pretty magical wand that made a sound and lit up if you pressed a button, gave it to the youngest who took it happily and Karamatsu lifted him up to his arms when he went to stir the cooking.

 

The second oldest went back to his thoughts. They still needed the tea. “ I can’t go because I’m cooking and I don’t really trust the others to look after it if I go. Osomatsu is not going and I can’t ask Choromatsu. Should I ask Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu? Or maybe we can manage one meal without it and I’ll go buy it later.

 

Karamatsu shifted Todomatsu in his arms and walked again to the living room. “Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu, would you go to the konbini for me? We don’t have tea bottles left,” Karamatsu asked them.

 

Jyushimatsu looked at him his eyes bright as he jumped up. “Yes! We can do that! Right Ichi-niisan?”

 

The fourth brother nodded. “Yeah,” he said and stood up.

 

Karamatsu smiled at them. “Thank you! I would but…”

 

“You’re busy all the time,” Ichimatsu finished his sentence for him.

 

Karamatsu chuckled a little. “I guess I am.” He walked to the kitchen the two boys following him. He showed an empty tea bottle on the counter. “This one. Two or three of these. They’re quite heavy,” he said and looked at the brothers.

 

“We can do it!” Jyushimatsu said loudly. “We got muscle, muscle!” he said and flexed his small muscles. A tiny, amused smile crept on Ichimatsu’s face and Karamatsu laughed.

 

“You sure have!” he chuckled and gave Jyushimatsu two bags before he took out his wallet and gave 1500 yen to Ichimatsu. “Both of you can buy one small snack as a thanks but no eating it before lunch, okay?” he asked and both of them nodded eyes sparkling. “Good! Give me back the change if there’ll be any left,” he said, brushed Ichimatsu’s cheek a little before ruffling Jyushimatsu’s hair who giggled.

 

“Go on then but don’t go anywhere else on your way.”

 

Both of the boys nodded again and gave a ‘nnn’ in confirmation before they went to put on their coats and shoes.

 

“We’re going now!” they called and Karamatsu heard the front door open and close.

 

It was okay to send Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu to go buy a thing or two since it was only a couple of hundred meters to the konbini. Besides, they went to school together by themselves and they were usually happy to go to the store.

 

Karamatsu stirred the pot again and put the squirming Todomatsu down. “Are you tired of being carried?”

 

The youngest let out an unhappy sound and stomped out of the kitchen. Karamatsu huffed amusedly and started to took out dishes from the cabinets in order to set the table.

 

It was a Saturday. Their parents had gone to visit their friends and said they would be back in the afternoon. Karamatsu didn’t have work that day so that he could take care of the younger ones.

 

Karamatsu went to the living room carrying bowls and chopstick which he set on the table. When he turned to go fetch more of the dishes, yawning Osomatsu met him at the doorway dangling the giggling youngest in his armpit.

 

“Look what I ran into,” he said smiling through his yawn.

 

Karamatsu returned the smile. “Oh, what a treasure!”

 

Osomatsu snickered, took a hold on the youngest with both hands and swung Todomatsu in front of his face as he eyed him. “More like a little demon,” he said and blew air to his face which made the youngest to squirm giggling more as he tried to reach to Osomatsu’s face. The oldest let him and Totty tapped him on the mouth a few times before Osomatsu set him on the ground. “Is there food soon?” he asked from Karamatsu with hopeful eyes.

 

Karamatsu looked the youngest to wobble away. “Yes. Just a few minutes. I’m setting the table now,” he said and went back to the kitchen.

 

“Sweet!” Osomatsu said rubbing the underside of his nose while smirking.

 

Karamatsu had just got the last glasses to the table when the front door opened and cheerful voices filled the hallway. “We’re home!” Jyushimatsu yelled.

 

“Welcome back!” Karamatsu said as he came to the hallway to see the two of them. Ichimatsu gave him a bag that had two bottles of the tea and Jyushimatsu another that had one. “Thank you! Good job,” the second oldest thanked.

 

“It’s fine,” Ichimatsu said quietly. “Oh, here’s the rest of the money,” he said and gave Karamatsu a few coins.

 

“Thanks!” Karamatsu said smiling. “Go wash your hands and then you can come to the table.”

 

“Osomatsu-niisan!”

 

Karamatsu turned his attention towards an annoyed yell coming from the stairs.

 

Osomatsu ran down the stairs holding a book in his hand while Choromatsu came after him trying his best to reach it but in vain. The oldest laughed but Choromatsu didn’t see the fun as he was starting to grow angry. Osomatsu stopped in front of Karamatsu and hold the book too high for the snarling third oldest to reach.

 

Karamatsu looked at the two frowning. “I asked you to tell Choromatsu that food is ready, not to bully him,” he said looking at the oldest accusingly as he put his hands on his hips.

 

“But I got him downstairs,” Osomatsu said while Choromatsu still jumped next to him trying to get the book.

 

“Give me the book!” the third born snapped and kicked the oldest’s foot in frustration.

 

Osomatsu rolled his eyes and gave the book to him which Choromatsu snatched hurriedly to himself glaring daggers at the other. “Geez, you study way too much,” Osomatsu said.

 

“Okay the two of you. Come,” Karamatsu said and went to the living room where everybody else was sitting around the table already. Ichimatsu was holding Todomatsu while Jyushimatsu tickled him making the youngest to giggle.

 

The smile returned to Karamatsu’s lips as he took the toddler and sat himself down the youngest on his lap.

 

“Hey! Where did you got that?” Osomatsu asked as he saw a candy bar on the table that the second youngest was clever enough to hide inside his pocket hurriedly.

 

“It’s mine!” Jyushimatsu said defensively and stared at the oldest sternly.

 

“I want one too!”

 

“Karamatsu-niisan let us buy something small when we went to buy tea for him,” Ichimatsu explained calmly but his eyes were little sharper than usual as if he was waiting for the oldest to try to steal their candy.

 

However, the oldest only pouted. “Hey, no fair!” he whined and turned to look at the second oldest. “You need to give some money for candy to me and Choromatsu too!”

 

The third oldest scowled. “Could you act like an adult?!”

 

“Karamacchuuu~~” the first born pleaded.

 

Karamatsu frowned. “Couldn’t you use some of your gambling money to buy snacks?”

 

Now the eldest frowned. “No! Mom buys my snacks,” he said and snickered. “Come on buddy. Few coins.”

 

The second oldest sighed closing his eyes. “Fine. I’ll give them to you after lunch. It will be your dessert. You get some too Choromatsu.”

 

“Yes!! Karamatsu you’re the best!!” the oldest cheered happily and Karamatsu couldn’t help but smile.

 

Choromatsu looked at the second oldest disappointedly. “You shouldn’t give him your money,” he said which earned an annoyed ‘haah?’ from the oldest. “I don’t need it either.”

 

Karamatsu grinned cheerfully. “I can’t help loving all my brothers. It’s okay,” he said looking at Choromatsu who frowned back to him.

 

“Can we start eating?” Ichimatsu asked.

 

“Ah, of course!” Karamatsu answered and placed his palms together. “Itadakimasu!”

 

---

 

Karamatsu had just washed the dishes as he walked to the living room where his brothers were. Choromatsu sat next to Todomatsu, reading a book and making sure that the youngest stayed happy, occasionally showing a new toy to him to keep him interested. Osomatsu sat around the table with Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu who were drawing.

 

The second oldest sat down at the table. “What do you have here brothers?”

 

“Karamatsu-niisan! Jyushimatsu said his name cheerfully. “Look look!” he said and showed a picture of a beetle on a leaf and a big, yellow sun on the background. “I draw a beetle!” he told proud.

 

Karamatsu smiled. “Oh, how are you this good of an artist my dear Jyushimatsu?” he asked and made the second youngest laugh.

 

Osomatsu smiled as well. “Now tell him what you told me. Who are you going to give it?” he asked.

 

“I'll give it to mom!” Jyushimatsu said loudly with a wide smile before he turned back to another picture he was drawing.

 

“That’s so sweet!” Karamatsu said with a soft smile. “And Ichimatsu?”

 

Ichimatsu looked up to him quickly before he took the drawing he was coloring and hid it under the table. “It’s ugly,” he said.

 

“Of course it’s not ugly,” Karamatsu said kindly. “Can I see it?”

 

“No! I’ll burn it!” Ichimatsu said firmly.

 

“Aaww come on,” Osomatsu said and ruffled the third youngest’s hair who sent him a sharp look. “It was good! You’re good at drawing cats,” he said.

 

“No. I suck!” Ichimatsu pouted.

 

“You’re better than me for sure,” Osomatsu said and showed the others his doodle of a female figure which of course had enormous breasts.

 

The two younger boys started to chuckle and Karamatsu looked at the oldest judgementally. “Osomatsu!” he said.

 

“What? I’m studying how to draw a female body!”

 

“Put it away. That’s no way realistic,” the second oldest said. It could have been a funny joke if it was only the two of them or maybe even Choromatsu but Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were so young and Karamatsu didn’t want Osomatsu to give them any weird, objectifying, sexual imagines of women.

 

“Come on! See it’s funny. They’re laughing.”

 

“Put it away.”

 

The oldest groaned and crumpled the paper before tossing it over his shoulder. “Fine mom .”

 

Karamatsu gave him an unamused look before he looked back at the other two. “I’m sure both of your pictures are beautiful. Mom will be happy to see them,” he said and smiled at them. Jyushimatsu smiled back at him happily while Ichimatsu looked away.

 

Then Karamatsu stood up and went to kneel down next to the third oldest who looked up to him when sensing his presence. The youngest was playing with a soft cube which each side was made from different material, making it interesting to touch. When Todomatsu saw Karamatsu, he squealed and reached toward him.

 

The second oldest took him, lifted him up high before bringing him down and giving him a kiss on the head. “How is your studying going?” Karamatsu asked from Choromatsu.

 

The third born shrugged. “Little better. I think I understood a few things,” he said.

 

Karamatsu smiled. “That’s great!” he said. “Thanks for looking after Totty. I can take care of him now,” he told as he stood up the youngest still in his arms.

 

Choromatsu glanced up to him. “Don’t overwork yourself Karamatsu-niisan.”

 

Karamatsu raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s what I’ve been saying to you,” he said little amused but Choromatsu didn’t look like he thought it was funny as he rolled his eyes and focused back to his book.

 

---

 

“Ichimatsu-niisan, I wanna do something!” Jyushimatsu said as he laid on his stomach on the living room floor and moved his legs back and forth in the air. He was bored.

 

Ichimatsu looked up from a magazine he had been trying to read but had had trouble with kanji. “We can go play to the backyard?” he suggested.

 

“No! It’s cold!” Jyushimatsu said firmly and sat up. “I hate cold!” he said with a pouty face.

 

“Then what would you like to do?” the third youngest asked closing the magazine.

 

“Play tag?” Jyushimatsu suggested getting excited.

 

“No,” Ichimatsu said. “I don’t like it. I never catch you.”

 

“But I like it so much!” Jyushimatsu said and crawled on all fours closer to his older brother. He leant his back against Ichimatsu’s back in thought.

 

“How about hide and seek?” the other suggested.

 

The second youngest chuckled. “You know I can’t stay quiet and still.”

 

Ichimatsu smiled a little. “I know.”

 

“But we can play that if we don’t come up with anything else. It’s still fun! I like hiding!” Jyushimatsu said and looked up at the ceiling. “We could ask Karamatsu-niisan if we can watch a movie?”

 

Ichimatsu made a small nod even if Jyushimatsu couldn’t see it when they were back to back. “Mmmm. But let’s ask from Osomatsu-niisan. He’ll say yes for sure.”

 

“Yay!” Jyushimatsu shouted, jumped up and hugged Ichimatsu from behind.

 

“Ahh! Jyushimatsu!”

 

“What do you want to watch?”

 

Ichimatsu pried his neck free from the younger one’s hug and stayed quiet for a few seconds before he looked up at his brother. “Aristocats,” he said.

 

Jyushimatsu looked back at him smiling as always. “Again?”

 

When the third youngest was about to answer they heard a doorbell ring and instinctively both of them looked towards the hallway before sharing a look.

 

“I’ll open it!” Jyushimatsu said loudly and dashed away. He got to the front door and opened it while Ichimatsu appeared to the hallway as well and stopped to stand a few meters behind him.

 

Jyushimatsu let out an awestruck breath and took a few steps back as he saw that behind the door stood two police officers. Pure glee shone from his face as he looked up to the two men admiringly. Behind him Ichimatsu narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Officers shouldn’t come to anybody’s home without a reason. He didn’t like their dead serious faces one bit.

 

The older one of the men formed a soft, maybe little strained smile on his face as he looked down at Jyushimatsu. “Hello. This is Matsuno residence, am I right?”

 

There was something wrong with his expression and tone, Ichimatsu decided. Was it sadness? Pity?

 

“Good afternoon sir!” Jyushimatsu boomed eyes shining. Ichimatsu walked next to him and answered to the question:

 

“Yes this is. Why?” he asked forgetting all the politeness.

 

The younger officer looked nervous but the older one continued speaking, everything about him still making Ichimatsu feel uneasy. “Is your older brother at home?” the officer asked.

 

“Yeah…” Ichimatsu said and eyed the two man while Jyushimatsu nodded his head viciously next to him. As the two of them turned around to fetch their older brothers, Karamatsu appeared on their sight as if on clue and almost collided with the fast second youngest who had leapt to the run.

 

“Ah, Jyushimatsu!” he said as Jyushimatsu almost crashed to him. He looked at the police officers worriedly.

 

“Niisan! Look! Policemen!!” Jyushimatsu told excitedly.

 

Karamatsu didn’t look at the younger brother as he patted his head. “Yes, I see.” He walked to the door, Ichimatsu making room for him and slipping next to Jyushimatsu, and greeted the men: “Good afternoon. Can I help you?” he asked eyes wider than usual in confusion but still wearing a worried frown.

 

“Are you the oldest? Matsuno Osomatsu?” the younger officer asked checking the name from his notepad.

 

“Ah no. I’m Matsuno Karamatsu, the second oldest,” he answered his head full of worrying questions.

 

“I see. Could you fetch your oldest brother here if he’s at home?”

 

“Of course!” Karamatsu said and swallowed nervously before turning to the two younger brothers still following the conversation. “Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu, could you tell Osomatsu-niisan to come here?” he asked them and send Ichimatsu a look saying that he needed to make sure that Osomatsu actually came. The third youngest nodded slowly in understandment. “After that go wait to the living room,” Karamatsu continued.

 

“Can we watch a movie?” Jyushimatsu asked hopefully.

 

“Of course!” the second oldest answered. “Okay, go now,” he said and the two younger boys left.

 

What’s going on? It can’t be anything good so the question is, how bad is it? What did Osomatsu do? Something illegal? He honestly could have. Did something happen to mom and dad? Is there a dangerous person going around in the neighbourhood? Could Osomatsu be doing drugs?”

 

Different kind of scenarios flashed in Karamatsu’s mind leaving him more and more anxious. “Is something wrong?” he asked from the officers.

 

The older police officer sighed before answering to him. “I’m afraid we need to talk with you but let’s wait for your brother.”

 

Karamatsu didn’t feel any better after that answer.

 

After a few second, which felt like an eternity, Osomatsu finally walked down to the hallway and appeared to their sight. “Afternoon,” he greeted and walked next to Karamatsu trying to look relaxed but Karamatsu could read him well enough to tell that he wasn’t.

 

“Afternoon. Matsuno Osomatsu I believe?” the older officer wanted to confirm.

 

Osomatsu nodded. “That’s me.”

 

The officer nodded. “I’m afraid we have horrible news for you,” he then said going to the point.

 

Karamatsu was frozen to the spot, unable to tear his eyes away from the man and unable to breathe. Could there be any worse sentence in the world? Karamatsu doubted that. Inside his mind he was begging that it wasn’t any of the horrible suspicions that had raised in his mind. He was begging that it was a mistake or even a sick joke. He hold his breath. On his other side Osomatsu stood stiff and still.

 

The older policeman looked at them sadly but tried to stay serious and professional as he swallowed. “Your parents Matsuno Matsuzo and Matsuyo died in a car accident. I’m deeply sorry.”

 

Those words stabbed Karamatsu’s heart worse than any knife could have. It couldn’t be right! They couldn’t die! Karamatsu’s chest was hurting. He needed air. He had to breathe but how could he after something like this.

 

He took a staggered breath and now the forming tears were starting to burn his eyes. “N-no…” he said and looked at the officers in denial but their sympathetic looks were enough to start the tears to fall down his cheeks.

 

“No!” he said firmer and gripped his hair with his hands hard. His breathing was shallow and uneven as he shook his head eyes closed. “Nononono!”

 

“I’m very sorry!” the younger officer said.

 

No! Don’t say that!!

 

“This is a terrible shock for you but we need to talk about some urgent things with you,” the older one said.

 

No!! Please, no!! ” Karamatsu was sobbing now but couldn’t possibly say anything. He was breaking as his heart had been torn into pieces. His whole world had been broken from under his feet in a matter of seconds.

 

He realized how Osomatsu suddenly moved away and jogged a few steps further into the hallway before he shouted with firm voice: “Choromatsu! Go to the living room with the others and stay there!” the oldest yelled.

 

Karamatsu was a sobbing mess, hiding his face to his palms when few seconds later he could hear the third oldest’s voice calling back from the upper end of the stairs: “Why? What’s going on?” Karamatsu let out a pitiful whine.

 

“Don’t ask, just go there!” Osomatsu snapped back almost angrily but Karamatsu could hear the tiny waver in his voice. The second oldest turned to look at him and saw how Osomatsu bit his teeth hard while rubbing his eyes furiously. He took a deep unsteady breath and turned to look at Karamatsu. “Where’s Totty?”

 

Karamatsu’s lip quivered and he kept swallowing and hiccupping as he fought to make his voice work. Tears fell freely down his cheeks. “H-he… H-he’s-” he sobbed more, not even trying to wipe his eyes, “i-in the-th-the… u-utility room.”

 

Osomatsu nodded curtly and walked away.

 

Karamatsu startled when he felt a hand land on his shoulder. He looked up and saw the younger officer look at him. “Maybe you should sit down?” Karamatsu looked at him for some seconds, gasping for breath through his sobs before he nodded and just slumped down to the floor, hanging his head low, having no strength nor willpower to do anything else.

 

He thought he heard them talking something else to him as well but he couldn’t register what. They couldn’t say anything that could help him so how could it matter.

 

However, when the soft voice of his only older brother called him and Karamatsu felt a hand on his shoulder, he looked up and managed to get a glimpse of Osomatsu’s face turned into a pained grimace before the older wrapped his shaking body into a tight hug. Until now Karamatsu had been trying to hold back his louder whines and cries but he no longer could. He let out loud, heartbreaking cries as he dug his fingers into Osomatsu’s hoodie’s fabric and gripped it for his life.

 

Osomatsu sobbed miserably as he brushed Karamatsu’s hair and rubbed his back not once loosening the hug as the two brothers cried. Only when he heard the two officers talking, Osomatsu pulled back and wiped away the tears and snot to his sleeve. Karamatsu whimpered and tried to push his face back against Osomatsu’s hoodie but the oldest took a gentle hold on his chin and lifted it up so that Karamatsu met his eyes. Osomatsu looked at him with so much pain and grief as he hiccupped and sobbed while he started to wipe away Karamatsu’s tears with his thumb.

 

“Le-let’s go t-to the kitchen,” Osomatsu said as he pulled Karamatsu to his feet with him. Karamatsu wrapped his arms around Osomatsu’s arm and leaned onto him heavily. The oldest glanced at the officers before he led them to the kitchen. The four of them sat down and Osomatsu held Karamatsu tightly who hid his face against the oldest’s hoodie which muffed the loudests of cries.

 

“I’m terribly sorry that we can’t let you mourn in peace before talking about some practical things,” the younger officer said. Osomatsu took a staggered breath and nodded. Karamatsu didn’t show any signs that he had heard or registered the words.

 

“Do you have any close relatives who could take you?” the older offices asked. “Grandparents?”

 

Osomatsu shook his head with closed eyes and tears flowed down his cheeks. “N-no. M-mom and d-dad don’t...di-didn’t h-have siblings.” He took a shaky breath. “O-only other one o-of our grandfathers is alive b-but he lives at the ot-other side o-of Japan. W-we don’t ba-basically know him a-and h-he is n-not healthy anymore.”

 

“I see. Well of course you two are adults so you can do whatever you see fit. But the younger ones need guardians.”

 

“The social workers will come tomorrow to talk to you and take your brothers to an orphanage. Can you manage this night or should we call them here now?” the younger officer asked.

 

Osomatsu’s eyes were wide open as he looked the officers in a shock and he opened his mouth to answer but before he managed to say anything, Karamatsu had jumped up to his feet and he was staring the two men with wild, wide eyes in horror but there was also some animalistic fury.

 

“No!!” his broken but very determined voice shrieked. “I won’t let you take my b-brothers away!! Nobody will touch them!!” he shouted and while tears were still streaming down his face, he had gotten new power because now they were talking about his brothers. They were and had always been the most important thing in his life.

 

“Matsuno-san I’m-”

 

“I won’t let anyone take away my brothers! They are everything I have!!” Karamatsu screamed and slammed his fists to the table glaring at the officers.

 

“Karamatsu,” Osomatsu said and pulled his sleeve. Karamatsu looked at him. Why did Osomatsu look at him like that? Why was he so calm?! What was wrong with him? These people were threatening to take away their brothers! Karamatsu was about to shout to Osomatsu but Osomatsu was faster to speak:

 

“Calm down. W-we’ll get the custody,” the oldest said with confident eyes as he sniffed. Karamatsu stared at him and then saw the fire in his eyes.

 

Osomatsu turned to look at the officers. “We can get it right?”

 

They were both still looking little surprised by Karamatsu’s sudden outburst but the older man nodded. “Ah, yes. If you can prove that you can take care of them well enough then I’m sure you would get the custody since you’re family. But this is something you need to discuss with the social workers.” Osomatsu nodded and Karamatsu sat down, the fear of losing his brothers as well not leaving him. His sobs grew louder again.

 

“Do you think you’ll be okay this night with your younger brothers? The youngest is a baby, right? Maybe-”

 

Karamatsu lifted his head up sharply and started almost shouting again but Osomatsu answered to the officers faster: “We can handle them. We take care of them all the time,” he said firmly and took few shaky breaths.

 

“Alright. Is there anything we can do for you or?” the older officer asked.

 

Osomatsu shook his head biting his teeth. “I-if you could leave u-us now to-to…” he trailed off and whimpered. Karamatsu was again leaning on him, rubbing his face against his shoulder staining his hoodie with tears.

 

The officers nodded. “I understand. Then we’ll take our leave.” They stood up and Osomatsu led them to the door. Karamatsu was left to the kitchen alone. He pulled his legs up, hugged his knees and hid his face crying unrestrained. How was he supposed to survive this? How could they live without their parents?

 

He realized how Osomatsu had come back and leaned close to hug him and rub his back. The oldest too was sobbing again louder but he tried to calm himself down unlike Karamatsu. “W-we need to go. The others…”

 

Karamatsu looked up to him and fought hard to get enough breath. “I-I can’t! I c-can’t! Make t-them know about th-this I-I…” He grimaced in pain.

 

The oldest took a staggered breath. “I-I know…” Then he straightened his back, took a hold on Karamatsu’s hoodie and pulled him up and away from the room behind himself. He stopped in front of the closed living room door and took a deep unsteady breath, his lower lip quivering, before he slid the door open and stepped to the room dragging Karamatsu after him.

 

It broke Karamatsu’s heart all over again to see his little brothers huddling together scared. Choromatsu looked scared and awfully worried as he looked at the two oldest. He was holding Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu with his arms. Ichimatsu was leaning on Choromatsu’s side hiding half of his face to his hoodie as he glanced up to his brothers with watery eyes. Jyushimatsu was gripping hard onto Choromatsu hoodie on his other side. His wide smile had turned upside down and he looked painfully scared as he sniffed in his brothers hug. Only Todomatsu didn’t seem too bothered as he played with toys at the other side of the room.

 

It was no wonder why they looked so afraid. Osomatsu had ordered them to stay in the room without explanation and they must have heard crying and Karamatsu’s earlier shouting. And now they saw how horrible the two oldests looked both of the crying with puffy eyes and Karamatsu being a complete mess.

 

Choromatsu’s lower lip wobbled. “Wh-what?” he asked sounding like he didn’t want to know as he hugged the two younger tighter.

 

Karamatsu took a sharp, shaky breath and dashed forward engulfing his three brothers into a hug. He shook throughoutly as he cried holding his brothers tightly. Jyushimatsu burst to tears and cried against his brothers. Ichimatsu started to whimper and Choromatsu was tearing up.

 

Osomatsu followed Karamatsu and joined the hug, gripping on his brothers’ clothes, not sure whose they were as he sobbed and hiccupped. Choromatsu looked at him with pleading eyes. “O-osomatsu-niisan?” he asked.

 

The oldest closed his eyes tightly, his expression full of sorrow. He pushed Karamatsu little further as he started talking: “C-choromatsu, Ichimatsu a-and Jyushimatsu,” he started.

 

Karamatsu whimpered loudly and gripped his hoodie’s chest. The sight of three teary pairs of eyes looking at the oldest confused and fearing the worst just killed him.

 

Osomatsu took a shaky breath and tears streamed down his face as he braced himself. “M-mom and dad a-are de-dead,” he said and his voice broke as he started a new sobbing fit again.

 

Karamatsu cried out heartbreakingly and he covered his mouth with his hands as he shook with hiccups and tried to suppress the cries. He couldn’t take it! Quickly he scrambled to his feet and rushed to the other side of the room were Todomatsu sat, looking at his brothers confusedly. Swiftly Karamatsu scooped him up to his tight hug and buried his face against the toddler. “ Why? Why?!

 

From behind him the second oldest could hear Jyushimatsu’s miserable cries, Ichimatsu’s whines, Choromatsu’s sobs as he tried to ask Osomatsu what had happened through his crying and the oldest trying his best to answer but losing the fight against the crying and soon both him and the third born were unable to talk.

 

Karamatsu returned to them, cradling the youngest tightly in his arms as he cried against him. Todomatsu let out a few unsure and unhappy whines before he too started crying when everybody else around him was. The second oldest hold him even tighter but couldn’t say anything to comfort the toddler. How could he say that it’s okay when nothing was okay? He could only hold his brother close and not let go. He would never let go!

 

He sat down next to the lump that was his other brothers huddling together and he leaned onto them but couldn’t free his hands from the now crying youngest. Someone took a hold on his hoodie but at his state Karamatsu had no idea who was gripping who and who was burying their face against who. It didn’t matter. It only mattered that they were together, seeking comfort from each other even if none of them had any to give. Still it was the only thing they could do.

 

Karamatsu didn’t know how long time they were curled up together, none of them saying anything and just crying their hearts out. For him it felt like years and at some point he could have believed that it would never end and the rest of the eternity would be just this horrible, unbearable pain and sorrow tearing his insides apart.

 

However, it didn’t continue for forever as finally Osomatsu had gathered his voice enough to speak. He hugged his brothers tightly and said in a unsteady but determined voice: “W-we’re still h-here. We-we’ll always be to-together. We’ll t-take care o-of you! I pr-promise! I’ll be a be-better brother-” he said before his voice broke with sobs again.

 

Karamatsu hold the youngest in his arms as he gritted his teeth together in pain. “ We have to stay together! Only then we can survive. No, we will survive! We have to. For them I have to! I can’t let my brothers down when they need me the most. But how can I do anything when I feel like I’m dying?!

 

“I-I promise!” Osomatsu sobbed. “W-we’ll take c-care of yo-you!”

Chapter Text

“I’m home,” Karamatsu breathed out as he closed the front door after him and took off his shoes before stepping further inside the house.

 

He was tired. He was tired like he had been for a long time. But he had no choice but to push it at the back of his mind and stay strong. For his brothers.

 

Karamatsu heard voices from the living room so he headed there and saw how Osomatsu laid on the couch, watching tv and eating snacks. “Hello brother,” Karamatsu greeted and let his eyes roam around the room. “Where’s Todomatsu?” he asked.

 

Osomatsu turned his head to look at the second oldest. “Oh, Karamatsu, you’re back,” he said and stuffed another handful of potato chips to his mouth. “He’s playing somewhere,” he answered to his question.

 

Karamatsu frowned almost unseenly before he nodded and left the room. He didn’t particularly like how Osomatsu didn’t always seem to be aware of what the toddler was doing. He knew that Totty was big enough that he could roam the house alone when everything dangerous was hid away within his reach but it still irritated Karamatsu. He had mentioned it a couple of times to the oldest but since nothing bad had happened he had let it be. They just had different view of how to raise a child.

 

“Todomatsu!” Karamatsu called the boy in the hallway with a happy and bright voice. Almost immediately he heard a happy, high-pitched squeal answering to him from the bathroom and then fast steps of tiny feet coming towards him.

 

“Kala-nii!” Todomatsu shouted as he waddled to Karamatsu’s sight, smiling widely and eyes shining.

 

Karamatsu couldn’t help but to smile back at the youngest sincerely and just as happy to see him as the boy was to see him. He kneeled down spreading his arms and cooing: “Hey~~ There you are!” Todomatsu ran straight to his lap, took a surprisingly strong grip from his shirt and wiggled on top of the older’s legs.

 

Karamatsu chuckled and took a hold of him before he could fall and hugged the youngest close, inhaling his scent. It was easiest to be with him. Todomatsu was too young to understand or realize the terrible thing that had happened to them. Even if he did cry for mom and dad quite often, though less than in the beginning, he would still always eventually settle for someone else. But at other times he was still the happy toddler, blissfully unaware of the pain his brothers were carrying. It made Karamatsu happy and sad at the same time.

 

It had been over two months since they lost their parents. As they suddenly had so many responsibilities and things to worry, the older brothers hadn’t had much time to mourn their loss in peace. They couldn’t have afforded it if they wanted to survive. They had just needed to get back to their feet as quick as possible and push forward.

 

Standing up again, holding Totty in his arms, Karamatsu started walking to the kitchen. Totty babbled something and Karamatsu commentated everything he did to the youngest like he almost always did. It would help him to learn speaking, he thought, and it felt natural to Karamatsu. It was important to keep talking. That’s how it should be and it would keep Totty feeling happy and safe. He only wanted his brothers’ best.

 

---

 

- Flashback -

 

Karamatsu felt dead inside.

 

He didn’t have power. Not for anything. If he could, he would just want to curl up back to the bedroom corner and stay there. He wanted to cry. To have someway of getting this horrible, paralyzing pain out of his body and mind but there was no way, nothing he could do to save himself. And how could he then save his brothers?

 

His pain only doubled when he thought of how pitiful he was, not even able to help his own brothers. He hated himself.

 

“Matsuno-san?”

 

Karamatsu blinked his dry eyes, his puffy eyelids feeling heavy and aching, as his name was called by another one of the social workers. His mind couldn’t focus. How could he?

 

The middle aged woman looked at him compassionately behind her eyeglasses. “Matsuno-san. Maybe you’d like to go and try to get some rest?” she suggested. “We can handle most of this with your brother.”

 

Karamatsu looked with hazy eyes at his older brother who was sitting next to him, biting his lip as he watched Karamatsu worriedly. “It’s okay Karamatsu,” Osomatsu reassured.

 

“No!” Karamatsu croaked. He cleared his sore throat. “No,” he said again looking first at Osomatsu, then at the two women in their kitchen. “I need to be here,” he said firmly despite of his pitiful voice.

 

The woman smiled at him sadly. “As you wish.”

 

Todomatsu was sleeping in their parents’ room. The other boys were staying quietly in their shared room. Last time Karamatsu had seen them, before the social workers came, Choromatsu was laying on the futon, curled up and keeping his eyes closed and Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had been huddling close together in the armchair. It was the two oldests who were again sitting in their kitchen while some strangers talked them about something they didn’t want to talk about.

 

Karamatsu stared at them, eyes half lidded with heavy eyelids and too drained to show much emotion even if grief was written all over his face. He didn’t like them as they were there to determine whether they could handle their brothers or not. At any moment they could turn into his enemies.

 

“So,” the younger woman in her 30s with a high ponytail started, “are you familiar with child care and baby care?”

 

Karamatsu looked at her with an unwavering stare. He hated how they looked at them kindly but they held the power to take away the only things that kept him sane. Karamatsu had basically devoted his life to his brothers and now someone came here to tell him if he was fit for doing what he had been doing for years. He hated it.

 

“Yes. We’ve been looking after our brothers a lot. We know how to give them everything they need,” Osomatsu said with confidence in his voice even if Karamatsu knew that Osomatsu knew that he would be lost without the second oldest.

 

The woman with ponytail nodded. “You’re both very young and you have many younger brothers. Do you feel like you could act as guardians to them and take all the responsibility that comes with it?”

 

Karamatsu saw how Osomatsu swallowed before answering. He knew how much that word terrified the oldest. “Yes. We can take care of them. With this big family the responsibility of taking care of them is nothing new to us. We are used to it,” Osomatsu answered even if he had never taken more responsibility than look after them if needed. Karamatsu could probably count with his two hands the times Osomatsu had changed a diaper.

 

“They’re our brothers and we want only their best,” Karamatsu said. “I’m confident that us all staying together is the most beneficial to them. To us all.” He would never let anyone take them away.

 

Both of the women smiled understandingly before they started asking questions similar to those of before: How do they feel about this? Do they know about that? Are they familiar with it? Do they think that they could manage this? Osomatsu did most of the talking while Karamatsu gave short comments and supported what the oldest had said.

 

“Good,” the woman with glasses said and scribbled something to her papers. “Then how about your financial situation. Can you support such a big family?”

 

“Karamatsu is working and I’ll go looking for a job tomorrow. We’ll- we’ll make it work,” Osomatsu said for the first time sounding little unsure. “I just ask that you give us the opportunity to prove we can make it work.”

 

They would get child benefit from the three youngest children which would help them. With Karamatsu’s pay, however, he could only support one person in addition to himself. Sure their parents had left some money but it wouldn’t help for long. Osomatsu would need to get a job fast or Karamatsu wouldn’t know what they would do.

 

They talked more about the matter, the women giving advices and suggestions but also saying that if they couldn’t do it, they wouldn’t have any other choice but to take the children. Karamatsu looked at the floor, biting his cheeks until he could taste the blood in his mouth.

 

After a painfully long time, during which Karamatsu had wished many times to just go lie helplessly on the floor of their room where his other brothers were and rest his tired eyes, the two workers started to gather their stuff. Todomatsu was now awake and Karamatsu held him tightly in his lap, very protectively. Few times during their discussion he had left to check on the youngest and the other brothers and when Totty had woken up a while ago, he had returned with him to the kitchen.

 

“Okay,” the older lady with glasses said. “If we can then see your brothers and share a few words with them,” she said but it wasn’t a question.

 

“Sure,” Osomatsu said exhaustion evident from his voice. He started leading the women upstairs and Karamatsu followed slowly behind them holding the wiggling youngest. Once they got upstairs and Karamatsu had closed the gate to the stairs after him, he put Todomatsu to the ground who quickly wobbled away.

 

Osomatsu had stepped inside their room and the women waited in the doorway politely. “Hey. Here are the ladies we told you about,” the oldest said and got the tired attention of the three brothers. “They want to change a few words.” Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu didn’t move. They only stared huddling together. Choromatsu pulled himself up to sit on the futon but he was looking to the ground not meeting anyone’s eyes.

 

“Hello,” the older woman said. “My name is Aoki and this is Ikeda-san,” she said referring to her colleague who said ‘hi’ to them. “We’re very sorry for your loss. But we are here to help you.”

 

“You’re Choromatsu-kun, right?” Ikeda asked from Choromatsu who nodded. “How is your school?” Both of the workers started asking questions from the younger brothers to which they replied laconically. Jyushimatsu started crying as they asked him how was he doing and in a minute or so all of the brothers, save from Todomatsu who was elsewhere, were in tears again, Karamatsu hugging Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu tightly and Osomatsu holding Choromatsu close.

 

Once they had calmed down enough to talk again, the women continued asking questions. From all of the three brothers they got a confident answer that they thought that Osomatsu and Karamatsu could take care of them and they wanted to stay home. Karamatsu gritted his teeth as he listened how these strangers dared to even suggest to the boys that it might be better for them to stay somewhere else. Choromatsu had the same determination in his eyes as Karamatsu and Osomatsu had, confident that they needed to stay together. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu seemed distressed by the mere thought of the idea of living somewhere else. Quickly Osomatsu and Karamatsu assured to them that they would all stay together at home and that no one would have to leave. When the two women were talking to Osomatsu again and not looking, Karamatsu sent them a hostile look for upsetting his baby brothers.

 

A while later the two oldests stood at the front door, seeing the social workers off.

 

“So, we’ll be in touch with you to know how you’re doing. We’ll be visiting quite often at first but if everything is going well then fewer. Don’t hesitate to call us and ask anything that’s bothering you. We’ll help. And let us know when you find a job, alright? Well then, take care of each other. See you again.”

 

Osomatsu and Karamatsu said their goodbyes and then they were gone. Osomatsu closed the door and his weak, fake smile died down instantly. He looked at Karamatsu. “I don’t like them,” he said meaning it.

 

- End of the flashback -

 

---

 

Karamatsu opened the fridge and eyed the food items inside. He frowned, closed the door and made his way to the living room again.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan did you buy what I asked you to?” Karamatsu asked. He picked up a toy from the floor and gave it to Totty who accepted it happily before he looked the oldest.

 

“Yeah, we went shopping with Totty earlier,” he said hardly taking his eyes off from the tv.

 

“But I didn’t see all the things I asked you to buy. Or did you misplace everything again?” Karamatsu asked.

 

“Hah, well, probably? But I might have just forgot a few things. Sorry,” the oldest said.

 

Karamatsu sighed. “Well I’ll do something else then today.” He left the room and went back to the kitchen.

 

As he started to plan again what they would eat that day, the front door opened and he heard a loud shout of the second youngest’s: “We’re home!”

 

Karamatsu let the planning wait as he went to greet the two school boys. He stepped to the hallway and saw how Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu were taking off their shoes. “Welcome back,” he greeted them with a smile.

 

Jyushimatsu lifted his head quickly up to look at Karamatsu, smiling his bright smile. “Hi Karamatsu-niisan!” he said as he bounced further inside the house. “We played football today!” he told excitedly.

 

“Oh! Did your team win?” the second oldest asked as he ruffled Jyushimatsu’s hair and held Todomatsu with his other arm.

 

“Yes! And I made a goal!” he told proud.

 

“That’s great,” Karamatsu said smiling softly as Jyushimatsu ran to the living room. Then he turned his attention to the fourth born how was quietly following after Jyushimatsu. “Hello Ichimatsu. How was your day?” Karamatsu asked and put his hand on the younger brother’s shoulder.

 

Ichimatsu quickly swiped the hand away throwing a sharp look at Karamatsu. “Don’t touch me,” he said and soon disappeared to the living room.

 

Karamatsu stood for a moment looking after him with a dejected look. It hadn’t been easy with Ichimatsu after their parents’ passing. Sighing voicelessly he went back to the kitchen.

 

He started again looking through the fridge, freezer and cabinets forming different ideas for possible meals in his head. But for real, how could Osomatsu have forgotten to buy so many things he had asked?

 

Finally Karamatsu settled for making simple omuraisu for them. Even if it was really simple it was one of Jyushimatsu’s and Ichimatsu’s favourites. Every kid liked omuraisu.

 

As he searched through the cabinets, something hidden behind the canned food caught his eye and narrowing his eyes he took a beer can to his hand and verified his suspicion. There were four cans of beer in total he counted as he put the can back. Karamatsu straightened his back annoyed.

 

Osomatsu had promised not to buy beer at least for a week. The second born lowered Todomatsu to the ground and then he walked to the living room doorway and scowled at the oldest his arms crossed.

 

Osomatsu was chatting with Jyushimatsu who told him about his school day while Ichimatsu was quietly taking his school books from his backpack. “Osomatsu-niisan,” Karamatsu interrupted them his face giving away only a hint of annoyment. “I found your beer,” he said.

 

The oldest smiled guiltily. “You did? Hahah, I knew I should’ve hid them better.”

 

“You promised!” Karamatsu said.

 

“Sorry,” Osomatsu said. “Couldn’t help myself.”

 

Karamatsu frowned anxiously. “You know that we don’t have money for anything more than what’s absolutely necessary,” he tried to reason.

 

“I know, I know,” Osomatsu said and turned to face him better, sitting straighter. “Sorry,” he said his voice sounding genuine.

 

Karamatsu uncrossed his arms and sighed. “It’s fine. No need to think about it anymore,” he said and left the living room again.

 

After Karamatsu had put the rice into the cooker, loaded the washing machine and turned it on, he was sitting on a kitchen chair waiting for the tea water to boil. He was leaning his head to his palm, his arms resting on the kitchen table. All the chores that needed to be done as well as next day’s schedule, who would be watching over Todomatsu, whirled inside his head.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan!”

 

Karamatsu suddenly jolted, opening his eyes he didn’t realize he had closed. He looked around disoriented and saw Choromatsu standing at the other side of the table, looking at him worriedly. “What?” Karamatsu asked confused, blinking his eyes tiredly.

 

“Nothing. You just didn’t answer,” the third brother answered still eyeing him with the same look. “You know, you could just go take a nap,” he suggested. “I can handle the dinner if you just tell me what to do.”

 

“Ah, no no! I’m fine,” Karamatsu reassured, stood up and saw that the water had already boiled. How long ago, he didn’t know. “How was your day?” he asked from Choromatsu as he took a cup from the cupboard. “Do you take tea?”

 

“Not now,” Choromatsu declined. “If you’re sure you can manage, I need to go do my homework. I have work tomorrow after school,” he said. “It’s not a problem, is it?” he asked.

 

“I can manage with the dinner,” Karamatsu reassured him as he poured hot water to his cup. Then he turned to look at Choromatsu. “Again? Aren’t you working quite a lot?” he asked.

 

Choromatsu rolled his eyes. “No. Only two or three times a week. So is it okay for me to take the shift?” he asked again.

 

Karamatsu frowned in thought. “I need to check from Osomatsu-niisan. I’m working tomorrow afternoon and evening,” he said before he called the oldest: “Osomatsu-niisan!”

 

After a while Osomatsu appeared to the kitchen. “Yeah?” he asked.

 

“Are you working tomorrow?” Karamatsu asked.

 

“Nope,” Osomatsu answered. “I’m free.”

 

The second oldest nodded. “Good. Me and Choromatsu will be working in the evening. You need to look after the others.”

 

“Yeah. Got it!” he said and started to rummage through the fridge. “When is the food ready? I need to leave in an hour.”

 

“Oh that’s right,” Karamatsu said as he glanced at the clock on the wall. “The rice should be ready in 15 minutes. I’ll make the first omuraisu for you. It won’t take long,” Karamatsu said as he started to gather the needed ingredients, abandoning his tea. “How long is your shift?”

 

“I’ll be back around midnight,” Osomatsu said and was leaving the room. “Tell me when it’s ready!”

 

Choromatsu scowled after him. “Couldn’t he do something by himself,” he muttered before turning back to Karamatsu. “Are you sure you don’t want my help?”

 

Karamatsu shook his head, facing away from the third oldest as he mixed eggs and milk together so that Choromatsu couldn’t see his exhausted expression even if he was sure that the younger knew how tired he looked without seeing his face right then. “I’m fine. Go do your homework. You don’t have time to do them tomorrow if you have work.”

 

Choromatsu was quiet for a moment before he answered. “Yeah… I should. I’ll be upstairs.” With that he left the room.

 

After he was gone Karamatsu took a deep breath. “ Should I take a painkiller? ” he thought as he rubbed his aching temples.

Chapter Text

Five minutes left, ” Karamatsu thought as he looked at the clock on the cash register. Five minutes and his shift would end and he could return home to his brothers.

 

He stifled a yawn as he stood behind the counter of the konbini where he worked as a part-timer. Soon the employees for the next shift came, the clock was 6 am and he left the shop. This night he had taken a night shift like he sometimes did. It was a better pay but with his family situation he couldn’t work them very often. When Karamatsu could, he also took some occasional shifts from a local fast food restaurant to earn even little more.

 

Karamatsu started walking home in the brisk morning air which he found pleasant since the streets were peaceful but it was already bright. He had fifteen to twenty minutes walk from work to home which meant that he would be back before the others would wake up and he’d be able to make them breakfast.

 

A short while later he unlocked the front door of their home and stepped inside, closing the door after himself. The house was still quiet and asleep. Karamatsu took of his shoes and quietly slipped to the hallway and then to the kitchen, switching the lights on. Like many times before he took the rice bag from a cabinet, measured right amount of rice, washed it and then put it into the cooker which he switched on.

 

As he was done with that he quietly rose up the stairs and cracked open the door to their room. Karamatsu saw the lumps under the blanket that were his brothers laying on the futon and calm breaths and snores filled the air. Like always when he came from the night shift, just to be sure he counted the heads and made sure that all of his brothers were there and safe. Then he closed the door again soundlessly.

 

At 7 am Karamatsu had set the breakfast table but the rice was still cooking. He expected the third oldest or the second youngest to soon appear to the downstairs since Choromatsu had his alarm clock waking them up that time. Ichimatsu took usually little longer to drag himself up. Soon enough Choromatsu walked to the kitchen still on his pajamas and yawning.

 

“Morning,” he mumbled.

 

“Morning brother,” Karamatsu answered. “The rice will be soon ready. Did Todomatsu woke up to the alarm?”

 

“You know just as well as I do that he always does. But I don’t know if he’ll fall asleep anymore,” Choromatsu said as he took the kettle of already boiled water to take it to the living room table. “How was work?” he asked.

 

“Quiet,” Karamatsu answered. “But I prefer it that way. It’s just annoying that I’ll be so tired the entire day after a night shift.”

 

Choromatsu gave him a meaningful look. “You’re always tired. Promise me that you’ll sleep properly while we’re at school,” he said and waited for Karamatsu’s reply.

 

“Of course,” Karamatsu answered immediately before adding: “If Todomatsu let me.”

 

Choromatsu narrowed his eyes to him slightly. “Good,” he then said and left the room.

 

From upstairs Karamatsu could hear the sound of the bathroom door close and he knew that someone else was awake as well. The rice cooker chimed that the rice was ready and Karamatsu stood up to go check whether Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were coming.

 

He went upstairs and to their room which door was now half open. Peeking inside he saw that Ichimatsu was still curled up on the futon. Karamatsu stepped softly inside to the room and shook the third youngest lightly. “Ichimatsu,” he said in a quiet voice. The boy groaned irritated and turned his head to look sharply at Karamatsu who was kneeling next to him.

 

“I’m coming!” the younger boy hissed and yanked his body away from the second oldest’s touch. That was enough to provoke a quiet whine from the other end of the futon and Karamatsu immediately turned to glance towards the sleeping oldest and the youngest who was laying next to him. He crawled closer to the now restlessly squirming Todomatsu who saw him as he got closer and stared at him with his big, wide eyes.

 

“Hey Totty~~ Do you want to come down with Karamatsu-niisan?” Karamatsu whispered giving him a friendly smile. Todomatsu let out a small sound and reached towards the second oldest with his small arms.

 

“Okay then,” Karamatsu whispered as he pulled the toddler up and into his arms. Todomatsu pressed his face against his chest sleepily. Karamatsu looked at him smiling softly before he got up to his feet and turned back to Ichimatsu. “The breakfast is ready,” he said quietly and tiptoed out of the room without getting a reply.

 

As he went back to the downstairs and to the living room he saw that Jyushimatsu was already stuffing food down his throat while Choromatsu ate more lazily next to him.

 

“Did you get rice?” Karamatsu asked.

 

“Yes, we got rice,” Choromatsu answered.

 

“Morning Karamatsu-niisan!” Jyushimatsu greeted him.

 

“Good morning dear Jyushimatsu,” Karamatsu answered and smiled softly at him. It was amazing how much of a morning person Jyushimatsu was.

 

Choromatsu was frowning at the second oldest again. “Could you sit down even for a short while? You look like you might pass out any moment,” he said.

 

“Do I?” Karamatsu asked blinking his tired eyes. Well, he sure felt like it. However, he didn’t stay to discuss about the subject as he walked to the utility room to change Totty’s diaper. The youngest was really starting to wake up and soon he was full of energy and Karamatsu tried to keep up with him as he pulled different items to the floor and started making a mess much like everyday.

 

Soon Todomatsu ran to the living room and Karamatsu followed him there. Now even Ichimatsu had come down. Karamatsu smiled at him approvingly but Ichimatsu only huffed and continued eating not paying more attention to him. Karamatsu felt the familiar uneasy feeling tighten around his insides again. However, he didn’t know what else to do but be patient with the fourth brother.

 

Then Karamatsu turned to face Choromatsu. “Could you look after Todomatsu while I’ll go change my clothes?” he asked.

 

“Oh course!” Choromatsu answered him.

 

“Thank you,” Karamatsu said and smiled at him tiredly before leaving the room and going again to the upstairs. Carefully not to bother Osomatsu he took out his pajamas from the closet as well as clean clothes for Jyushimatsu which he left to the armchair. Then he went to change his clothes to their parents’ room. He knew that he really had to try to sleep after getting his brothers to the school so he just put on the pajamas. When he was done, he went downstairs again.

 

Choromatsu was gathering their used dishes from the table while the three youngest were watching morning cartoons. “Thank you brother,” Karamatsu said quietly but Choromatsu only shook his head.

 

“Thanks for the food,” he said back and went to the kitchen.

 

Karamatsu turned his attention to Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu. “Brothers, go change your clothes now and then you can watch it until eight, okay,” he said to them.

 

Jyushimatsu turned to look at him quickly. “Okay!” he said jumping to his feet and sprinting out of the room.

 

“Your clothes are on the armchair,” Karamatsu said after him.

 

Ichimatsu had stood up as well and he pushed past Karamatsu not as much as looking towards him as he followed Jyushimatsu. Karamatsu sighed inwardly.

 

His stomach rumbled but he didn’t have time to eat yet. It was close to eight o’clock and his brothers should leave soon. Luckily the schools were close to their home. Karamatsu walked over to Jyushimatsu’s school bag, checked his timetable and that he had the books he would need. By the time he was done the two boys already got back now dressed in school uniforms and they settled back to the tv.

 

Now Karamatsu had time to start his own breakfast. Just as he had started eating, Choromatsu came to the living room, sat down across Karamatsu and checked through his backpack.

 

“When does Osomatsu-niisan’s work start?” he asked from the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu swallowed down the food he had been eating. “Twelve o’clock,” he answered and took another bite.

 

Choromatsu’s eyebrows knit together and a determined look appeared on his face. “I’ll go wake him up to take care of Totty while you’ll sleep,” he said and stood up.

 

“Wait!” Karamatsu said mouth full of food, quickly swallowing it. “Wait. It’s fine. You don’t need to wake him up.”

 

The third oldest looked at him firmly. “No, you need those few hours of proper sleep more than him. You need to watch over Totty anyway when Osomatsu-niisan leaves. Seriously, Karamatsu-niisan you need to take care of yourself,” he muttered as he made his way to the stairs.

 

Karamatsu looked down at the table as he ate. His eyelids started to droop and everytime he found himself beginning to lean too much forward, he hurriedly blinked his eyes and shook his head before straightening himself. He knew he needed sleep. Heck, he had been up for over 24 hours. But still he couldn’t sleep just yet. He wished he could have one day just for sleeping. Or one week.

 

“Aaahh, he’s so irritating!” Choromatsu complained as he returned and Karamatsu perked his head up again trying to focus. The third born narrowed his eyes to him. “Just go to sleep and kick him out of the futon. I think he’s coming but he isn’t exactly the fastest,” he said in annoyed tone before he checked the time from the clock on the wall. “We need to go soon. Anyway, I promised Osomatsu-niisan a special delivery.” He turned to Jyushimatsu. “Jyushimatsu. Could you go jump a little on top of Osomatsu-niisan’s stomach? He needs to get up,” Choromatsu asked.

 

Jyushimatsu smiled at him excitedly. “Yes! I can do it!” he shouted and dashed to the upstairs.

 

Choromatsu looked him go, smiling satisfied to himself. “He should have learned by now that I’ll send Jyushimatsu. It always works.”

 

Karamatsu shook his head amusedly. Then a loud yelp split through the air as well as a few thumps. Then it didn’t take long until the second youngest returned grinning and giggling to himself.

 

“Good job Jyushimatsu,” Choromatsu said and the boy only laughed louder and bounced next to Ichimatsu to tell what he had just done to torment the oldest.

 

Karamatsu glanced at the clock and stood up. “Okay Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu, you need to go now that you won’t be late.” Jyushimatsu whined as he scrambled to his feet while Ichimatsu stayed quiet but got up. “Choromatsu do you have money to buy lunch or will you take yesterday’s leftovers?” he then asked turning towards the third oldest.

 

“I took some leftovers,” Choromatsu answered. “Don’t worry. I can take care of myself,” he reassured.

 

Karamatsu gave him a weary smile. “And I’m eternally grateful for that.”

 

Choromatsu only sighed but didn’t say anything as he left the room. Clumsily Karamatsu stood up, his breakfast being still unfinished, and went to see his younger brothers off.

 

They left and Karamatsu returned to the living room to continue eating. He was having hard time of staying awake. Luckily when he was almost done eating, grumpy Osomatsu dragged himself to the breakfast table.

 

“Morning,” Karamatsu greeted and a yawn escaped his mouth. That made the oldest yawn as well.

 

“Morning,” he mumbled back scratching his neck. Then he started to gather food in front of himself.

 

Karamatsu ate the rest of his rice and drank his tea. “Can you look after Todomatsu if I go to sleep?” he asked.

 

“Mmmm,” was Osomatsu’s tired agreeing sound.

 

The second oldest stood up and took his dishes. “Thank you. Then I’ll be at our room,” he said as he left. “Please clean the table when you’re done,” he added.

 

Karamatsu dragged himself up to the second floor, went to their room and collapsed to the futon. He pulled some blankets on top of him and within few minutes, he was asleep.

 

---

 

“Karamatsu. Oi, Karamatsu!”

 

Karamatsu jolted up from his dream looking around the room. On the doorway he saw Osomatsu looking at him and holding the youngest on his shoulders. “Wake up. I’ll be off soon.”

 

The second oldest blinked his eyes disoriented before he checked the clock on the wall. Quarter past eleven. “Mmmm,” he mumbled. “I’m up in a minute.”

 

Todomatsu started wiggling on the oldest’s shoulders and he had to take him to his arms. “Kala-nii!” the youngest said and continued wiggling.

 

“Okay, okay,” Osomatsu said and lowered him to the ground. Quickly Totty crashed to Karamatsu’s side, hugging him with his small arms before he started climbing on top of him.

 

Karamatsu smiled sleepily. “Hey there.” His voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat as he petted the youngest’s hair.

 

Osomatsu chuckled. “You can also stay in bed. Anything you want but Totty is now on your responsibility.”

 

Karamatsu snatched the youngest between his arm and side as he still laid on the futon. “You’ll sleep with me, don’t you Totty,” Karamatsu asked playfully and started faking snores.

 

Todomatsu squirmed and giggled. “Nooo!” he screamed, pried himself free and ran behind Osomatsu’s leg from where he looked at the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu sighed and sat up. “I guess the decision had been made for me.” He stood up. “I’ll go to the bathroom quickly.”

 

Osomatsu nodded. “We’ll go downstairs. Okay, let’s go Totty. Karamatsu will come soon after,” he said and took the youngest’s hand and started leading him away.

 

Soon Karamatsu was walking down the stairs. He had gotten three hours of good sleep which was surprisingly much but of course he was still dead tired. But with this he could manage. If not until the evening, then he would ask Choromatsu or Ichimatsu to look after Totty so that he could take a nap in the afternoon.

 

Osomatsu was gathering his stuff when he heard Karamatsu coming downstairs and turned his head towards him. “Okay, I’ll be off. Totty is in the living room,” he said and with a grin he stepped out of the house.

 

“Have a good day,” Karamatsu called after him. As the door closed he sighed and started heading to the living room. Osomatsu was working as a part-timer in a restaurant. With Karamatsu working and now even Choromatsu sometimes, they had to always make sure that someone would be at home with Todomatsu.

 

The second oldest got to the living room and he sighed again, deeper this time. Osomatsu hadn’t cleaned the table. Karamatsu was worried if some of the food that was supposed to be stored to the fridge, had already spoiled but looking at the clock, he thought it should be still okay. At least there wasn’t any meat or dairy.

 

Karamatsu noted how Todomatsu was leafing through a picture book as he started cleaning the table. Once he was done, he took the pile of papers and receipts from the kitchen counter, sat down to the living room couch and started reading through them and making calculations and notes. He needed to make sure that they could pay the bills and feed the kids.

 

He was so tired. Everyday was the same, having so much to do and worry that he didn’t have any time for himself. But he preferred it that way. Then he would be able be useful and focus on his brothers’ needs. Karamatsu tried to keep his mind away from thinking about the sorrow and the gaping hole in his heart. He couldn’t let himself think about that, not while his brothers would suffer from it. He had to be there for them. He couldn’t let them down again.

 

---

 

- Flashback -

 

Karamatsu sat in the corner of their bedroom in fetal position, covered with blankets. It had been eight days since their parents had died and Karamatsu felt almost like he had died with them. For days he had been sitting in the same corner, staring blankly at the wall and grieving.

 

Osomatsu had started organizing the night wake and the funerals almost immediately as he was expected to and with the help of their family’s friends, neighbours and remaining relatives he had somehow managed the task even if it didn’t reach very high level but everyone had been very understanding with them.

 

Karamatsu barely remembered anything from the night wake that he had went through in a haze. He only remembered the crushing pain and the crying of his brothers’. That and the pale, scratched faces of their parents’ that would haunt him forever.

 

The funerals had been even worse. The talking and rituals had also been all a foggy for him, he being a crying mess unable to interact with the world but when the time for cremation came, Karamatsu remembered that he had started screaming and shouting. What he had said, he had no idea. Osomatsu had been needed to try to calm him down and Karamatsu had fought and struggled against the oldest’s strong grip until he had given up and slumped to the floor, his crying brothers surrounding him quickly. Now Karamatsu felt bad about the episode because his younger brothers had been there to see it and he had caused more stress and pain to them by acting like that.

 

Bone-picking ceremony had also been something Karamatsu would never recover from. He wished he could forget that and was firmly trying not to think about it.

 

Everything was just horrible and nothing could ever be fine again.

 

Karamatsu felt bad for being such a nuisance for his brothers and was angry to himself for that. His brothers needed him but right now he was unable to do anything. He was paralyzed by his sadness and misery.

 

Osomatsu and Choromatsu did their best to take care of everything, from household works to the younger boys. Luckily Osomatsu had already managed to get a job. The oldest came every now and then to see Karamatsu, talk to him softly and reassuringly, bring him food that he barely touched and just offer his company. Karamatsu appreciated that but he knew that Osomatsu should be with their other brothers who deserved his support more. Osomatsu was being patient with him and tried to give him room which made Karamatsu feel even shittier. He wasn’t worth of such kindness.

 

Seeing his younger brothers made Karamatsu’s heart ache more than anything. Choromatsu appeared to the dim bedroom few times a day. He was clearly worried because of Karamatsu’s unusual behaviour and with teary eyes he asked Karamatsu to come downstairs and be with them. Karamatsu would start crying, apologize many times and stay in his corner. He didn’t have what it took to get up and be the brother he should.

 

After the first couple of days Ichimatsu had stayed mostly alone or with Jyushimatsu. As far as Karamatsu knew, the fourth brother seemed to be secluded much like himself. Jyushimatsu apparently went from brother to brother in seek of reassurance. When he came to Karamatsu, he would curl up next to him and huddle against him and Karamatsu would hug him tightly. It physically hurt the second oldest to see any of his brothers crying but seeing Jyushimatsu without his smile felt like a big part of him was missing and tore Karamatsu’s already mangled heart into pieces.

 

Todomatsu toddled to Karamatsu whenever he was in the upstairs and had a chance to do that. The youngest whined and gripped Karamatsu’s clothes and then he would crawl up to his lap. Karamatsu would always hold him tightly and rock the two of them in a desperate attempt to comfort themselves. Sometimes Totty fell asleep in Karamatsu’s arms and they would stay like that for a long time until Osomatsu would come and the youngest would leave with him or Osomatsu would take him.

 

Karamatsu hugged himself and leaned his head to his knees. He wished he could just fall asleep and skip through this day as well, but of course the sleep wouldn’t come and he had to bear through every painful second. When had he last eaten? Or went downstairs? Karamatsu had no idea. Everything around him and his grief was just a blurred mess where sometimes one of his brothers would come thought and Karamatsu would see their attempts to reach to him and pull him to the surface. But he couldn’t fight against the black water that was drowning him.

 

Karamatsu’s body and mind didn’t work like they should. No matter how much a part of him screamed inside his mind that he was a horrible person and a brother and he couldn’t sit there anymore like that. His brothers needed him. He knew that but he couldn’t escape his crippling thoughts.

 

Would death be a relief?

 

“Karamatsu.”

 

The second oldest startled a little as he heard his name being called. He looked up sluggishly and saw Osomatsu standing next to him. He was smiling softly but an uncharacteristic frown told that he was serious and worried.

 

Osomatsu sat down next to him and brushed his arm affectionately. He glanced to the side and saw how the plate of food was untouched. “You have to eat you know,” the oldest said in a low voice and turned to meet Karamatsu’s eyes who quickly averted them.

 

“I’m not hungry,” Karamatsu mumbled and turned his head towards the wall.

 

Osomatsu sighed. Then he took a hold on the second oldest’s face and turned him to look at him again. “Karamatsu this has to end,” he said his voice suddenly firm.

 

“What has to?” Karamatsu asked even if he knew the answer.

 

Osomatsu’s frown deepened. “This! You have to get up! I know how fucking much it hurts but there’s no other choice. We have to carry on!” His voice was troubled.

 

Karamatsu pried his face free from the other’s grip and curled up tighter into himself. “I- You know I can’t. Not yet. I’m trying but…” he trailed off biting his lip and trying to fight back the tears that again wanted to start spilling over. Oh, how truly pitiful he was.

 

The oldest wrapped his arms around him in a quick, tight hug before he backed off looking at his younger brother sadly. “Karamatsu, we’d all deserve to mourn over this for months in peace but life isn’t fair. You have to start living again!” Osomatsu took a firm hold on his shoulders, forcing him to look up and meet his eyes. “I can’t do this without you. Karamatsu, if you don’t start doing something soon, we’re gonna lose our brothers!”

 

Karamatsu looked at him eyes widened in shock. “N-no...!” he whispered.

 

“You understand? You can’t continue this! I’ve been barely able to handle things with Choromatsu but we can’t for much longer! They’ll see that we’re not okay and they’ll take them away!” Osomatsu said agitated.

 

Karamatsu shook his head. “No! No, I won’t let anyone take them!” His eyes had widened and had an animal-like fear in them.

 

“Good! Then you have to leave this corner and come downstairs. We need you.” Osomatsu stood up and offered his hand to the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu looked at it hesitating. “I-I don’t think I can,” he said in a low voice.

 

“Sure you can. I’ll be with you. And we can do this little by little. For starters you only have to come to the kitchen. That sounds reasonable, right?” Osomatsu said and gave him a smirk which Karamatsu noticed was a strained one but still.

 

The second oldest lifted his hand up a little and immediately the oldest took it and pulled him up. Karamatsu felt dizzy and he steadied himself by placing his hand on Osomatsu’s shoulder. He had been sitting for so long and barely eaten anything so it wasn’t really surprising that he felt like that.

 

Osomatsu eyed him observing before he smiled a small approving smile. “You’re doing good!” he said and brushed a lock of the second oldest’s hair behind his ear. “It’ll be alright, just trust me. Now, let’s go!” he said and started leading halting Karamatsu to the downstairs.

Chapter Text

“Osomatsu-niisan!” Choromatsu shouted angrily to the oldest who sat on the couch eating snacks and reading manga. Lazily he looked up at the third brother, raising his eyebrow. “What’s wrong with you?! This is at least the fourth time you’re skipping your work! What do you think you’re doing?” Choromatsu shouted.

 

The oldest looked back at the manga in his hand. “I overslept and there was no point to go anymore when I woke up.”

 

“Of course you should have went there! Why can’t you understand that?! You’ll get fired soon and then we’ll be in big trouble!” Choromatsu shouted and turned his back to the oldest and went to the utility room where Karamatsu was doing the laundry. “Karamatsu-niisan. Can’t you talk to Osomatsu-niisan? He’s acting so irresponsible,” Choromatsu complained irritated.

 

Karamatsu looked up at him with his tired, worried eyes. “I admit I’m worried about what will happen if he keeps skipping work but he’s doing his best like we all are. Trust in your brothers,” he said and offered a small smile to the younger.

 

“You’re way too understanding with him,” Choromatsu said frowning deeply and shaking his head in disapproval. “You’re doing much more than he is. Even right now he’s just lazing around while you’re working yourself to the grave. Please talk to him,” Choromatsu pleaded.

 

The second oldest shook his head slightly. “Brother don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I have to do what I can for us.”

 

“But Osomatsu-niisan-”

 

Karamatsu wasn’t finished yet: “He’s the oldest and I trust in him. He loves us all and wants our best. He’s older than me, so he can do what he sees best.”

 

Choromatsu frowned annoyedly at Karamatsu. “You’re so stupid for thinking like that! Why are you making this harder for yourself than it has to be?”

 

The second oldest looked at him softly but the exhaustion on his appearance was clear. “Choromatsu dear, don’t worry about us. You have more than enough to think with your studies,” Karamatsu said and stood up. “I’ll go see that everything is fine for the social workers to come.” He left the room and the third oldest and went upstairs. When nearing their room, he could hear giggling and squeals that made him feel a little better.

 

He opened the door to the room and saw how Jyushimatsu was playing with Todomatsu, poking and tickling the laughing youngest while Ichimatsu sat next to them smiling as he followed them play. When the third youngest heard the door open and saw Karamatsu stepping in, his smile immediately disappeared and was replaced with a cold glare. Karamatsu just smiled and tried not to care about the pain in his chest that that look made him feel.

 

“Hey~~! How are you doing here?” the second oldest cooed as he sat himself down at the opposite side of the two youngests from Ichimatsu.

 

Jyushimatsu looked at him, his eyes glimmering and smile wide. “Totty is really loud!” he laughed and tickled the youngest more, earning more happy squeals.

 

Todomatsu laughed and hid his face into Jyushimatsu’s clothes. When the tickle assault ended, he glanced to his side and saw Karamatsu, sitting there and smiling amusedly at them. “Kawa-niitan!” Totty babbled.

 

Karamatsu chuckled. “You’re having fun here,” he said and petted the youngest’s hair a little. “Aoki-san and Ikeda-san are coming again today. Please behave while they are here.”

 

Jyushimatsu nodded. “We will!” he promised. Ichimatsu didn’t react in any way. He just stared at his feet.

 

“Good! I knew I could trust you my brothers,” the second born said and stood up again ruffling Jyushimatsu’s hair a little. He started picking up toys and put them in their places as well as tidying up other things in the room.

 

Little later he went back to downstairs and Todomatsu was following him now. He saw Choromatsu sitting at the kitchen table, doing his homework. The oldest he found from the living room, watching some reality tv show and laying on his back on the couch. Karamatsu sighed inwardly and somewhere on the back of his mind a part of him wanted to agree with Choromatsu - it was unfair that Osomatsu was watching tv while he had no time to relax.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan,” Karamatsu started and picked up Todomatsu, who was tugging his pant leg, to his arms. “The social workers should come in fifteen minutes. Please change away from your pajamas.”

 

Osomatsu looked at him and then down at himself. “Right,” he said grinning and let out a few chuckles before he stood up, stretching his sides. He yawned. “I’m tired,” he said.

 

You’re not the only one,” Karamatsu thought.

 

The oldest left the room and Karamatsu was left alone with Todomatsu. Karamatsu looked at him to his big, curious eyes and smiled tiredly at him. “Well, should we start preparing the dinner then?” Totty just stared at him and Karamatsu placed a soft kiss on his forehead and walked them to the kitchen.

 

Choromatsu was frowning at his book as Karamatsu stepped to the room. “Having problems?” the older asked.

 

Choromatsu glanced at him and them back to his book. “No… I’m just concentrating.”

 

Karamatsu nodded and started to take out vegetables from the fridge. “Alright. Call me if you need help,” he said and the third born hummed in response.

 

After a minute or two, the doorbell rang and the second oldest washed his hands clean before going to the door, opening it. “Hello! Please come in,” he greeted to two women with a smile.

 

“Thank you!” the older woman, Aoki, said and stepped in, Ikeda following after her. “As we told last time, we won’t be staying for long. Only to see that everything is going fine here for you.”

 

“Of course,” Karamatsu said nodding his head and leading the women further inside the house. He still didn’t really like them but he knew he had to be on his best behaviour with them. Karamatsu asked the two visitors to go into the kitchen and then he went to the lower end of the stairs. “Osomatsu-niisan!” he called. “Aoki-san and Ikeda-san are here now!”

 

“I’ll be there in a minute!” he heard the oldest’s reply.

 

Karamatsu went to the kitchen where the two ladies were talking with Choromatsu who was doing his best, trying to smile nervously and answer. The third oldest had a habit of getting nervous around people. Karamatsu followed their conversation and the stress was clear on Choromatsu’s face. When the third born saw that his older brother had come to the room, he excused himself, saying that he had to continue his homeworks, gathered his books and left the room. As he passed the second oldest, he gave a nervous glance at him to which Karamatsu answered with a reassuring smile.

 

“Chowo!” Todomatsu shouted and toddled across the room and grabbed the third brother from his pant leg.

 

“Hmm?” Choromatsu looked down at him. “Will you come with me?” he asked, moved his books to his other hand and then offered his other to the youngest who happily took a hold of it. “Okay, let’s go then.”

 

Karamatsu looked at his younger brothers go before he turned towards the two women again. “You’ll take tea, right?” he asked as he started to prepare cups for them.

 

“Hello! Afternoon!” Osomatsu said as he stepped to the room, smiling widely. He sat down to the table with the two women relaxedly.

 

“Osomatsu-kun,” Aoki greeted him. “How are you?”

 

“Good, good!” Osomatsu said. “Hey Kara, could you get me some tea as well?”

 

“How’s your work?” Ikeda asked Osomatsu, smiling kindly. Karamatsu felt a uncomfortable feeling in his chest as he waited for his brother to answer. He really hoped he wouldn’t mention him skipping some of the shifts.

 

“It’s going good!” the oldest said. “Thankfully we haven’t had any bigger problems on matching our shifts with Karamatsu that either one of us or Choromatsu is always at home to take care of the younger ones.”

 

“That’s good. Now, how are you holding up?” the younger woman asked, eyeing the second youngest who was serving tea to them. “Karamatsu-kun, you seem really tired.”

 

Karamatsu looked up little surprised for the unwanted attention. “Me? Oh, I’m good.” He smiled. “I just had to woke up early because of Todomatsu.” It was true but he could have gone back to sleep. Instead he had stayed up and read through job offers. He couldn’t help but think that maybe he should try to find something with even slightly better pay.

 

“Remember to take care of yourself,” Aoki said and took a sip from the tea. “How are Ichimatsu-kun and Jyushimatsu-kun?”

 

“They’re fine,” Osomatsu said. “Jyushimatsu is energetic as ever. Well, Ichimatsu is still quite quiet but he’s doing well at school and is healthy.”

 

Karamatsu nodded, agreeing to the eldest’s words. “But it has only been less than three months,” he said not looking at anyone.

 

“That is true. Just keep an eye on him and make sure that you don’t see any bad signs. Therapy is another option to try if he doesn’t cheer up,” Aoki said.

 

“Mmmm. But he has always been a little reserved and shy. I think he’ll be fine,” Osomatsu said. Karamatsu didn’t say anything but he really hoped he was right.

 

“And Todomatsu seemed to be fine,” Ikeda said. “Have you had any problems with him?”

 

The two oldest brothers looked quickly at each other. “No,” Osomatsu said.

 

“He’s not that hard child,” Karamatsu continued.

 

“Good,” the older woman said. “If we then quickly take a look around the house and then we’ll be on our way?”

 

“Of course,” Osomatsu said and stood up, Karamatsu following his example.

 

Little later the two social workers had looked around the house quickly, checking that everything looked okay, and they left the brothers, saying that they would be back again in few weeks. As the front door was closed, the two oldest brothers turned to look at each other.

 

“How long are they going to come? Can’t they see that we’re doing okay?” Osomatsu asked and turned to walk back further into the house.

 

Karamatsu followed after him. “Yes. We are doing just fine,” he said. The second oldest had said that to himself so often that he already believed it. Still there was always this small voice in the back of his head that told Karamatsu that he was not enough, not good enough brother. He had to try even harder. He was just a pathetic human being.

 

“Oh!” Osomatsu said and turned towards his younger brother suddenly. “What’s for food?” he asked rubbing the underside of his nose grinning.

 

“I’ll make okonomiyaki,” Karamatsu answered.

 

“Ah, sweet! Tell me when it’s ready,” Osomatsu said and went back to the living room.

 

Karamatsu suddenly felt like a familiar weight was put on his shoulders and his eyelids felt heavier again, reminding him of how tired he was. ”Of course brother,” he mumbled after the oldest and then with a sigh turned towards the kitchen.

 

---

 

Jyushimatsu wasn’t smiling. He was frowning worriedly as he looked at his immediate older brother as the two of them made their way home. Like any other day Jyushimatsu had went after school to the corner where Ichimatsu would wait for him so the two of them would walk home together but that day Ichimatsu had been all battered up. It had really scared Jyushimatsu. Ichimatsu had told him that he had gotten into a fight with some other boys and that Jyushimatsu shouldn’t worry about it. Obviously Jyushimatsu couldn’t help but worry when he saw his brother hurting and looking like that. He had suggested that Ichimatsu would go see the nurse but he had refused.

 

So they were on their way home. Ichimatsu was trying to stop his nose and lip from bleeding and Jyushimatsu was asking every other minute if the other was okay which was starting to annoy Ichimatsu. He would say sharply back to Jyushimatsu that he was fine even if he looked anything but fine to the second youngest. His face had some small cuts and his nose and lower lip were bleeding from being tripped face first to the asphalt. His skin was scratched from here and there and his clothes were dirty and his sleeve was ripped a bit.

 

The two of them were getting closer to their house. “Ichimatsu-niisan you need help,” Jyushimatsu started again. “We need to get you patched up that you don’t hurt anymore,” he said. He hated seeing his brothers hurting.

 

The bleeding still hadn’t stopped as Ichimatsu glanced at his brother before looking away. “I know. But I don’t want any lectures,” he mumbled crumpily.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded eagerly. “Yes. Niisans will help you!” he said happy that Ichimatsu realized that he really needed help from someone older.

 

Ichimatsu gritted his teeth and ‘tsk’ed but didn’t say anything before they arrived to their front yard where he stopped and Jyushimatsu stopped with him, turning to look at his older brother worriedly.

 

“Ichi-niisan?” the second youngest asked quietly.

 

Ichimatsu sucked his bleeding lip and didn’t meet Jyushimatsu’s look. “Could you try to see if you can find Osomatsu-niisan and get him here? Or Choromatsu-niisan? Anyone but Karamatsu-niisan,” he asked from his brother.

 

Jyushimatsu looked at him a little surprised at first before he frowned a little. He didn’t like this whatever was going on between Ichimatsu and Karamatsu. It made him feel really sad. But he knew that Ichimatsu would get into bad mood around Karamatsu so he decided to do as Ichimatsu wanted. “Okay,” Jyushimatsu agreed with a nod. “Just wait here for a bit.”

 

The fourth brother nodded at him and Jyushimatsu entered to the house quietly. He took off his shoes and stepped along the silent hallway softly. He couldn’t hear anything but he guessed the best bet to find the oldest was from the living room or from their bed room so he headed to those places.

 

Quietly Jyushimatsu peeked to the living room which turned out to be empty. He frowned and started making his way to the upstairs. He really hoped that Osomatsu was home. Ichimatsu needed someone adult to help him and everything would be easiest if the oldest were to deal with him.

 

As Jyushimatsu was walking down the upstairs’ hallway, he suddenly jumped startled, letting out a small yelp as Karamatsu had appeared in front of him from their parents’ room. Karamatsu seemed just as surprised to see him.

 

“Whoah! Jyushimatsu I didn’t hear you,” Karamatsu said and looked at the second youngest with surprised look. “Hmm? What is it? Where's Ichimatsu?” he asked as he studied the younger’s face.

 

This is bad, ” Jyushimatsu thought as he watched at his older brother, his brain trying to find a solution to the situation. This was just what was not supposed to happen. He didn’t know if he could fool Karamatsu since the second oldest was very observative when it came to his brothers. “Uhh… nothing!” Jyushimatsu said and put his usual wide smile to his face even if it was forced. “Where's Osomatsu-niisan?” he asked as innocently as he could manage.

 

Karamatsu’s frown deepened in concern. “He's out shopping,” he said and kneeled down to be on Jyushimatsu’s level as he studied his face harder. “Jyushimatsu. Is everything alright? Where's Ichimatsu?” he asked again.

 

Jyushimatsu fidgeted nervously with his hands and looked away from the older brother. He hated lying. Quickly he looked back at Karamatsu, smiling widely and nodding his head. “Everything is good! Yes, yes!”

 

Karamatsu raised his eyebrow. “Well, that’s good. And Ichimatsu?” he asked, still pressing on the subject, not letting Jyushimatsu off the hook.

 

“Still outside,” Jyushimatsu said, his smile faltering a bit.

 

“Then we can go see him now, right?” Karamatsu asked as he straightened himself, his eyes never leaving the younger one's face.

 

“Ah, no!” Jyushimatsu said too hurriedly and Karamatsu waited for an explanation, raising his eyebrow. “Ah, he… he wants to see Osomatsu-niisan.”

 

Karamatsu’s face fell and Jyushimatsu didn’t miss the hurt in the older's eyes. It made him feel bad and guilty. He just wanted everyone to be happy.

 

“I see,” Karamatsu said quietly and was silent for a moment. “But since Osomatsu-niisan is not here, he have to do with me,” he said and started walking towards the stairs, his shoulders hunched down.

 

“Wait!” Jyushimatsu shouted and dashed after him and took a hold on his shirt's hem. Karamatsu turned to look down at him eyes now wider and surprised.

 

“What is it Jyushimatsu?”

 

He had tried his best but couldn’t help it anymore. Why was Ichimatsu always angry to Karamatsu? Jyushimatsu didn’t understand. It made him sad. Karamatsu would see Ichimatsu any minute now so it was best that Jyushimatsu told him what had happened. He didn’t want to hide anything from his brothers and Ichimatsu needed help.

 

Jyushimatsu was gripping Karamatsu’s shirt with both of his hands as he looked up at his brother’s eyes. His smile had turned upside down again and Karamatsu could see his anxiety. “Ichimatsu-niisan is hurt. He was in a fight and needs help,” Jyushimatsu told sadly and little afraid of the second oldest’s reaction.

 

Karamatsu looked at him, his eyes widening in alarm. “You should have told me sooner!” he almost shouted and ran down the stairs, Jyushimatsu following right after him.

 

“I'm sorry!” Jyushimatsu said honestly. He had wanted to go straight to Karamatsu when he had seen Ichimatsu’s state and knew that he should have.

 

The second born quickly slammed the front door open and his eyes locked to the battered fourth brother who was standing at the side of the front yard. Karamatsu looked at him scared of how badly he had gotten beaten. “Ichimatsu dear, what happened?!” he asked and walked quickly to him.

 

Ichimatsu watched at first eyes wide in surprise and worry as Karamatsu barged outside before he hardened his look and scowled at his older brother. “Tsk. Nothing,” he snapped not looking at the second oldest as he tried to walk past him towards the door where Jyushimatsu was following the situation worried.

 

Karamatsu, however, did not let him pass as he took a firm hold on the younger brother’s shoulders and leaned down a bit to meet Ichimatsu’s eyes. His look was worried and very serious. “No, Ichimatsu you have now no choice but to tell me everything and let me patch you up,” Karamatsu said firmly and started to haul him inside with him. “And then we'll have a serious talk,” he added.

 

It took a short moment for Ichimatsu to react but when he did, he started to fight against Karamatsu’s grip, trying to wiggle and shook himself free. “Let go of me!” he snarled and kicked Karamatsu’s legs the best he could while being dragged to the bathroom. “Don't touch me!” he shouted angry.

 

Karamatsu wasn’t surprised for his violent reaction as he pushed him to sit on a stool and started to take out medical supplies. “Stay there. Now tell me what happened,” he told. Jyushimatsu appeared to the bathroom doorway warily.

 

“No! I'm not going to talk with you!” Ichimatsu shouted and stood up, already heading towards the door. Then he saw the second youngest standing there. “Why did you get him?! Didn't I say that anybody but him?!” Ichimastu shouted annoyedly at Jyushimatsu.

 

The harsh words made Jyushimatsu to tear up. He hated shouting. “I-I’m sorry! I tried! But he saw me and you need help!” Jyushimatsu cried.

 

Ichimatsu’s hard look softened a bit and he looked a little guilty for upsetting the younger brother. “Whatever,” he mumbled and tried to push past the second youngest but Karamatsu grabbed a hold on his collar.

 

“You are not going anywhere now. Sit down,” he told again and pushed Ichimatsu towards the stool.

 

Ichimatsu snarled and kicked the stool so hard that it fell to its side with a clatter. “I said I don’t want to!” he shouted glaring daggers at the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu looked at him about to say something back when suddenly a loud crying could be heard from the upstairs. Instinctively all three brothers glanced upwards. Karamatsu took a deep breath, closing his eyes. Then he looked again at the third youngest and spoke with a calm voice but it had an unsteady edge. “I just got Todomatsu to sleep and now you woke him up.” Karamatsu looked like he wanted to say something more to Ichimatsu about it but he didn’t. Instead he turned to look at Jyushimatsu who was still standing in the doorway, tear tracks on his cheeks. “Jyushimatsu, brother. Could you go get Todomatsu from upstairs and bring him down here to me? I need to stay with Ichimatsu now,” he asked.

 

The second youngest nodded. “Okay,” he said quietly and left the bathroom.

 

Karamatsu turned his gaze back to the fourth born. In his hand he was holding now disinfectant and cotton wool. “Now, take off your school uniform. I need to see that I don’t miss any cuts or scratches. And start telling me what happened,” he said and dampened the cotton with the disinfectant.

 

Ichimatsu glared at him. “No!” he said stubbornly. Ichimatsu was so used to win against the second oldest because Karamatsu was the one who almost always backed down in the end. He was sure he would give up again.

 

However, this time there was something different in the second oldest’s look, different kind of determination. Karamatsu picked up the stool and pointed at it. “Sit down,” he ordered.

 

Ichimatsu was still glaring at him, grimacing angrily.

 

They stood there for a few seconds in silence looking at each other. Then Karamatsu had had enough. “For goodness sake can’t you for once do as I tell you?!” he said in surprisingly loud voice. Ichimatsu lost some of his confidence. He was not used to see Karamatsu upset like that. Karamatsu never appeared authoritative but apparently he had it in himself if needed. Slowly Ichimatsu sat down. He needed the cuts to be taken care of anyway so whatever.

 

Karamatsu took a deep breath. “Good,” he said and started cleaning Ichimatsu’s wounds. “I’m sorry I raised my voice,” he apologized.

 

Ichimatsu didn’t look at the older brother. He didn’t want to say anything. The disinfectant stinged and Ichimatsu hissed, jerking his head back. “Ouch!”

 

Karamatsu paused for a moment before he reached to his face to continue again. “Sorry. I know it hurts a little but they need to be cleaned,” he said. Then the silence returned between them but it didn’t took long for Karamatsu to break it again. “Ichimatsu. You need to tell me what happened.”

 

Ichimatsu ‘tsk’ed quietly. He didn’t want to talk. “I got into a fight, okay.”

 

Karamatsu was not satisfied with the answer. “Jyushimatsu already told me that. But I need to know why.”

 

Ichimatsu stayed quiet.

 

The second oldest sighed deeply. He decided it was best to just deal with the injuries first and then he would make the other to talk. “Take off your clothes,” he told Ichimatsu. It took awhile but in the end the third youngest complied.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan,” Jyushimatsu called from the doorway again. He had returned, holding whining Todomatsu in his arms with a struggle. Todomatsu was already that big that it wasn’t easy for Jyushimatsu to hold him.

 

“Ah, thank you Jyushimatsu,” Karamatsu said and took the youngest to his arms hushing him down. Then most of his attention returned back to Ichimatsu again. “Show me all the scratches,” he told him.

 

Slowly Ichimatsu checked through his body where he had got hits and showed the small scratches to the second oldest. Luckily all of them were really small and nothing to worry about. Karamatsu still wanted them cleaned though, so he balanced Todomatsu with one of his arms and hip and cleaned the injuries with his free hand.

 

“I’m home!” suddenly a call sounded from the front door and after a moment Osomatsu peeked to the bathroom curiously. “Huh? What’s going on here?” he asked and stepped into the room. “What happened to you Ichimatsu?”

 

Ichimatsu bit his lip and stayed quiet as he was thinking of what to say. Karamatsu was faster to answer: “Apparently he got into a fight.”

 

“A fight? At school?” Osomatsu asked surprised but was frowning worriedly.

 

Karamatsu shrugged. “I think so but we haven’t yet had our talk about it,” he said and took out the box of band aids.

 

“Ichimatsu what happened?” Osomatsu asked again from the fourth brother.

 

“Nothing. Just a fight,” the fourth youngest answered avoiding the subject.

 

“You know that’s not good enough answer,” Osomatsu said raising his eyebrows.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Karamatsu was placing band aids to few of his cuts. “You know you have no choice.”

 

Ichimatsu lost his temper again. He hated the way his brothers were talking to him. Who were they to order him around?! He stood up quickly and pushed Karamatsu further from him. “You can’t boss me around! You’re not mom!” Ichimatsu shouted and dashed to the door and managed to slip out of the room past the oldest.

 

“Ichimatsu!” both Osomatsu and Karamatsu called after him and before Ichimatsu could make it to the stairs a strong hand grabbed around his wrist, stopping him.

 

“Let go of me!” Ichimatsu screamed to Osomatsu who had caught him.

 

The oldest’s look was serious. “You’re not running off anywhere before you’ve told us everything. This is serious.” Ichimatsu screamed and tried to hit Osomatsu which didn’t do much.

 

Karamatsu was soon at Osomatsu’s side, looking at the fourth brother. “Let’s go to upstairs. You need some clean clothes to put on,” he said and started to walk to their room holding Todomatsu still in his arms. Osomatsu dragged the struggling Ichimatsu there while Jyushimatsu trailed behind them.

 

Once they were there, Karamatsu gave Ichimatsu clean clothes that the fourth brother put on since he was feeling a bit cold but he was scowling all the time. The two oldest were standing in front of the door, making it impossible for Ichimatsu to try to escape. He bit his teeth and fisted his hands as he stared to the floor.

 

“Ichimatsu,” Osomatsu said in a warning tone. “For the last time, what happened?”

 

“I already said it was a fight!” Ichimatsu snapped.

 

“But why were you fighting? Who started it?” Karamatsu asked.

 

Ichimatsu felt really uncomfortable under the two oldests’ serious stares. “They irritated me,” he said.

 

“So you were the first one to hit?” Osomatsu asked.

 

“What if I was?! It doesn’t matter!”

 

Karamatsu took steps closer to the fourth brother. “It certainly matters and a lot!” he said his voice high. “You can’t start fights and hurt other people. On top of that you got hurt! You-”

 

“I don’t want to listen to you! I don’t care!”

 

“Ichimatsu!” Osomatsu said raising his voice but was ignored.

 

Karamatsu frowned, anxious over the situation. He walked next to the glaring brother and leaned down to be on his eye level. “Ichimatsu,” he started as calmly as he could and placed his hand over his shoulder. Ichimatsu didn’t take any of that.

 

Fiercely he flung Karamatsu’s hand away. “How many times do I have to tell you, don’t touch me!!” he shouted to Karamatsu’s face. “Let me be! I hate you!”

 

Karamatsu’s expression turned suddenly so vulnerable and hurt as he watched Ichimatsu with wide eyes in a shock. Ichimatsu could never admit it to even himself but he suddenly felt bad. The look in Karamatsu’s eyes was so sad and pained that it hurt Ichimatsu to realize that he had caused it. Karamatsu raised the arm Ichimatsu had flung away and pressed it to his chest and gripped his hoodie’s front. His mouth opened slightly as he whispered quietly: “Ichimatsu…”

 

“That’s enough!” Suddenly Osomatsu was pushing Karamatsu out of the way and grabbed a hold on Ichimatsu, yanking him closer. Ichimatsu stared at Osomatsu with wide eyes. The oldest looked angry. “Don’t talk to your brother like that! Can’t you understand that this is not only about you. It’s also about us!

 

Ichimatsu stared startled at Osomatsu, unable to find words.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan. Don’t be too harsh,” Karamatsu said, standing next to them.

 

“No, he needs to understand this,” Osomatsu answered not leaving his gaze from Ichimatsu. “You can’t get into fights! We’re under constant surveillance, you get me?! If you mess up, they might decide that you’re not fit for this environment.”

 

“Please don’t scare him,” Karamatsu said quietly but was ignored by the oldest.

 

“Or they might even decide that me and Karamatsu are bad guardians and they might take you all away, separating us all! Is that what you want?!”

 

Osomatsu had went too far and Ichimatsu started crying upset. “No!” he cried. “I want to be with you…!” he hiccupped and Karamatsu quickly pushed Osomatsu out of the way and wrapped his arms around the fourth born. Ichimatsu didn’t return the hug but he didn’t resist.

 

“Wh-what’s going on?” Choromatsu suddenly asked from the doorway. He had just returned from school. Jyushimatsu dashed to him and hid his teary face to his shirt. Choromatsu looked scared at his brothers to get some answer.

 

“Ichimatsu got into a fight at school. We’re having a serious conversation,” Osomatsu explained simply and lifted Todomatsu to his arms who was also now crying since everybody else was.

 

Ichimatsu kept wailing. “I want to stay home!!” he cried and dampened Karamatsu’s hoodie with his tears as he sobbed.

 

Karamatsu petted his head calmingly. “Shhh. Don’t cry. It’s okay,” Karamatsu said. “Listen Ichimatsu, I love you all more than anything and I can’t stand seeing you hurt. And if someone tried to take you away from me, I don’t know what I would do. I know Osomatsu-niisan feels the same way. So please Ichimatsu, please try not to get into trouble,” Karamatsu pleaded.

 

Ichimatsu nodded his head as he hiccupped. “O-okay. I try.”

 

---

 

Later as the situation had mostly calmed down, Osomatsu, Karamatsu and Ichimatsu were sitting in their living room. Choromatsu was watching over the two youngests that the others could talk in peace. Ichimatsu felt really uncomfortable but there was no escaping it any longer. He had to talk.

 

“So Ichimatsu, why did they start irritate you?” Osomatsu asked breaking the awkward silence.

 

It took awhile but then Ichimatsu started talking in a quiet voice. “I don’t really want to play with anyone. I spent most of my time alone so they think it’s weird and started calling me names. I don’t know, they’re just stupid.”

 

“Was this the first time?” Karamatsu asked frowning worriedly.

 

“Yeah. I got angry,” Ichimatsu answered.

 

“Good,” Osomatsu said. “We’ll make sure that you’ll apologize each other. But you need to promise this won’t happen again,” he said firmly.

 

Ichimatsu didn’t like those guys but he knew that it was bad to fight. And he didn’t really want to fight. Now his body parts were aching and it didn’t feel nice. “I promise,” he mumbled.

 

“Good,” Karamatsu said and smiled tiredly. “Could we now return to normal things? You need to do your homework and I have a lot of things to do before I have to leave for work.” He closed his eyes tiredly. “Osomatsu-niisan could you cook the dinner?”

 

“Whaaat? You know I can’t cook,” Osomatsu said in a childish whiny voice and crossed his hands behind his neck.

 

“Then please make cup noodles or something. Just make sure that they’re not hungry,” Karamatsu said tiredly and stood up. He turned to look at Ichimatsu again. “Please don’t get hurt again, okay? Now, go find Jyushimatsu and do your homeworks. After that you can watch a movie if you want,” Karamatsu spoke affectionately to him, trying to make up for the earlier fight.

 

Ichimatsu scrambled to his feet. “Okay,” he said in his quiet voice and left the room.

 

Karamatsu sighed deeply and hid his face behind his palms. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine,” he whispered quietly to himself in an attempt to calm his nerves. “I want to go to sleep,” he sighed before he left to continue his chores.

Chapter Text

Osomatsu was sitting at their backyard veranda. Next to him on the ground he had a beer can, not the first one for the evening, and he was smoking cigarettes. He was looking down to the ground deep in a thought and the aura around him was unusually gloomy. He took a sip from his beer before he sighed heavily and moved into a fetal position, hiding his face behind his knees and arms. He was feeling down.

The back door was slid open and warm light from inside the house shone to the veranda. Karamatsu stood on the doorway frowning as he looked at the oldest for a moment quietly and still, thinking. The second oldest stepped outside and slid the door shut, sealing most of the electric lighting inside. Carefully and little unsure he walked next to the oldest. He was not used to see him like that.

Karamatsu eyed the beer bottle and a cigarette in Osomatsu’s hand. He had a habit to nag Osomatsu about his unhealthy way of life but almost as often as he nagged about it, he let it slide because he didn’t like to step onto the oldest’s toes and usually he let him to make his own decisions without questioning them - much.

However, something seemed off and Karamatsu decided not to say anything about the oldest’s bad habits by the time being. Instead of that, he should find out if something had happened and try to help. Karamatsu’s mind was already jumping into conclusions that were all worse than the others. Had Osomatsu been fired? Was he sick? Did someone hurt him? Is it about their brothers? Is someone threatening to take them away from them?

“Is something wrong Osomatsu-niisan?” Karamatsu asked as he was standing next to the oldest who still hasn’t shown any sign that he had realized that the younger brother had come outside. The second oldest kept observing Osomatsu worriedly.

Few seconds passed silently, Osomatsu yet still not reacting, before he slowly lifted his head up a little. He was staring right ahead to the building wall behind their backyard, not looking at Karamatsu. The look in his eyes was somehow distant and melancholic. Overall he looked exhausted which wasn’t normal for Osomatsu. It worried Karamatsu.

Osomatsu took a deep breath. “Nothing’s wrong,” he mumbled and took a drag from his cigarette still staring straight forward.

Karamatsu’s frown deepened and he sat down next to the oldest. “I can’t really believe that. You are not looking like yourself,” he said and paused for a short moment. “What happened?” he asked his mouth drying as he waited, dreading for the answer.

Osomatsu put out the butt of cigarette quietly before he answered to his brother with the same worn out voice. “Nothing happened,” he said simply.

That had not helped Karamatsu at all. “Brother!” the second born raised his voice slightly. “I can see that you’re not fine! Please tell me what is it. I’m the second oldest and I think I have a right to know. Is it about our brothers? Is someone unhappy of how we manage things?” Karamatsu asked worriedly, pushing Osomatsu to answer.

For the first time since Karamatsu had come to the veranda, Osomatsu looked at him and met his eyes. He frowned a little confused. “No no. It’s nothing like that,” he reassured the second born. Then he turned to look away again and drank his can empty. “Don’t worry yourself about it,” he said, still reluctant to talk.

“How can I not?” Karamatsu asked. ”I’m glad that it’s not about our brothers but it makes me more concerned about you.” He stared at the oldets’s face trying to find some answers from it.

Osomatsu huffed a little annoyed now. Why couldn’t Karamatsu just leave him alone. Of course he knew that the second oldest wasn’t capable of something like that. Osomatsu took a box of cigarettes from his pocket, placed one to his lips and lit it up. He took a deep drag and breathed out smoke. Finally he spoke again: “I’m just having a bad day is all.”

Ah. Now Karamatsu understood. After he had finally pulled himself together after their parents’ death, he had avoided the breakdowns the best he could by keeping himself busy. However, he always felt the threat of it looming just beneath the surface. He was pretty sure that it wouldn’t took much to make him cry if he would just let himself.

This was the first time after the first couple of weeks after losing their parents that Karamatsu saw Osomatsu acting different than his usual cheery self. Of course he knew that it had been just an act to do for his little brothers but Karamatsu was grateful for it.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Karamatsu asked carefully, trying to meet his brothers eyes.

Osomatsu stayed quiet again for a moment, the look in his eyes distant. “I was trying to find my old coloring books to see if there would still be something to do for Totty.” He sighed. “Instead I found my old card that mom wrote to me. I think it was for my tenth birthday,” he said thinking back. “I… It made me feel really bad,” Osomatsu said and his voice broke a little. He was now looking upwards to the sky and biting his lip, looking like he was fighting back tears.

Karamatsu’s heart was hurting seeing his brother sad and looking so vulnerable. Without hesitation he placed his hand on Osomatsu’s shoulder, still trying to meet his gaze. “I’m sorry…” Karamatsu said in a low voice. “It’ll never get better, will it?” He paused for a moment. “Did there read something special or just seeing it made you sad?”

“Everything!” Osomatsu said suddenly louder. “Back then they, mom and dad, still believed in me. I believed in myself! I was a child full of hopes and dreams and I wanted to become a fucking president.” A sob escaped Osomatsu’s lips and he grimaced in pain. “Mom, she wrote that she believed in me. That she’s so proud of me and knows that I’ll become something big. I made her happy,” Osomatsu said and finally met Karamatsu’s look with wet, sad eyes.

Karamatsu looked down to his feet sadly. He could easily relate to Osomatsu’s sadness. “I think she loved us more than anything. She was really proud of us,” Karamatsu said quietly.

Osomatsu looked even more upset. “No. That’s the problem. She was not proud of me. No one should be! I’m a fucking failure!” he said and tossed the empty can across the backyard angrily.

“What are you talking about? You’re not a failure!” Karamatsu said not wanting his brother to talk like that about himself.

“I am! I’m the biggest failure and a disappointment any parents could have!” Osomatsu almost shouted and now tears started to stream down his face more freely.

“Osomatsu-niisan,” Karamatsu said little unsure of what to do. He was not used to comfort his older brother but he let his heart to guide him. Affectionately he started to draw circles on the oldest’s back. “Why are you saying that? It’s not true.”

Osomatsu hiccupped as he hid his face on his palms and tried to speak with broken voice. “M-my last conversation with them… w-with mom a-and dad.” He sobbed loudly and Karamatsu rubbed his back, feeling how tears were threatening to pour over his own eyes as well. “It haunts me s-so much and it hurts!” Osomatsu cried. “I-I can’t forget and I feel horrible!”

Karamatsu kept fighting back his tears but he was losing the battle. “What did you talk about?” he whispered the question.

The oldest sobbed more before he managed to collect himself enough to continue. He took a shaky breath. “I-I was laying on the living room couch, dr-drinking beer, eating snacks a-and reading manga…”


-Flashback-

Matsuzo came back from work after a rough day and went to the living room. He saw his oldest son doing nothing but lazing around and eating snacks as always. After a long day it really irritated him. He cleared his throat and started speaking:

“Osomatsu, when are you going to start working? You know this kind of laziness won’t do?” he asked seriously.

“Oh, yeah,” Osomatsu answered without looking up from his manga. “I don’t know.”

“Have you been applying anywhere? Trying to find something?”

“Now? No,” Osomatsu answered uninterested and turned another page.

Matsuzo really wasn’t in the most patient mood. “Son!” he said sharply and now Osomatsu looked at him surprised. “You can’t go on like this. Aren’t you embarrassed of yourself?”

“Huh?” Osomatsu sounded and sat up. “No, not really. I don’t care,” he said shrugging.

“Well, you should care!” Matsuzo raised his voice, preparing to give a lecture.

Then Matsuyo appeared to the room, frowning. “What’s going on in here?” she asked her gaze travelling between her husband and eldest son.

Matsuzo pointed an accusatory finger towards the oldest brother. “He’s acting completely unconcerned about his future. He should be working like every men should.”

Matsuyo frowned and took a few steps closer to the two men. “He’s right you know,” she said to Osomatsu who looked at her with raised eyebrow. “You really should do something else than just sit here all day or play pachinko or whatever it is you’re doing. Would it really be that hard to look for a job?” she asked crossing her arms.

Osomatsu narrowed his eyes as he looked at his parents. “Yeah, it actually is. Do you know how hard it is for someone like me to get a job? I’m the scum of society. No one would want me.”

“If you’re acting this childish then I’m sure they don't,” Matsuzo said. “Just grow up and act your age.”

“Osomatsu. You can’t keep this up for too long. You need to take the responsibility of your life,” Matsuyo said gentler but still firm.

“Karamatsu is younger than you and he’s working and helping around all the time!” Matsuzo added.

Osomatsu put his manga away and narrowed his eyes, growing more annoyed. “I’m not Karamatsu!” he retorted. This wasn’t about the second oldest. This was about him and it irritated him that he was been compared to Karamatsu. The two of them were different! Was it so hard to understand?!

“Aren’t you ever ashamed of yourself?!”

“Matsuzo!” Matsuyo said disapproving before turning to Osomatsu. “Osomatsu I don’t want you to disappoint us. Pull yourself together and make us proud.”

Osomatsu stood up irritated. “Ashamed? Again, I don’t care! But I bet you’re ashamed of having a son like me!”

“With this you’re not really making it harder!”

“Osomatsu, Matsuzo, listen to yourselves!” Matsuyo said, making them to focus on her. Then she sighed. “Dear, I know you must be tired. Please go get food from the kitchen. I’ll come in a minute.”

Matsuzo cast one more glance at the scowling oldest before he stood up and left the room, complying.

Matsuyo took a deep breath before she turned her attention to the defiant boy, standing in front of her, hands balled into fists. “Osomatsu,” she started.

“Save it,” the oldest snap out. “I know what you’re going to say.” He averted his eyes from his mother.

“Osomatsu please, try to behave,” Matsuyo said. “Your father says things sometimes harshly, thing that I don't particularly like, but you must know that he has a point. You need to find a way to your life. I really thought you'd become something special.” She smiled wistfully. “Now, listen Osomatsu. This can’t continue forever. You need to change, okay?”

Osomatsu stuffed his hands into pockets and swung his foot slowly back and forth, kicking the floor. “Got it,” he mumbled. He wasn't as upset anymore because even if he didn't like what his mom was saying, she somehow managed to make it sound like she cared about his well being. He didn't like letting his mom down but he was used to it by now. She couldn't seriously think that Osomatsu was capable of change. At least he wasn’t going to try. It was too bothersome and wouldn’t lead anywhere.

Matsuyo sighed again. “Seriously me and your father are not so young anymore. You have to start to build your own life. And if you’re not even working, the least you could do would be to help around the house,” she said and turned her back to Osomatsu, leaving the room. On her way she mumbled: “Why do I have to deal with this when I would have my hands full of things to do?”

Osomatsu was left to stand alone into the room, feeling bad.

- End of Flashback -

It had been hard for Osomatsu to tell the story from all his sobbing. Silent tears were falling down Karamatsu’s cheeks as well as he listened his older brother talk and rubbed his back.

“A-after that I of course didn’t c-change a thing! Mom and d-dad died f-four days later. I-I regret not ever doing a-anything to make them pr-proud. I n-never was anything but the failure they saw me to be,” Osomatsu sobbed and wiped away his tears angrily.

Karamatsu stayed quiet for a moment before he spoke. “Osomatsu-niisan. They loved us unconditionally. All of us.” There was no doubt in his voice.

“A-and what did I give back to them? I’m the shittiest son ever!”

“But you are taking care of us all now. No one could ask you anything more than that.”

“Well, I suck at that too,” Osomatsu stated.

“No you don’t. Without you I would probably still be unable to do anything. I couldn’t do anything without you!” Karamatsu said.

Osomatsu snorted. “You are much stronger than you realize. You could have everything but now you’re stuck here because I’m unable to survive this on my own.”

“Oh, shut up!” Karamatsu said suddenly sharper. “Osomatsu-niisan, I care nothing but my family. For you and them to be happy is everything I want or ask for. Besides, you’re three years older than me. It’s not that much difference. We’re in this together and only together we can survive.”

Osomatsu looked at his younger brother, studying his unwavering look, and nodded slowly. “Yeah… Together,” he mumbled.

Karamatsu smiled a little even if he was feeling really sad. “We’ll get through this,” he said trying to convince himself as much as Osomatsu.

Osomatsu stayed still, not looking at Karamatsu, before he took out another cigarette and lit it up. Karamatsu scrunched up his nose disapprovingly but he didn’t say anything. Then the oldest started speaking:

“I guess I should try to work more. Get more hours, another side job or just change to something else,” he said tiredly. “You work more than me and I really should try to do better.”

Karamatsu shook his head. “I’m not pushing you to do anything. We’re all doing our best and so far, we’re surviving. Besides, someone has to look after Todomatsu.”

Osomatsu blow out smoke. “Should we put him to a daycare?” he asked in a quiet voice, vocalicing the thing both of them had been wondering at least at some point.

Karamatsu frowned uncomfortable with the idea. “I know that would give us the possibility to work more but I don’t like the idea. He’s so small, not even two years. And so much have already happened in his life. His mom and dad are no longer here, so now he needs to be with familiar people. I don’t want him to spend many hours a day with strangers.”

Osomatsu cast a glance at the second born. “Yeah, me neither. I was just saying cause that’s one possibility,” he said and flicked his cigarette.

“Besides, that would most likely also mean that Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu would have to be alone often until either one of us or Choromatsu would be home. I don't think that would be good for them at all. They too are really young,” Karamatsu went on.

“Yeah… you're right,” Osomatsu agreed. “Anyway, it’s late. Sorry for all this. I’m okay now, don’t worry.” Even if he had appreciated Karamatsu’s company, as hard as it had been to talk about the painful subjects, he still needed some time alone.

Karamatsu looked at the oldest determining whether or not he would still need the comfort but in the end he stood up. “Okay. I’ll go see that everything is fine with the others. Niisan,” he said and Osomatsu looked at him to show that he was listening, “you can talk to me anytime. You don’t have to hide all your sadness or worry within yourself. Just remember that.”

The oldest huffed but a tiny smile appeared to his lips. “I could say the same to you,” he answered.

Karamatsu chuckled a little. “I guess you could,” he answered before he went inside and left Osomatsu alone again.

As soon as the door was closed, Osomatsu’s smile disappeared. He was still feeling horrible. If his parents were watching, Osomatsu was sure that they would see him as a disgrace. They must have been upset that someone like him was in charge of taking care of their kids.

Soon the oldest snuck back inside and got two more cans of beer before he went back to the veranda to drink them. He wanted to be alone so it was good to be outside.

After finishing his drinks, Osomatsu staggered to the living room and slept the night on the couch for the first time in a few months. He didn’t go to the work the next day.

Chapter Text

“Welcome home!” Karamatsu greeted the third oldest who had just come home from school.

 

“I’m back…” Choromatsu mumbled and dragged himself tiredly past Karamatsu to the living room where he slumped down to the couch with a deep sigh.

 

Frowning Karamatsu followed him few steps until he was standing in the doorway, looking at his younger brother in worry. “Choromatsu, brother, are you feeling okay?” he asked.

 

“Yeah…” Choromatsu mumbled.

 

Karamatsu’s frown deepened. “Brother?”

 

Choromatsu sighed again and met Karamatsu’s eyes. “I’m okay. Just tired. I have this essay I need to write and I have to go to work in few hours. It’s… it’s just a lot to do,” he explained with a sigh.

 

“Don’t strain yourself,” Karamatsu said. “Maybe you should call your job and ask if you could stay home today to study?”

 

Choromatsu shook his head. “No. I have to go. It’s okay.”

 

“Are you sure? When will your shift end?” Karamatsu asked in worry.

 

“10 pm.”

 

The second oldest didn’t like how rough days his little brother was having. “Choromatsu, are you sure it’s okay? You know I wish you’d only focus on your studies and not worry about something like part-time job.”

 

Choromatsu turned to give Karamatsu a small smile. “I’m fine. Besides, I’m only a couple of years younger than you. I want to do my part for us too,” he said.

 

Karamatsu looked at him affectionately. “Brother… I appreciate it a lot. I really do. But it can’t burden you too much. That I don’t want.” He smiled softly. “You’re such a good brother. Take care of yourself.”

 

The third born smiled back a little. “I will. You have too many things on your mind already so don’t worry about me.”

 

“Okay. I try not to,” Karamatsu said and looked to the kitchen over his shoulder. “Well, I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”

 

“Alright,” Choromatsu said and turned to take his school books out from his backpack.

 

“Okay then,” Karamatsu said and walked to the kitchen. He should again make something to feed his family. Taking a deep breath, the second oldest got to work.

 

After a minute of thinking what he would make, he settled on tuna lasagna. It would be something simple, it didn’t need much work and the kids liked it. He put the ingredients for the tomato sauce into a pot and turned on the heat. Then he turned towards a cabin where they stored all the canned food and some other dry food. He searched through the selves, soon with a frown. He couldn’t find the tuna cans.

 

Karamatsu checked again all the selves but couldn’t find them. He sighed a bit annoyed. Something like this had happened before. In fact, something exactly like this.

 

He left the room and rose the stairs up, walking to their shared room. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were playing there with toys. Karamatsu stepped into the room and immediately Jyushimatsu turned to look at him. “Karamatsu-niisan!” he greeted.

 

Karamatsu offered him a small smile before he turned to talk to the fourth brother. “Ichimatsu. I noticed that all of our tuna cans are missing. Do you know anything about it?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

“No,” Ichimatsu said shortly, not even turning to look at the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu crossed his arms. “Ichimatsu?”

 

“What?!” the third youngest retorted.

 

“Did you feed the tuna cans to strays?” the second born asked now straightforwardly.

 

“Tsk! And what if I did?” Ichimatsu answered sharply, now turning to face Karamatsu with a challenging glare.

 

Karamatsu frowned, his gaze not faltering, and he crossed his arms. “Ichimatsu I’ve told you, you can’t do it. We have talked about this,” he said in a little bit raised voice to the younger brother, trying to get him to understand that he had done something wrong.

 

“No. You talked, I didn’t say anything!” the fourth born said back.

 

“Ichimatsu!”  Karamatsu said in a more high-pitched voice than usually. “You know very well why I can’t let you take those tuna cans.”

 

“But I don’t care! I do what I want to!” Ichimatsu shouted, still glaring at the second oldest. Meanwhile, Jyushimatsu was following the situation with a nervous smile.

 

“For goodness sake Ichimatsu! How hard is it for you to understand that we don’t have money! We need every single yen we get and you can’t just go give away our food!” Karamatsu said with loud voice. He wasn’t angry but he needed Ichimatsu to understand.

 

“How hard is it for you to understand that I’m tired of listening to you?!” Ichimatsu shouted back. He was clearly irritated.

 

It hurt. It hurt Karamatsu so bad but he couldn’t let it show. With things like this, he had to stay strong. “Ichimatsu. I’m glad you have your cat friends but from now on, you can’t take food from us to feed them without permission.”

 

The fourth born stood up defiantly. “Yes, I will!”

 

Karamatsu had run out of patience. “No, Ichimatsu, you won’t!” he shouted back and could see a flicker of surprise in the younger one’s eyes. “If you want to feed them, you’ll ask me if that’s okay first! Did I make myself clear?” Karamatsu finished, looking demandingly at Ichimatsu.

 

The two of them kept still staring at each other and Ichimatsu’s look hardened again but this time there was a hint of disappointment in it as well. He balled his fists and stomped his feet. “I hate you!! You’re so stupid Karamatsu-niisan! I hate you!!”

 

Karamatsu was about to say something back to try to calm him down even if every one of his words hurt him like a dagger. Before he managed though, Jyushimatsu jumped in between them, his arms opened wide and facing Ichimatsu.

 

“Ichimatsu-niisan stop yelling!” Jyushimatsu said calmly but there was a hint of desperation in his voice. He was still forcing on his smile even if it was wavering a bit.

 

“Jyushimatsu!” Ichimatsu said in surprised irritation.

 

“Stop yelling to Karamatsu-niisan. He’s doing his best,” Jyushimatsu continued, having a staring contest at the same time with the fourth brother. After a couple of seconds Ichimatsu averted his eyes and ‘tsk’ed. Jyushimatsu’s smile got a bit brighter and he took a hold of Ichimatsu’s arm. “Come on, let’s go play to the backyard.” He pulled Ichimatsu by the arm who let him lead him away. Jyushimatsu offered Karamatsu a smile as they passed him while Ichimatsu looked away from the second oldest.

 

The two brothers put on their shoes and went outside. Ichimatsu was still scowling at the ground angrily. Jyushimatsu was about to say something when the older started complaining: “Who he thinks he is to tell me what to do? He irritates me so much!” he said, gritting his teeth.

 

Jyushimatsu only smiled at the fourth born. “Don’t be angry to Karamatsu-niisan. He’s trying really hard and always wants for our best,” he said, used to the others outbursts.

 

Ichimatsu looked at him disbelievingly. “I don’t get it! Everything sucks! I mean everything! Why do you keep smiling?! There’s nothing to smile about!”

 

Jyushimatsu’s smile didn’t waver. “I have to keep on smiling,” he stated.

 

Ichimatsu frowned harder. “What do you mean you have to?” he asked, still speaking with the harsh tone.

 

“It’s my job,” the second youngest said.

 

“What do you mean? I don’t get it,” Ichimatsu said and his own confusion irritated him even more.

 

Jyushimatsu was still looking at the other with the wide smile never leaving his face. “It’s what I can and have to do to help.”

 

- Flashback -

 

Jyushimatsu was sitting on the hallway floor, counting his coins. It had been only two weeks since their parents’ death and he was feeling sad like he had everyday since that. His eyes were comfortless and his usual wide smile was nowhere to be seen. He was hoping that maybe he had enough money to buy a pack of candy. It might cheer Ichimatsu up a little. He was not doing fine.

 

Without a warning Karamatsu walked out from the utility room, fresh tears flowing down his face as he sobbed quietly. Jyushimatsu immediately felt burning behind his eyes. He couldn’t stand seeing people cry or he’d start crying himself.

 

The second oldest spotted him on the ground and his sobbing got louder even if Karamatsu tried to muffle it behind his hand. He whimpered pitifully and after a few seconds, he dashed to Jyushimatsu, kneeled to the ground and took a hold on his shoulders. He looked straight into his eyes desperately as tears streamed down his cheeks. “Jy-Jyushimatsu!” he sobbed, holding the younger brother close to his face. Jyushimatsu could feel his eyes watering and his lower lip started wobbling.

 

“Jyushimatsu, d-dear! Pl-please… I’m so s-sorry, I’m useless!” Karamatsu cried, while keeping the intense, sad stare on the second youngest. “I-I’m sorry I can’t do more,” his voice was broken and high-pitched. “I want y-you all to be ha-happy again. Mo-more than a-anything! I n-need your smile again J-Jyushimatsu. I miss it so much!” he wailed desperately.

 

Jyushimatsu was sniffling quietly while returning his older brother’s stare even if fat tears were falling down his cheeks now as well. He was sad and he felt really bad. He didn’t want Karamatsu-niisan to cry. They were all hurting so much already.

 

“Pl-please Jyushimatsu! You- you need to start smiling again,” Karamatsu sobbed, gripping tightly on Jyushimatsu’s shoulders.

 

Jyushimatsu took an broken inhale and sobbed. The older brother was making him sad, not happy. Why was Karamatsu acting like that?

 

Through the hiccups and tears Jyushimatsu worked hard and forced a distorted version of his characteristic wide smile on his face. Karamatsu closed his eyes, shaking in strong emotion and soon he pulled the second youngest into a tight hug.

 

“Oh, Jyushim-matsu!” he sobbed, holding him close. “I-it’ll be okay! I-I promise! Just- just smile! I-I want you to be ha-happy!”

 

Jyushimatsu nuzzled his face against Karamatsu’s shirt, sobbing. He would do it. He would smile for Karamatsu if it helped him. Even if he was sad and hurting, if it was one thing he could do for his brothers, he would do it. He would smile.

 

- End of Flashback -

 

Jyushimatsu was sitting at the edge of the veranda, swinging his legs back and forth as he told Ichimatsu, who was standing close by, staring at him, about the time Karamatsu had broken down in front of him. “After that I realized that it was my job to smile. Like it’s Karamatsu-niisan’s job to cook and worry about us and Osomatsu-niisan’s job to make us laugh,” Jyushimatsu told and turned to look at Ichimatsu with a smile that reached his eyes.

Ichimatsu frowned, not sure what to think about it and when he didn’t speak, Jyushimatsu continued:

 

“It was really hard at first and I only smiled when Karamatsu-niisan saw me. Then it got easier and now I feel like the smile belongs to my face again,” he told cheerfully. “It makes others around me happier which makes me happy,” he said and looked at the sky.

 

Ichimatsu just stared at him. Was Jyushimatsu really thinking like that? It was so confusing. But now that he thought about it, he could remember how Jyushimatsu’s smile had soon returned after their parents’ death. Ichimatsu had been happy to see that at least the second youngest could smile again. But he had done it for them?

 

Ichimatsu shook his head and sat down next to Jyushimatsu. “That’s so stupid. You don’t have to smile for us,” he said.

 

Jyushimatsu’s smile widened a bit and he turned to look at his brother. “I want to do it,” he said.

 

Ichimatsu looked at him with a confused frown and snorted then. “If you want to.” Jyushimatsu could do that. He himself was not going to be happy, probably ever again.

 

---

 

Karamatsu had a pile of receipts and a notebook in his hands as he stepped into the living room to sort them out, when he noticed Choromatsu sprawled over the table and his homeworks, asleep. Karamatsu frowned slightly, went over to him and kneeled down. Lightly he shook his shoulder.

 

“Choromatsu. You shouldn’t sleep here,” he said softly. “It’s really bad for your back,” he said with a caring smile.

 

The third born mumbled something unintelligible and turned to look at Karamatsu under his tired eyelids. “Uhhh… Huh?”

 

“You fell asleep,” Karamatsu said and pushed a lock of the other’s hair behind his ear.

 

Choromatsu straightened himself and looked down to the table and his homeworks. “Oh…” he said, stiffed a yawn and rubbed sleep away from his eyes.

 

“It’s almost ten already. You should move to bed,” the second oldest said.

 

Choromatsu glanced at him before his look returned to his homeworks. “No, I should finish these,” he said and lifted up his pen while yawning.

 

“I’m sure it can wait till tomorrow,” Karamatsu said, wanting the other to get some proper sleep.

 

“No,” Choromatsu said, shaking his head. “I have work tomorrow after school until eight so I don’t have time for much homeworks then.”

 

Karamatsu frowned. “Brother. I’m starting to think that maybe-”

 

“I can handle this,” Choromatsu said surprisingly firmly, cutting of Karamatsu and turning to look at him seriously. “We need my job. And I’m okay. I can handle this,” he said, looking determined and serious.

 

“Yes but-”

 

“Just stop worrying! You have way too many things to worry and I can take care of myself. Actually I feel bad because of how much you’re doing for me,” Choromatsu said and turned to look back at his notes. “You should take care of yourself too,” he said a little quieter.

 

Karamatsu smiled affectionately. “Choromatsu. There’s no reason to worry over me. Just make sure to get enough rest,” he said and ruffling the younger one’s hair he stood up and sat down on the couch. He was tired as well but he still had a few things to do before he could go to sleep.

 

It would be a long day again.

 

---

 

“Osomatsu,” Karamatsu started, stepping into the living room. “Where are the groceries I asked you to buy?” He had just returned from work and had left a list of things he would need for the dinner. He had asked the oldest go buy them so that he could start cooking quickly when he’d come home. But he couldn’t find them.

 

Osomatsu was sitting on the floor, following as Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu did their homeworks and holding Todomatsu in his lap. “Oh…” he said, looking away from Karamatsu. “I didn’t go shopping.” He flashed a quick, nervous smile at the second oldest.

 

Karamatsu kept staring at him and took a deep breath. He had had a long day already and he really just wanted to get done with household works as well. But Osomatsu had been taking care of Totty during the day so maybe he had been too busy to go. That’s what Karamatsu wanted to believe.

 

“Okay… Where’s the money I gave you then?” he asked calmly.

 

The oldest grimaced guiltily. “The thing is, I, uhhh... don’t have it anymore,” he said.

 

That was too much. Karamatsu had reached his limit. He was tired and hungry and didn’t want to deal with Osomatsu’s bullshit right now. “What were you thinking?!” he shouted. “How stupid are you?! You can’t waste our money away however you like!”

 

“Oh, come on Kara. I know I didn’t do well but it was only two thousands. Besides, I was sure I’d have won ten times that,” Osomatsu tried to reason his actions. The younger brothers followed the argument tensed up.

 

Karamatsu’s eyes widened. “You gambled it all?”

 

“They had these so cool new pachinko machines. I was sure to win!” Osomatsu whined.

 

Karamatsu inhaled sharply before his anger exploded. “You took Totty with you into a pachinko parlor?!” he outright shouted. That was something Karamatsu could not accept.

 

Osomatsu was taken aback. “Wha-? Uhh, ah, yeah. But it was fine.”

 

“It’s not fine!!” Karamatsu screamed. “I don’t care how you waste your life but when it starts to affect our brothers you’re crossing the line!” he shouted.

 

Osomatsu’s eyes narrowed. He was never the one to let himself be yelled at, regardless if he was right or wrong. “What?! What’s the big deal?! He was completely fine there!” he yelled back at the second oldest. Todomatsu let out quiet whines and Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu looked uncomfortable and worried.

 

“That’s not the point!! The point is that you can’t take him into places like that!”

 

“Who are you to say that?! I can take him there if I want to!”

 

“No! You won’t take him there! This was the last time you did that!” Karamatsu shouted and took a defiant step closer. “It’s not good place for a child to be! I won’t accept that!”

 

Osomatsu stood up in irritation. Todomatsu whimpered more and started squirming in his arms. “Do you think you can stop me?! I’m older than you!! Don’t you fucking forget that!!” He was really getting heated.

 

“Uuhh… What’s going on?” Choromatsu asked as he peeked to the room cautiously but was ignored.

 

Karamatsu bit his teeth together and glared angry at the oldest. “Then act like it!!” he shouted back. “Even for once! And don’t swear in front of them!”

 

“Fuck you!!” Osomatsu yelled. “I do whatever the fuck I want and I don’t want you coming acting a saint to me!”

 

Todomatsu let out a loud yell and Karamatsu dashed forward and snatched the toddler from the oldest. Osomatsu didn’t fight back but he snarled angrily. “Fine!! Take him since you’re so much better! I don’t know how the fuck you can do it and try to be so perfect all the time?! Where the hell is your selfishness?!”

 

“Stop swearing!!” Karamatsu yelled and tried to cradle the now crying youngest. “I’m so tired of all these things you do to make it harder for all of us!!”

 

“I’m sorry but our life just sucks at the moment! There’s nothing we can do about it! But I’ve had enough of this!” the oldest yelled and took a hold of Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu’s arms, pulling them to their feet. “Come on Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu. Let’s go play to a park. This is enough of nagging for us,” he said and walked past Karamatsu with the two younger brothers. Ichimatsu looked down to the floor with a frown while Jyushimatsu shared a wide eyed, uneasy look with Karamatsu, his smile turned upside down. Both of them followed Osomatsu’s lead without complains.

 

Karamatsu was so upset that tears started pouring over his eyes. “Osomatsu! Wait, Osomatsu!!” he shouted and went after the three brothers, passing by the uneasy looking third born. The trio had just put on their shoes and Osomatsu opened the door. “Osomatsu, don’t just leave like that! I-”

 

“Shut up already!” the oldest snapped harsly and guided the two youngest outside in front of himself before he slammed the door close after himself.

 

Karamatsu looked after him stunned for a moment before he started sobbing and hugged the crying youngest close. Carefully Choromatsu walked next to him and laid his hand on his shoulder.

 

“Wh-why is he doing this?! I-I don’t care what he does as long as it doesn’t influence any of you!” He took erratic breaths and nuzzled his head against Todomatsu. “Why he have to drag I-Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu to his side like that?! He- he’s dividing us like this!” he sobbed. “I’m just- I’m just so tired!” Karamatsu cried and leaned his side on Choromatsu who leaned back, looking at the ground in anxiety, lost of what to say.

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu tossed his school bag to the corner angrily. He was so fed up with everything! He hated it all! He couldn’t stand school, he couldn’t stand homework, he couldn’t stand people or teachers and most of all, he couldn’t stand Karamatsu.

 

He kicked the wall with a snarl.

 

“Ichimatsu-niisan,” Jyushimatsu started. “Why are you angry?”

 

Ichimatsu turned to look at him, the irritation visible from his eyes as he bit his teeth together. “I’m so tired of all of this! I’ve had enough!” he told loudly.

 

“Of school?” the second youngest asked.

 

“Of everything!” Ichimatsu answered, throwing his hands up in the air. “I’m leaving. Will you come with me?” he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu frowned confused. “What? Where are you going?”

 

“I’m going to run away! Come, it’ll be much more fun than staying here,” he persuaded his younger brother. He didn’t like it at home. It was so uncomfortable and suffocating. He wanted to leave it behind.

 

“Run away?” Jyushimatsu repeated somewhat uneasily. “But that’s bad.” He knew it was something that kids were not supposed to do.

 

“I don’t care! I just want to get away from here!” the fourth brother said agitated.

 

“Where would we go?”

 

“Anywhere we want,” Ichimatsu said. He didn’t really care, he just wanted to go. “We can come back whenever we feel like it.”

 

Jyushimatsu didn’t want to go anywhere but he didn’t want Ichimatsu to leave alone. The fourth brother could be really impulsive and do stupid things, just like now. “Okay,” Jyushimatsu said.

 

“Great!” Ichimatsu said, his face brightening a little. “Can you go get food from the kitchen while I pack other stuff?” he asked.

 

The fifth born nodded. “Okay,” he said again and turned around on his heels, running out of the room. He ran downstairs and to the kitchen, grabbing a bag and starting to pack food in it. He took a box of cereals, bread, two bananas and juice. He pushed a chair around the floor and climbed on it to reach high shelves.

 

“Jyushi what are you doing?”

 

Jyushimatsu was startled and turned around, standing on the chair. He saw Osomatsu, leaning on the doorway, chewing potato chips lazily and looking tired.

 

Jyushimatsu smiled widely. “We'll go on an adventure!” he told. “We need snacks.”

 

“Oh. Okay, but don’t eat too much of them that you have room for proper food,” the oldest said and left the doorway, leaving Jyushimatsu alone.

 

The second youngest packed the rest of the food and returned to the upstairs where Ichimatsu was waiting for him. “You got what we need?” he asked. Jyushimatsu nodded as an answer. “Good, me too. Then let’s go,” Ichimatsu said and left the room, the second youngest following right behind him.

 

They walked down the stairs. Ichimatsu was huffing with irritation and determination while Jyushimatsu was more uneasy but had decided to follow his brother. Once they had gotten their shoes on, they stepped outside the house and Ichimatsu slammed the door closed.

 

---

 

Karamatsu returned home, his eyebrows knit together in worry. “I’m home,” he called as always and walked further into the house. He glanced to the kitchen where he saw Choromatsu struggling with the homeworks again. “Hello brother. Have you eaten anything yet?” he asked.

 

The third born didn’t look up as he shook his head that he was leaning on his palm. “Not yet,” he answered.

 

Karamatsu nodded even if the other didn’t see it. “I’ll cook something soon,” he said and then took a few steps to get to the living room’s doorway. Osomatsu was watching tv, Totty on his lap who playing with a rattle.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan, do you know if Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu are upstairs?” the second oldest asked.

 

Osomatsu turned to look at him, scratching his back. “I don’t know. I think they went outside,” he said and looked back to the tv.

 

The toddler noticed Karamatsu standing a couple of meters away, and he let out a happy sound, shaking the rattle excitedly and reaching his tiny arms towards him. Karamatsu’s frown melted away and he couldn’t help but walk over to his brothers and pick the toddler up into his arms. “Hi~~ Did you miss me Todomatsu?” the second oldest asked and nuzzled their faces together which made the youngest laugh. “Karamatsu-niisan at least missed you so much! If I could, I’d take you to work with me and everyone would adore you,” he said and arranged Todomatsu to more natural position in his arms. Then he looked back at the oldest and his frown returned.

 

“I got a call from their school,” he said. “No one picked up here so they tried to reach me on my work places. Ichimatsu got into trouble again.” That caught Osomatsu’s attention and he turned to look at Karamatsu with a slight frown on his features. “He has been calling names, cursing and threatening others. But apparently the group of boys he has this quarrel with has done the exact same things.” Karamatsu sighed. “We need to talk to him again. I- I don’t know if he listens to me,” he said.

 

There was a short pause before Osomatsu spoke: “Yeah… We should talk to him. Doesn’t he understand how much he’s putting on risk if he goes on acting that way?”

 

Karamatsu frowned harder, shaking his head and hugging Todomatsu closer to him. “He’s just a child who’s gone through a lot. It’s normal for it to show like this.”

 

“I don’t really know about that…” Osomatsu said.

 

“Did they say where they went?” Karamatsu asked. He thought it would be best to deal with it as soon as possible.

 

“No. I just saw them go out with backpacks and snacks. Jyushimatsu said they’d go on an adventure,” the oldest said shrugging.

 

Karamatsu’s eyes widened. “They did what?! Are you stupid?! Haven’t you heard how often Ichimatsu has been threatening to run away?!!” he shouted, suddenly alarmed. “What did they had with them? Do you think they could have actually done that?!” he asked, chewing his lip in worry.

 

“Well, I don’t think-” the oldests started.

 

“How long ago did they leave?!”

 

“I don’t know, maybe two hours ago.”

 

Karamatsu gave the youngest back to Osomatsu. “I have to go look for them! I’ll be back in a few hours to see if they have returned but now I need to go,” he said and was already on his way to the front door.

 

He almost crashed with the third oldest who had left the kitchen when he had heard the shouting. “Did Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu run away? Are they okay?” Choromatsu asked, frowning nervously.

 

Karamatsu moved him gently out of his way and started to put on his shoes. “I don’t know but I have to find them now!” he said and opened the front door.

 

“Wait, I can come help you!” Choromatsu said, already starting to look for his clothes.

 

“Take care of Todomatsu and eat something,” the second oldest said, not even listening to his younger brother before he stepped outside and closed the door after him.

 

Choromatsu was left to stare at the closed door, his mouth slightly open as he had still been about to say something. He exhaled deeply and relaxed his muscles tiredly. What should he do? He had huge amount of homework because of all evenings he had been working and he was tired but this was their brothers! Would Karamatsu be able to handle this alone? How would he be the most of help?

 

Osomatsu appeared behind him, holding the wiggling and complaining youngest. “Hey, do you think-”

 

“This is all your fault!!” Choromatsu yelled suddenly, whipping his head to meet the oldest’s taken aback eyes. “Why do you have to be so damn indolent?! Couldn’t you for once act like a proper oldest should?!” he shouted angrily and dashed past the oldest and back to the kitchen, where he grabbed his stuff quickly and ran upstairs, leaving Osomatsu behind.

 

---

 

Karamatsu had already searched from all the nearests parks where the boys could have been playing. The parks further away they were not allowed to go without permission. Even when going to the nearests ones they should tell someone. The sun was setting and Karamatsu was growing more scared. Maybe something had happened? Maybe someone had taken them? Or maybe they had actually ran away.

 

Karamatsu was sweating and panting as he ran through the streets, swinging his head from side to side as he tried to spot anything that could give him some idea of where the boys could be. He took a glance to an alleyway and his heart almost stopped as he saw his two younger brothers there. Ichimatsu was crying and Jyushimatsu was sitting next to him, trying to comfort the older brother quietly.

 

“Ichimatsu! Jyushimatsu! Thank god I found you!” Karamatsu exclaimed as he strode to them. The two children turned to look at him as soon as they heard him. The second born dropped down to the ground quickly, starting to fuss around Ichimatsu. “Ichimatsu honey, what happened?” he asked, worry written all over his face.

 

Ichimatsu was swallowing down sobs. He was averting his eyes and holding his wrist with his hand. “Wh-why did you come?! I-I don’t want you here!” he snarled.

 

Karamatsu took a gentle hold on his arm. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

 

The fourth born jerked his arm away angrily. Karamatsu got a glimpse of blood. “Don’t touch me!!”

 

Karamatsu frowned worriedly. “Ichimatsu, you’re hurt! Let me see it now. What happened?” he asked and tried to reach for the arm again.

 

Ichimatsu stood up abruptly, looking at the second oldest, his teeth bared. “Don’t touch me!! Are you deaf or what?! Shittymatsu!!” he yelled.

 

Karamatsu stared at him taken aback. It hurt. Ichimatsu’s words and hostility towards him hurt so much. But this wasn’t about his feelings, nothing was. It was about his brothers and only living family. They were that mattered. Ichimatsu was right in front of him, crying and hurt!

 

“Ichimatsu, I’m your brother. I have to look after you,” Karamatsu said calmly.

 

“Whatever! Screw you, Shittymatsu!!” the younger brother yelled.

 

“Please calm down. Tell me what’s the matter?”

 

“No! Leave me alone!!” the fourth born kept on yelling, upset tears still streaming from his eyes.

 

“Ichimatsu!” Karamatsu said a little louder, more emphatically. “I need to take care of you!”

 

“I don’t want you to take care of me!!”

 

“Then what do you want?!” Karamatsu said, his voice wavering with emotion. “I-I don’t know what I can do with you anymore! Please tell me what do you want and I’ll do that!”

 

Ichimatsu screwed his eyes shut, sobbing louder. “I want mom!” he cried, starting to wail loudly. “I-I want mom and d-dad!!” he wailed, tears streaming down his face.

 

Karamatsu’s already damaged heart broke again as he saw his younger brother hurting so much. Even Jyushimatsu, who had been following the other two’s argument quietly from aside, started sobbing, his eyes already getting wet.

 

Karamatsu crawled closer to the fourth brother, looking at him with a sympathetic and sad look. “Shhh… Ichimatsu, dear, I know,” Karamatsu said, fighting hard not to cry. He wrapped his arms around Ichimatsu who grabbed a tight hold on his hoodie and buried his face into it. He sobbed loudly and miserably, dampening the second oldest’s shirt.

 

“I want mom....!” he wailed.

 

“Shhh…” Karamatsu swallowed down his own sobs as he petted his brother’s hair and drew circles on his back. “I know. I want mom too.”

 

“I-I hate this! I d-don’t want how things are! I-it’s all wrong!!” Ichimatsu cried.

 

“I know, Ichimatsu, I know. I would give everything to get them back. I’d switch myself in their place without hesitation if it meant you could have parents again! I-I’m so sorry for all this!” Karamatsu said, his voice breaking. “I’m so sorry… I k-know I’m not enough for you. We have nothing else but each others. You’re everything I have and it kills me that I can’t ease your pain! I-I know that you’re suffering s-so much but I don’t know wh-what to do!” Karamatsu started sobbing at the end as he hugged Ichimatsu even tighter.

 

Ichimatsu returned the hug. “I-I’m an idiot! I hate being s-sad! I-it hurts too much. I-I… instead I try to be angry,” he sobbed. He knew of course that what had happened was no one’s fault but it had been the easiest to be angry at Karamatsu who had tried to take their mother’s place. It was stupid. He was stupid of thinking it would make him feel any better. Why would he turn against his brothers when they were the only thing he had left?! He wanted their mother and father back so much.

 

Karamatsu sobbed, wiped his eyes to his sleeve and pushed Ichimatsu little further. He turned to look at the third brother present. “Jyushimatsu,” he said, reaching out a hand towards the second youngest.

 

Jyushimatsu was sobbing, tears and snot staining his face, and with his hands he was gripping his jacket’s hem tightly. Karamatsu didn’t need to say more than his name before the second youngest already lunged himself to the other two, hugging them tightly and hiding his face in between them, seeking for comfort.

 

“It’ll be okay. It’ll get easier,” Karamatsu spoke reassuringly as he petted both of his brothers comfortingly. “Ichimatsu, your arm,” he said as he remembered it again. “What happened,” he asked worriedly.

 

The third youngest looked at him, blinking his eyes a few times before stretching his arm and looking at it. He had some scratches on his wrist and palm but they were luckily not deep at all and were even hardly bleeding. “A-a cat scratched it,” he said. He had wanted to be its friend and when the cat had instead scratched him, all his ill feeling had come to the surface and he had started crying. It wasn’t like a cat hadn’t scratched him before, he was just having a really bad day.

 

“Okay,” Karamatsu said. Luckily it was nothing worse than that. He wiped away some of Ichimatsu’s tears. “What do you say we go back home and get that disinfected and then cook something good. We can go get you lollipops on our way back if you want,” he said and stood up.

 

The two younger brothers nodded, wiping their faces to their sleeves. Jyushimatsu cling onto Karamatsu’s arm and even Ichimatsu, who had picked up their bags, walked surprisingly close to him.

 

Karamatsu led them away from the alleyway. He was relieved that nothing worse had happened and that the boys were as okay as they could be. He was also really grateful that Ichimatsu had opened up his feelings even a little. Maybe things would get better between them eventually. There was still the call from the school but it could wait. The poor boy had had enough for one day. Karamatsu wanted now just to get them home and dry their tears.

 

One day it wouldn’t hurt so much anymore.

Chapter Text

Karamatsu dragged himself up from the futon. He was not feeling okay. The entire previous day he had been feeling cold and shivering. His nose was runny and throat sore. He definitely had fever but he couldn’t let it stop himself. His brothers needed him. He could only be grateful that he didn’t have work that day.

 

On his way he snatched a blanket from the couch and wrapped it around himself. He felt dizzy and he knew that the clever choice would be to stay in the bed but he didn’t have that choice. He walked downstairs, leaning heavily on the ceiling to study himself. Even the small amount of moving exhausted him and he was huffing breaths as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He closed his eyes, feeling how the world spun around him, and calmed his breathing. He walked to the bathroom, took a box of medicines from the upper self and sat down heavily on the closed toilet seat.

 

Karamatsu rummaged through the box and took out a thermometer and stared at it for a moment before he put it back. There was no use measuring his temperature. It wouldn’t change anything. Then he took a box of aspirin and took one. He put the box of medical supplies carefully back high on the self and dragged himself to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of water and took his medicine.

 

Karamatsu sighed, screwing his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. His head was hurting. He couched, blow his nose and washed his hands before he started to measure rice for cooking. He was feeling so weak and miserable.

 

---

 

Choromatsu opened his eyes sleepily and turned to glance at the time from the clock. His eyes widened in shock and surprise. He had overslept for over half an hour! He scrambled up from the futon hurriedly, dashing straight to the closet, when he realized that his brothers, everyone else than Karamatsu, were sleeping as well. They had all overslept! What was Karamatsu doing?! He was supposed to wake them up!

 

“Wake up!” Choromatsu said loudly. “It’s over half past seven!” he said as he started to change his clothes in hurry.

 

He heard startled sounds of Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu as they woke up, looking at Choromatsu’s hurry. Totty let out an unhappy squeal and Osomatsu grumbled just as unhappily as Choromatsu turned on the lights. The oldest pulled the youngest closer to himself and pulled up the blankets to cover their heads.

 

Jyushimatsu was getting on his feet and going over to Choromatsu to change his clothes, Ichimatsu following half-asleep behind him. “Where’s Karamatsu-niisan?” Jyushimatsu asked from Choromatsu.

 

Choromatsu was putting on his blazer in hurry. “I don’t know,” he said annoyed. “But we have to be quick not to be late.” Then he turned around glaring daggers at the lump that was Osomatsu. “Osomatsu-niisan get up now!!” he shouted and threw the blanket away from covering him. “Your work starts at eight!”

 

Osomatsu grumbled but sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes. Choromatsu was back at the closet, rummaging through it to find his tie that he grabbed hastily. He would tie it later. He was about to run to the bathroom but glanced at his younger brothers and breathed out uneasily. Ichimatsu was doing okay but Jyushimatsu seemed a bit lost at what clothes he should put on.

 

Choromatsu jerked a shirt away from Jyushimatsu’s hands. “Not that one. It’s dirty,” he said and gave the second youngest a clean shirt. “Here.” Then he took out other clothes and placed them in front of Jyushimatsu for him to wear. “Ichimatsu, could you,” he said. Ichimatsu nodded and Jyushimatsu was already putting on his right clothes.

 

Choromatsu dashed to the door but he turned to look one more time at Osomatsu. “Now!” he yelled emphatically and high-pitched and left the room.

 

He ran down the stairs and to the kitchen. Karamatsu was there, wrapped tightly in a blanket and fast asleep, sitting on a kitchen chair, hugging his knees. Choromatsu frowned irritated. Karamatsu was just sleeping here and now they might all be late!

 

“Karamatsu-niisan!” the third born said sharply and Karamatsu jolted, opening his eyes. “You didn’t wake us and it’s quarter to eight!” Choromatsu said, demanding for some sort of explanation.

 

The second oldest jumped up to his feet, quickly taking a hold of the chair’s backrest to steady himself. He swallowed, taking a few deep breaths before he turned to look at Choromatsu with his hazy eyes. “Brother I’m sorry I-” he slurred but Choromatsu cut him off.

 

“Are you sick?” Choromatsu asked eyes wide and all of the irritation gone as he had realized his brother’s state. “Karamatsu-niisan?” he asked as he walked closer.

 

Karamatsu gave him a weak smile. “I’m afraid I may have caught a flu,” he said.

 

“You look really bad! What are you doing up?! You should have woken me or Osomatsu-niisan up and told us you were sick,” Choromatsu said. “Go to the bed now!” he ordered.

 

Karamatsu coughed, placing a hand in front of his mouth, before he looked at Choromatsu again. “No no. I need to get you all to school. It’s-” he started and looked at the clock, his eyes widening slightly as he really realized the time. “We need to hurry!” he said and started walking past Choromatsu.

 

Choromatsu followed right behind him. “Yes but you need to lay down!” he insisted.

 

Osomatsu ran down the stairs, fully dressed and dashing to the bathroom. “Karamatsu make me something to eat on my way to work!” he said on his way.

 

“He’s sick!” Choromatsu yelled after the oldest.

 

Osomatsu stopped and turned to look back at Karamatsu, who was already going up the stairs, surprised. “Oh! Try to get some rest. I have to go now not to be too badly late,” he said and disappeared into the bathroom.

 

Choromatsu frowned as he watched after the oldest before he ran after Karamatsu. The second oldest was leaning on their room’s door frame, the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders as he hurried the two boys. “And don’t forget to check that you have your pencil cases with you. Ichimatsu could you make sure that Jyushimatsu tucks his shirt under his pants. Now go quickly to eat something,” he said as he walked to the youngest and scooped him up from the futon where he had been left alone as Osomatsu had ran away.

 

Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu ran past Choromatsu, who walked over to the second oldest and took Todomatsu from him. Karamatsu turned to look at him with a frown. “I can handle Totty,” Choromatsu said.

 

“But brother, you need to hurry to school as well!” Karamatsu said, trying to take Totty back.

 

The third born didn’t let him. “No, I’ll stay home today,” he said. “You need rest or you might get something more serious.”

 

Karamatsu frowned, shaking his head. “Out of the question. I’ll be alright by myself.”

 

“Totty needs a lot of attention and activities and can be quite a handful as you very well know. And you need to be able to sleep. I will call the school and tell them I can’t come today,” Choromatsu said. Karamatsu opened his mouth to argue but Choromatsu didn’t let him. “We can continue this later but now we need to get Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu to school.”

 

Karamatsu closed his mouth and nodded. Choromatsu tried to insist that he would stay in their room and go back to sleep but Karamatsu was going to do no such thing, so they both went downstairs, Choromatsu still holding Totty in his arms.

 

On the hallway they saw Osomatsu holding Jyushimatsu’s backpack high in the air while the second youngest laughed and jumped up and down in attempt to reach it. Osomatsu snickered and lowered it between Jyushimatsu’s jumps, only to lift it again higher. As Osomatsu heard the others come downstairs he quickly gave the backpack back to Jyushimatsu and dashed to the front door. “I’m going, I’m going!” he said and left before neither Karamatsu nor Choromatsu could nag at him.

 

“He’s an idiot,” Choromatsu mumbled under his breath.

 

Jyushimatsu was smiling as he turned to look at his older brother, laughter still in his eyes from playing with Osomatsu. Then he tilted his head to the side. “Karamatsu-niisan are you sick?” he asked.

 

Karamatsu frowned , not happy that his brothers saw him in his weak state. Quickly he turned his frown into a smile. “Yes, I’m a little sick. But you need to hurry now,” Karamatsu said as he guided the second youngest to the kitchen.

 

Ichimatsu was making sandwiches and turned to look up at his brothers. He frowned a little as he studied the second oldest face but didn’t say anything. After he had finished with the sandwiches, he gave other one to Jyushimatsu, who thanked him happily. The two of them started eating them quickly.

 

Karamatsu sniffled and Choromatsu turned to look at him, frowning. “Are you sure that’s enough for you? There’s also rice,” the second oldest said to the younger boys.

 

Ichimatsu was already going, the sandwich half eaten. “We don’t have time. Jyushimatsu, to the bathroom and then we go,” he said.

 

The second youngest nodded, stuffing the food inside his mouth. “Okay,” he said mouth full and strode quickly after his brother.

 

Choromatsu had walked to the counter and turned on the kettle again to make the water boiling again. He took out a cup and tea.

 

Karamatsu sat down on a chair, sighing deeply and rubbing his temple. “Alright Choromatsu. Now it’s your turn to hurry and go,” he said.

 

Choromatsu was leaning on the counter, holding Totty and looking at Karamatsu unimpressed. “I’m not going to back down on this,” he said. The water boiled and he poured it into the cup, putting a teabag in it and placed it on the table in front of Karamatsu. “I’m not going to leave you here alone,” he said and sat down across the table.

 

“But brother your school is important.”

 

“Karamatsu-niisan,” Choromatsu said, taking a deep breath as if he was about to start a lecture. “You if anyone understand that family’s benefit is more important than individual’s, right?”

 

“Yes… but-”

 

“To our family it’s extremely important that you get healthy. And to make it happen, you need rest,” the third oldest said. “By the same logic it’s beneficial to our family that I stay home.” His stare softened a little. “You, all of you, are more important than some stupid school,” he said.

 

Karamatsu stayed quiet for a moment then he sighed. “Fine, you won,” he said tiredly.

 

Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu appeared on the doorway. “We go now!” Jyushimatsu announced and the two of them were gone as soon as they had put on their shoes.

 

“Have a good day!” Choromatsu called after them and Karamatsu had been trying to do the same but ended up having a coughing fit. The third oldest turned to look at him with determined look. “Drink your tea and eat something if you feel like it. Then go to bed,” he ordered his older brother. “Have you taken medicine?”

 

Karamatsu took a sip from his tea. “Yes,” he answered. “Thank you Choromatsu, this is really sweet but you don’t need to worry about me,” he reassured.

 

“I won’t worry as much as soon as you’re laying down,” Choromatsu said and stood up. “I’ll change Totty’s diaper and then feed him. And don’t worry, I know what he needs.”

 

The second oldest nodded. “Thank you. And you’ll come ask me if you need help or are unsure about anything,” he made sure.

 

“Yes, yes,” Choromatsu said as he left the room. “Just go to to bed already.”

 

---

 

Choromatsu was preparing cooking as Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu came back from school. Most of his day had passed playing with Totty and keeping him company while trying to do some of his homework and he had also read through job openings. He had a good place where he was working and his boss had promised to give him more hours if he asked, but he couldn’t help but to be curious if there would be something with better pay or maybe some short odd jobs? He had gotten Todomatsu to sleep some time ago.

 

Jyushimatsu yelled that they were back and continued telling his funny story to Ichimatsu. At least Choromatsu believed it was funny from the way Jyushimatsu was telling it excited and half laughing. The two passed the kitchen door, going to the living room, and Choromatsu could see a small smile on Ichimatsu’s face as he listened to his brother’s story.

 

Choromatsu smiled as he started cutting vegetables. He was really happy that Ichimatsu seemed to be doing a little better after he had had some sort of talk with Karamatsu. It was a big relief.

 

The third oldest walked across the hall and peeked into the living room. “How was your school?” he asked.

 

“Good!” Jyushimatsu said with a wide smile.

 

“Normal,” said Ichimatsu.

 

Choromatsu nodded. “Good. I’m trying to cook something so try to do your homeworks before we eat okay?” he asked. Both of them nodded in agreement, Ichimatsu slowly but Jyushimatsu eagerly. Choromatsu smiled at them. “Good.”

 

“Choromatsu-niisan, how is Karamatsu-niisan?” Jyushimatsu asked, when the third born was about to leave.

 

Choromatsu stopped. “He’s been sleeping which is good. He’ll be better soon,” he said, smiling at his little brothers.

 

Jyushimatsu’s smile widened. “Okay, good!”

 

Choromatsu returned to the kitchen and continued cutting things. He was making a wok. It should be easy enough since he only needed to fry things, right? He was really bad at cooking. He always managed to burn things, overcook or undercook them. He didn’t know how to use spices and something was always off with his cookings. This time he would be careful. It would be fine as long as he got his brothers’ stomachs filled.

 

After some time, when he had cooked the meat already and had just added the vegetables on the pan, he heard a growing crying from the upstairs. Totty had woken up.

 

Quickly Choromatsu washed his hands and appeared to the living room doorway. “Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu, watch after the food while I go get Totty. You don’t need to do anything but stir it so that it doesn’t burn,” he said and got nods for an answer.

 

The third oldest left the room and went quickly to the upstairs. On the hallway he met dizzy, feverish looking Karamatsu, who had just scrambled up and was heading towards their parents’ room, where Totty was crying.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan what are you doing?” Choromatsu asked as he got next to him.

 

Karamatsu looked at him with drowsy eyes. “Totty was crying and no one was coming to get him,” he said and made his way inside the room.

 

“I was coming,” Choromatsu said, following after his older brother. “And I am here. Go back to sleep. I can handle him.”

 

Karamatsu only hummed halfheartedly in response as he kneeled down and picked Totty up from the futon. “Hi my sweet little star~~” he cooed with his hoarse voice, smiling at his brother. Totty stopped crying immediately as soon as he wasn’t alone anymore. He reached to pat Karamatsu’s face.

 

The second oldest let out a chuckle. “I’m happy to see you too,” he said. “Should we go get you something to eat? Are you hungry Totty?”

 

Choromatsu stepped closer, reaching for the youngest and waiting for Karamatsu to give him to him. “No, you’re not going anywhere but back to bed. I’ll take care of Totty,” he said.

 

“No, I can do something,” Karamatsu said, standing up and hugging Todomatsu close to him.

 

Choromatsu inhaled deeply. “You need to sleep. Do you want me to go through the reasons why again?” he asked, crossing his arms and frowning at Karamatsu.

 

“You know I’m still older than you.”

 

“I refuse to acknowledge your authority when you’re sick and wanting to do stupid things,” Choromatsu said.

 

Karamatsu chuckled lightly. “Is that so?” He looked at the third oldest with an uneasy frown and then he looked at the youngest on his arms. “Fine,” he said finally. “You’re right of course.”

 

“Good that you realized that finally,” Choromatsu said and took Todomatsu now that Karamatsu allowed him. “You’ll go to bed now.”

 

“I will, I will. But honestly I could do something little to help you.” Choromatsu opened his mouth to say something so Karamatsu continued quickly: “But I’ll go lay down! I’m just saying that tell me if you need help,” he said.

 

“Yeah, but it’s the other way around. You should tell us if you need something,” Choromatsu said as they started to walk out of the room.

 

“Okay, I will. Thank you,” Karamatsu said.

 

“Are you hungry?” Choromatsu asked. “I’m trying to cook something now. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu came back a while ago.”

 

“No, I don’t have the appetite,” Karamatsu said.

 

“Something to drink?”

 

Karamatsu hesitated for a moment. “Maybe tea. But I can-”

 

“No, I’ll get it to you,” Choromatsu said firmly.

 

“Alright, thank you,” Karamatsu said. “Take care of things for me, brother,” he said, brushed Totty’s hair and dragged himself back to their shared room.

 

Choromatsu sighed. Karamatsu was worrying too much. He was trying to carry everything on his shoulders. He should learn to trust in his brothers to help him.

 

The third oldest rearranged Todomatsu in his arms. “Let’s go to the kitchen,” he said and started taking them downstairs. He kept thinking about Karamatsu, feeling guilty. It wasn’t like Karamatsu had asked for the role he was in. There was just no one else who could have taken it. Choromatsu had school and Osomatsu would not be able to do it. Without Karamatsu, they would most likely had fallen apart already. Choromatsu wished he could do something more to his family. He felt so useless, spending long days, learning unimportant things at school.

 

He got to the kitchen and instantly smelled burned food. Choromatsu started hissing mild curses, putting Totty to the ground, and then he dashed to the pan, stirring the wok quickly. The pieces touching the pan were black and burned. Hissing more Choromatsu added some water which made a loud fizz, spits of greasy water flying all around, and moved the pan away from the hot stove.

 

Choromatsu looked at the burnt food disappointedly. Some of it could be saved but he felt really annoyed. He stomped to the living room irritated. The two younger brothers were playing there happily together. “I told you to watch over the food!” Choromatsu said.

 

Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu turned to look at him. “But only a couple of minutes have passed,” Ichimatsu said.

 

“Yes but things burn fast!” Choromatsu said and rubbed his face with his hands. It was no use of yelling to them. He sighed. “Just next time when you need to make sure that the food doesn’t burn, go stir it often. And if it still looks like it might burn, you can turn off the stove,” he said.

 

“Sorry,” Ichimatsu mumbled sincerely.

 

“Sorry Choromatsu-niisan,” Jyushimatsu said.

 

Choromatsu shook his head. “It’s okay. Try to learn from this, okay?”

 

“Okay,” both of the boys answered.

 

Todomatsu ran passed Choromatsu’s legs towards the two other brothers. “Totty!” Jyushimatsu said happily, spreading his arms.

 

Todomatsu giggled and dashed into his lap. “Jyushi-niitan!” he giggled.

 

Jyushimatsu petted his head. “Do you want to play, Totty?” The youngest nodded happily. “Okay! You and Ichimatsu-niisan go hide and I’ll be a dog, trying to sniff you out!” he said, barking playfully as he tickled laughing Todomatsu.

 

“Why a dog?” Ichimatsu muttered.

 

Choromatsu smiled at them as he turned to return to the kitchen. “Stay downstairs not to bother Karamatsu-niisan,” he said and started to prepare tea for the second oldest.

 

---

 

After some time they had just finished eating when Osomatsu returned home. The younger boys had started playing again, squealing loudly and Choromatsu had started cleaning up things.

 

“I’m back,” Osomatsu called and dragged himself to the kitchen where Choromatsu was. His eyes lit up a little. “Oh, you got food here!”

 

“Yeah but there isn’t that much wok left. Some of it got burned,” Choromatsu said.

 

“I guess you cooked it then,” Osomatsu said smirking and started scraping what was left of the food to a bowl he took out.

 

Choromatsu cast him an irritated glare. He knew that he sucked at cooking but did Osomatsu have to tease him about it on purpose. He had tried his best. “Karamatsu haven’t yet eaten,” he said annoyed.

 

“He hasn’t?” Osomatsu asked as he had taken almost all of the wok already. “Did you ask him?”

 

“He said he doesn’t have the appetite.”

 

“Oh! Well then it’s okay if I eat the rest,” Osomatsu said, scraping the last pieces of meat and vegetables into his bowl.

 

“Hey!” Choromatsu yelled, turning to look at him annoyed.

 

“What? He can eat something else when he’s hungry,” the oldest said and went to take rice.

 

Choromatsu grumbled something unintelligible as he started to wash the dishes.

 

Osomatsu sat down on a kitchen chair and started to stuff food into his mouth. “So how is Karamatsu?” he asked. Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu ran past the kitchen doorway, laughing loudly, while Ichimatsu jogged after them, shouting for them to slow down. Osomatsu let out a chuckle as he watched them.

 

Choromatsu shrugged. “Same as before. I’ve ordered him to sleep but when he gets up for whatever reason, it’s always so hard to get him to go back to bed,” he said.

 

“He’s always stressing too much,” Osomatsu said.

 

“He is but I think there is a good reason for that. Someone isn’t stressing enough,” Choromatsu said meaningfully. The younger boys ran now to the other way in the hallway, screaming.

 

“Well maybe someone knows that things doesn’t turn better just by worrying over them,” Osomatsu said back.

 

“Well, could you then do something about them!” the third oldest snapped, turning to look at Osomatsu. “You should do more! Karamatsu-niisan is sick and suddenly everything is a mess because of that! And that’s so little thing! If something happened that would cost us a lot of money, we’d be doomed!” he said agitated. The screaming from the hallway continued and Choromatsu focused his attention on it, stomping out of the kitchen. “Hey now! Stop yelling so much! Karamatsu-niisan have to sleep and he can’t if you’re shouting so much!,” he told to the younger ones.

 

Osomatsu finished his bowl quickly. As he was done, he stood up, starting to leave the room. Choromatsu came back, casted a scowl at the oldest but didn’t say anything as he continued washing the dishes.

 

“Thanks for the food,” Osomatsu said as he left the room. He headed upstairs, wanting to go quickly check on the second oldest. He opened the door to their room and saw Karamatsu sleeping on the futon. Osomatsu creeped closer and Karamatsu inhaled deeply, turning towards him and cracking his eyes open.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan?” he asked, looking at him hazily.

 

Osomatsu smiled and sat down next to him. “Yep, it’s me. How are you feeling?” he asked.

 

“Honestly I wish better. I feel like I should just sleep for a few days and hope it has gotten better by then,” Karamatsu said, rubbing his eye tiredly.

 

“Then do that. It’s okay and you really should actually. You strain yourself always too much,” the oldest said.

 

Karamatsu coughed. “I just do what I can do for us,” he said.

 

“You sure do but-” Osomatsu was cut off by a sudden cry that was followed by loud wailing. It was Todomatsu and it was different crying from his ‘I want attention’ crying. It was how he cried when he had hurt himself.

 

As soon as he had heard it, Karamatsu had tossed away the blanket and he was already dashing out of the room. Osomatsu was following after him. The second oldest got to the hallway and he saw how on the lower end of the stairs, Todomatsu was crying heartbreakingly. The gates, preventing Totty from climbing the stairs on his own, were open. Choromatsu appeared from the kitchen, going to the youngest’s help.

 

Karamatsu ran down the stairs, kneeled to the ground and scooped Todomatsu in his arms quickly. “Todomatsu it’s okay. Hey, you’re fine. I’m here. Did you get owie?” he spoke reassuringly but worried.

 

The youngest had immediately clung on his clothes as he wailed and hiccupped. “Kawamatu-niichaaaan!”

 

“Shhh, shhhh. Totty it’s okay,” Karamatsu spoke, hugging and petting him comfortingly. “Now Totty look at me, where does it hurt?”

 

The youngest cried and lifted his head up to meet Karamatsu’s worried look. Karamatsu’s eyes widened slightly as he saw a scratch on Todomatsu’s forehead were a thin line of crimson had surfaced under the broken skin.

 

“Oh my poor baby,” Karamatsu said, feeling bad for his brother and brushing the youngest’s hair gently. “We need to make the owie go away with a band-aid.”

 

Osomatsu and Choromatsu had been standing next to the two. The oldest stepped the last steps down. “I can go get them,” he said.

 

Upon hearing his voice, Karamatsu turned sharply to glare at Osomatsu angrily. “You left the gate open!” he shouted. “Can’t you understand such a simple thing as that?!”

 

“I just came quickly to check up on you,” the oldest said taken aback and defensively.

 

“You just quickly- What’s the matter with you?! You have to close the gates every single time!!” Karamatsu shouted, standing up Totty in his arms. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had appeared to the living room doorway to follow what was happening.

 

“I-” Osomatsu was cut off.

 

“I don’t care what you do! Get drunk and skip work as long as you keep our brothers safe and take care of them. God! Why do you have to be like this?! I’m so tired! Could you for once act like the oldest?!” Karamatsu shouted, his hoarse voice almost failing him. He turned around, starting to walk towards the bathroom to patch Totty up. “I’m just so fucking tired! I don’t know how much longer I can push myself like this if you’re doing nothing to help me...” his voice started to sound teary as he disappeared to the bathroom.

Chapter Text

Osomatsu was on a walk, chain smoking cigarettes as he went. He was feeling really shitty after the fight with Karamatsu, or rather Karamatsu lashing out at him. He knew that he deserved it but it didn’t make him feel any better.

 

Why couldn’t he be a better big brother? He had gradually realized just how much he sucked at it. He did what he could but didn’t do even that well. Exhibit one; Totty had hurt himself because of his stupidity.

 

Osomatsu bit his teeth together out of frustration and anger to himself. God, he hated himself! He leaned onto the wall of the building next to him and took out his pack of cigarettes, picking out a new one and lighting it up. He took a deep drag and tried to let it relax his nerves but it didn’t help at all. Fucking cigarettes were betraying him as well. Okay, fine, maybe he had been smoking a little too much lately but it was still really annoying that even them didn’t make him feel better.

 

Taking another drag, Osomatsu looked to his side and could see few blocks ahead of him a sign of a pachinko parlour. He wanted to go there so badly but this time he didn’t want to let his brothers down any more. He couldn’t gamble away their money. Jyushimatsu’s shoes were broken and they should buy him a new ones but they couldn’t before paying the electricity bill in case it would be more than they had expected.

 

Osomatsu breathed in the smoke again and rubbed his face tiredly with his hand. Why had everything turned out so badly for them? He understood himself since he had always been ungrateful piece of shit but his sweet little brothers didn’t deserve any of the hardship they were going through. Sometimes Osomatsu just couldn’t help but wonder if he should let the social workers to take his brothers away from home into an orphanage or a foster home. At least they would get everything they needed there and the adults there would know how to take care of them.

 

But he was selfish and wanted to keep them at home. His brothers were the only thing that mattered to him anymore and he was sure that if he lost or gave up the custody to them, he would stop trying even the little he was doing now and he would just break, not taking care of himself anymore. Besides, Karamatsu would never let anyone take the boys away from him.

 

Osomatsu sighed, dropped the cigarette butt to the ground and stomped on it to put it out. He should return to home. It wasn’t fair that he let Karamatsu do all the work, heck he was even sick now, and yet still he had just escaped the situation outside. He felt really bad about Karamatsu’s harsh words even if they were justified. Still part of him was irritated that Karamatsu spoke like that to him. He was the oldest and all the rest of them were his little brothers. They should show him respect. If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t all be together anymore.

 

He frowned troubled as he thought about poor Totty. He should try to make it up to him even if the toddler wouldn’t understand that but it would make Osomatsu feel little better. He should also do something fun with the boys. That he was good at. But when things got more serious, he felt lost and helpless.

 

Maybe he could just act like nothing had happened between him and Karamatsu? Apologizing was something he was not good at. It was too awkward and nerve-wracking. So he just usually didn’t do that and things would be fine after a while anyways.

 

Putting his hands into his pockets, Osomatsu started to walk home gloomy, his head hanging low.

 

---

 

“I’m back,” Osomatsu announced his return spiritlessly as he stepped inside their house. It was already evening and the youngest boys should go to bed soon. Tiredly he took off his shoes, leaning on the wall for support with his hand.

 

Jyushimatsu appeared to the hallway, smiling a bit warily at the oldest. “Welcome back Osomatsu-niisan!” he said.

 

Osomatsu smiled at him. “Hello Jyushimatsu,” he said kindly. “Is everything okay here?” he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu closed his open mouth and nodded. “Mmm. Karamatsu-niisan calmed down and Totty is sleeping,” he said.

 

Osomatsu nodded as well. “Good,” he said and ruffled the second youngest’s hair when passing him by as he walked further inside the house. “Have you bathed yet?” he asked even if he knew he hadn’t, judging by his dry hair and the fact that he wasn’t wearing his pajamas.

 

“Not yet,” Jyushimatsu said and his smile was back. “Choromatsu-niisan is in the ofuro now,” he said.

 

“Okay then,” Osomatsu said, smiling at him. “But you and Ichimatsu should be the next ones,” he said.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded. “We are!”

 

“Good,” Osomatsu said, flashing him a playful grin. A glance to the living room showed that Ichimatsu was in there. The tv was on but the brother was looking at the door, his eyes meeting with Osomatsu’s. The oldest waved at him. “Hi Ichimatsu,” he greeted.

 

“Welcome back,” Ichimatsu mumbled while Jyushimatsu ran towards him and jumped on the couch next to him, giggling. Ichimatsu narrowed his eyes and tried to push the younger brother further which only led to Jyushimatsu crawling onto his lap.

 

Osomatsu couldn’t help but smile at how adorable the two were. They truly were perfect. They deserved only the best.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan, I need to talk with you,” Karamatsu called from behind him from the kitchen.

 

Osomatsu tensed up, not realizing that Karamatsu had been in there. He swallowed uneasily as he turned around, nervous and uncomfortable. He really didn’t want another lecture. There was always the threat that he would just start yelling to defend himself and say some really bad stuff. He was also not going to apologize. It just felt always so unnatural and forced.

 

“Hi Karamatsu,” Osomatsu said friendly but carefully. The second oldest was standing in the middle of the room, a blanket wrapped around himself and looking at Osomatsu seriously. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” the oldest asked, scratching his arm awkwardly.

 

Karamatsu shrugged, averting his eyes. “I have to get the boys to sleep,” he answered and sat down on a chair.

 

Of course you do, ” Osomatsu thought but bit his lip not to say it out loud. “You know, Choromatsu could do that too,” he said as he walked to the sink and poured himself a glass of water.

 

Karamatsu met his eyes with a firm, almost sharp look, his eyebrows knit together. Even if he was sick and feverish looking, the look was still enough to make Osomatsu to halt for a second. “Choromatsu is pushing himself already over the limit,” the second oldest said strongly despite his hoarse voice. “He’s sixteen and under so much stress that he feels like he have to provide for our family. It hurts me to see him so worn out and anxious all the time. Don’t make him do anything unless necessary,” he ended, keeping the intense eye contact.

 

Osomatsu blinked little taken aback. “Okay, you’re right. But I’m home now so I can take care of everything,” he said conciliatorily. Karamatsu still hadn’t said why he had wanted to talk with him and the oldest didn’t want to make him any angrier.

 

Karamatsu sighed and nodded. “Thank you. I’d really wish to go to bed soon,” he said and rubbed his face, suddenly looking dead tired. “If I feel better tomorrow, I’ll go to work.”

 

“What?” Osomatsu said surprised. “You can’t go to work tomorrow. That’s for sure,” he said and sat down on a chair across Karamatsu. “Okay, I’ll call your boss tomorrow morning so that you don’t have to get up. Which job did you have then?” he asked, frowning unsure.

 

“Convenience store. But I can-”

 

“No, let me help you. Alright?” Osomatsu looked him in the eyes with a small, reassuring smile.

 

The second oldest sighed again. “Alright. If that won’t be too much to ask from you, I’d be grateful,” he agreed.

 

“Sure, no problem,” the oldest said and smiled a little wider. “You need some rest too. So, ummm, where’s Totty?” he asked then, more awkward. He felt really bad for being responsible for the youngest hurting himself.

 

“I got him to fall asleep half an hour ago. He’s at mom and dad’s room. I thought I should sleep there with him. I don’t want anyone else to get sick,” the second oldest said and then bit his lip, frowning slightly. “Osomatsu-niisan, I actually wanted to apologize to you. I shouldn’t have spoken like that to you. I’m sorry,” he said.

 

Osomatsu blinked a few times, surprised. Why was Karamatsu apologizing to him? Sure, he said some harsh words but shouldn’t it still be the other way around? “I… Well, don’t worry about it. We’re all under a lot of stress here so it’s okay,” he said and mentally kicked himself for being unable to say that he was sorry too.

 

Karamatsu offered him a small smile. “Thanks, you-” he didn’t get his sentence finished as he started coughing, quickly turning his head to the side.

 

Osomatsu frowned and pushed his half empty glass of water to his brother. “Take something for that throat and go to sleep,” he said.

 

“I-I’m fine…” Karamatsu said, squinting his eyes as he was still coughing.

 

“The ofuro is free,” Choromatsu said as he stepped to the doorway, wearing pajamas and drying his hair with a towel. He narrowed his eyes as he saw Osomatsu. “Oh. You’re back.”

 

Osomatsu felt bad, hearing his fed up voice, but he wouldn’t let it show. “Good to see you too Choromatsu,” he said and flashed him a smile which only made the younger brother to inhale a breath, looking irritated.

 

Karamatsu coughed one more time before sneezing. Choromatsu turned his focus on him. “Karamatsu-niisan, please go get some rest already,” he said.

 

The second oldest stood up, wiping his nose to the back of his hand while sniffling. “I’m on my way,” he said. “But you should go too. Osomatsu-niisan is here now and he’ll take care of everything this evening.”

 

Choromatsu glanced at the oldest quickly through narrowed eyes. “No, I think I’ll watch after Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu. You’ll be with Todomatsu, right?” he asked.

 

“Yes I will but please let Osomatsu-niisan-” Karamatsu started.

 

“No, I still have to do some homework so making sure the two of them go to bed won’t be a problem,” the third brother said and turned his gaze at the oldest. “I don’t know when Osomatsu-niisan will disappear somewhere again.”

 

“Hey. I’m not going anywhere,” Osomatsu said, frowning.

 

“Oh sorry of course not,” Choromatsu said sarcastically. “Karamatsu-niisan go to bed now,” he said much more sympathetically.

 

Karamatsu sighed and walked past him to leave the kitchen. “Alright. I should really go lay down. But you need a good rest too, alright?” he said meaningfully to Choromatsu. “I’ll just say goodnight to the boys,” he said and left the room.

 

Osomatsu’s and Choromatsu’s eyes met and Choromatsu averted his quickly, crossing his arms and going to the fridge. Osomatsu frowned uncomfortable. “Choromatsu are you angry to me?” he asked. Maybe if he could just talk things through with him?

 

The third oldest stayed quiet for a moment, took a pudding from the fridge and turned to look at Osomatsu again. “You’re just so god damn indolent. When we fall apart or everything goes to shit, it will be because of you,” he stated and scrunched up his nose irritated. “And I hate when you reek of cigarette smoke! Couldn’t you stop even that?!” he snapped and left the room as well.

 

Osomatsu bit his lip uneasily, lowering his gaze to the table and pressed his nails hard into his palms.

 

---

 

Choromatsu had just come back from the school and made his way to the fridge. A note on its door caught his attention. It said: “ Going to the supermarket with Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu. Will stay at the park for some time. Be back around five. - Karamatsu”

 

Choromatsu glanced at the clock and saw that it was twenty to five. They would be back soon and then Karamatsu would start cooking for sure. But Choromatsu had had a long day at school and he was starving so he started to look for something to eat.

 

When he was searching through the nearly empty fridge, the phone started ringing. Choromatsu straightened his back and closed the fridge’s door, starting to walk with quick steps to the hallway and to the phone.

 

He lifted up the receiver and pressed it against his ear. “Matsuno household, Choromatsu speaking,” he answered politely.

 

Good afternoon Choromatsu-kun. This is Hamasaki from the restaurant where your oldest brother Osomatsu-kun is working. Is he there?” a pleasant-sounding man asked from the other end of the phone.

 

Choromatsu’s eyebrows arched up in surprise. Osomatsu was supposed to be at work so why- He narrowed his eyes and clenched his fist while baring his teeth. He swore he would kill him if he had skipped his work yet again! “I’m sorry, I don’t actually know where he is but I’ll be sure to tell him you called,” the third born said, trying not to sound as furious as he felt.

 

I see. Thank you. Could you tell him that I hope to see him tomorrow?”

 

“Yes, of course,” Choromatsu answered.

 

Good, thank you. Have a good day,” the man said before ending the call.

 

“You too,” Choromatsu said, lowered the receiver and stared at it for a couple of seconds in silence. This was bad. This was so bad! Would Osomatsu finally get fired? Honestly Choromatsu couldn’t blame his boss for doing that. He must have been a shitty employee. Just the way he sucked at everything because he didn’t even try.

 

Suddenly the third born slammed the receiver to its place and stormed to upstairs. He slammed the door to their room open and took in an angry, sharp breath as he saw Osomatsu laying on the futon, reading a comic book. Choromatsu stomped closer, kicked him to the side and snatched away his book, tossing it to the other end of the room. “What the hell is wrong with you?!!” he shouted mad.

 

Osomatsu was looking at him, eyes wide with surprise while rubbing his side. “Woah, woah! Choromatsu? You’re asking what’s wrong with me?” he said puzzled but still trying to use humour.

 

“You’re supposed to be at work right now!! Why the hell are you at home?! Your boss just called to see if you were here!” the younger brother shouted agitated.

 

Osomatsu sat up. “He did? Crap. You know Choromatsu, I slept in again and I was just so tired-”

 

“I don’t care!! You’re excuses suck!! You’re going to lose that job!!” Choromatsu shouted. He had started to pull his own hair in his stress.

 

“Wow, hey, Choromatsu, it’s alright!” the oldest said finally standing up and reaching his hand towards the younger brother, who slapped it away furiously. “I’m gonna get myself together, I promise. I won’t lose that place,” Osomatsu said in attempt to calm down his brother.

 

“No!” Choromatsu shrieked, the look in his eyes wild and unstable. “I don’t trust you! You’re no good at anything!” he shouted, clasping his hands to the sides of his head. He looked down to the floor and took in a deep breath. His voice shaking with emotion he continued, avoiding the oldest’s eyes. “We won’t survive like this! This is not working.”

 

“No no no, Choromatsu! It’s alright. We will survive,” Osomatsu said, trying to meet his eyes but the third brother avoided his look stubbornly.

 

“No, we won’t!” Choromatsu shouted louder again, looking the oldest hard in the eyes. “Karamatsu-niisan is working so hard to provide us and make sure we survive and I’ll do the same since you are not doing it! I’ll drop out of high school and start working full time!” he stated, shouting.

 

Osomatsu stared at him eyes wide in surprise, mouth slightly open. “What?” he asked.

 

“I’ll stop my stupid, no use school and start actually to do much more to help us!” Choromatsu shouted.

 

“You can’t do that!” Osomatsu said back to him.

 

The third brother let out a dry, humourless laugh. “I can and I will! I hate every hour I spend sitting at school, thinking how I could be doing something much more useful! Something that would actually help us!”

 

“No Choromatsu! You have to study!” Osomatsu said emphatically. “You’re so clever and actually have a chance to get a good profession and job but you can’t drop out!”

 

Choromatsu was gritting his teeth. “If things were different, then maybe yes. But the thing is that our life sucks! Do you think there would ever be a possibility to get me into a university or something?! That’s never gonna happen!!”

 

Osomatsu frowned anxiously. It was so true that it hurt. There was no way he and Karamatsu could give the boys the future they deserved. “But you can’t stop your high school studies,” he said eyebrows knit together in distress. Where was Karamatsu?! He would surely solve this thing much better than the he was doing.

 

“I can! It’s no use when I can’t continue studying after that anyway!!” the third born shouted. He turned around on his heels and walked out of the room, heading downstairs.

 

Osomatsu was following right behind him. “Wait Choromatsu! Let’s talk about this like proper adults. We-”

 

“Hah! You’re not a proper adult!” the third born said snarky.

 

“Okay fair, but let’s sit down and stop all the shouting, okay?”

 

Choromatsu turned around so abruptly that the oldest nearly bumped into him. “No! What would that help?! Besides, I don’t wanna talk with you!!”

 

“I hear you but-”

 

“We’re back!” Jyushimatsu’s voice boomed inside the house and the two arguing brothers could hear the rest of their brothers returning home.

 

Osomatsu turned to look back at Choromatsu. “Let’s calm down and talk this over, alright? Just don’t do anything rash, okay?”

 

“It’s not rash!!” Choromatsu shouted and the voices of their brothers silenced quickly. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot!”

 

“Brothers, what’s going on?” Karamatsu asked as he walked to them, frowning in worry and carrying Todomatsu in his arms. He moved his gaze from one brother to another, looking for some sort of explanation.

 

Osomatsu turned to look at Karamatsu. He really needed his support and clever words right now. The second oldest would know how to handle this. “Choromatsu wants to drop out of high school,” he said, giving Karamatsu a look, asking for help.

 

“What?” Karamatsu said surprised and turned to face the third brother. “Is that true? Why would you want to do that?” he asked, studying his brother’s face worriedly.

 

Choromatsu bit his lip. “It’s for the best,” he said. “We need money and my school is useless,” he said, looking at Karamatsu confident.

 

Karamatsu seemed to be at loss with words for a few seconds. “But you can’t do that!” he said emphatically.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan, we need more money and you can’t possibly work any more. And Osomatsu-niisan on the other hand isn’t much help,” Choromatsu said. “My boss said he would let me take more hours, even full time when I have vacation. He might be able to give me full hours already.”

 

Karamatsu sighed anxiously. “No, Choromatsu dear, I want you to be able to live like a boy your age should! You shouldn’t be worrying about your livelihood or your brothers’,” the second oldest said and brushed Choromatsu’s hair with his fingers. Choromatsu didn’t move away but averted his eyes, not agreeing with his older brother.

 

“But I am worrying! Everyday! I want to do more and I would be able to if I just gave up on the stupid school.”

 

“No, honey, you’re already too strained from everything. I wish you’d stop your part-time job and only focus on your school. That would be the best choice for you,” Karamatsu said.

 

“Karamatsu is right. Just don’t worry too much. Let us do it for you,” Osomatsu said.

 

Choromatsu turned to look at him sharply, narrowing his eyes. “You’re not doing anything!! We’ll end up homeless because of you!!” he shouted.

 

Karamatsu gave Osomatsu a meaningful look to leave it to him before he turned to look back at the third born again. “Choromatsu, calm down. Osomatsu-niisan is doing his part, this isn’t easy for anyone,” he said calmingly to which the third oldest only snorted. “I know we’re having it tight but we’re managing. Don’t drop out from your school. You’re too young to be attempting to take so much responsibility.”

 

“So are you! We all are but here we are!” Choromatsu shouted. “It’s only us now and if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will!” He lowered his voice, his face scrunching up sadly. “I just- It’s so hard. I have to do more, I feel so bad. We have to survive.” His voice had started to shake. “Todomatsu is growing all the time and he needs so many new clothes, Jyushimatsu has broken shoes and I’d want to buy something nice to our little brothers.” He sniffled. “We need money!” he said sad and emphatically.

 

Karamatsu’s eyes had gotten wet as well. “I know,” he said, pulling Choromatsu into a hug that the third brother accepted happily, rubbing his face against his older brother’s shirt. “I know,” Karamatsu continued. “But sweetie don’t drop out of the school yet, alright? Right now we’re still okay, right? If things go really bad that we are in danger of been torn apart, then I won’t stop you from doing whatever it will take to keep us together because I’d do just the same. Okay, Choromatsu?” the second oldest spoke softly and comfortingly.

 

Choromatsu pushed himself away from Karamatsu’s hug. His eyes were red and he wiped away tears from his cheeks, facing the ground. “Okay,” he said quietly.

 

Karamatsu smiled at him heartily and petted his hair softly. “You’re such a good boy Choromatsu. Don’t worry yourself too much over this. I love you,” he said and kissed him lightly on the forehead before rearranging Todomatsu in his arms. He lifted the third oldest’s chin up with his finger, offered him a smile and then went to the kitchen.

 

Osomatsu was standing a few meters aside from them. He had been watching Karamatsu handling the situation that he had managed to cause and only make worse. He truly admired the second oldest and his amazing ability to handle the things at home but it also made him feel worse about himself. He really loved his family. They meant more than anything to him and yet he still managed to fuck things up. How hard could it have been to go to work everytime? He was mad at himself for being so pathetic as failing even to drag himself up in the mornings. No wonder Choromatsu hated him.

 

Osomatsu bit his cheek and looked to his feet. For many years he had only wanted to do nothing but lazy around at home or go drinking or gambling. He had wanted his parents to give up all the hopes of him getting a good job and all that shit. He had wanted to live a simple, easy life without any responsibilities or expectations. Suddenly everything had changed and he wanted nothing more than make his brothers to be able to proudly say that he was their oldest brother who was there for them and who took care of them. So far he was epicly failing at that. It was so hard to get rid of his old NEET lifestyle and now all the responsibilities and worries were crushing him.

 

Quietly and crestfallen Osomatsu walked away from the hallway towards the backyard veranda. He needed a smoke.

Chapter Text

Osomatsu was cradling the crying youngest in his arms, hushing him with soft comforting voice. He was walking around in the utility room, his lower lip trembling and eyes wet with unshed tears. Their parents were dead. His brothers were orphans. Just a few days ago everything had been fine, he had been happy and so had his family. But now he wasn’t sure if he could ever again smile sincerely or without a hint of sadness.

 

Todomatsu’s cries subsided into whines and sniffles. Osomatsu cradled him, holding him close. “See? It’s okay. No need to cry,” he spoke to his baby brother.

 

The youngest wiggled in his hold reaching towards the door with his tiny hands. “Mommy!” he cried.

 

Osomatsu had to bit his lip not to burst into tears. “No mommy. Osomatsu-niisan is here,” he said with a wavery voice.

 

Totty’s unhappy whines got louder. “Nii! Kawa-niitan!”

 

“Alright, we can go see Karamatsu-niisan,” Osomatsu said. It would do good for the second oldest to be around his brothers. If anything, that would be the one thing pulling him back to his feet. Osomatsu took a quick glance at a small mirror on the wall to check that he didn’t look too bad. He did but not like he had actually cried. He had huge bags under his eyes, his eyes were little bloodshot, his hair was a mess and his skin was paler than usual. He looked quite horrible.

 

Todomatsu let out a loud yell. “Okay, okay,” Osomatsu said, starting to make his way to the upstairs. “We’re going.”

 

Osomatsu opened the cracked door to their room carefully in case the second oldest was sleeping and stepped inside. The curtains were closed and it was dim but he could still clearly see Karamatsu sitting curled up in the same corner where he had been since the morning. He had a blanket wrapped around himself and his head was hanging low.

 

The youngest started to wiggle more and Osomatsu lowered him to the ground. He waddled quickly to the second oldest. “Kawa-nii?” he asked with his high voice and hugged the older brother’s leg.

 

Karamatsu lifted his head up tiredly to look at the youngest. “To-Todomatsu!” he breathed sadly and lifted him into his lap, holding him tightly between his chest and holded up legs. A sob escaped his lips as he petted the youngest’s hair, taking in his scent, as he started to rock the two of them softly back and forth.

 

Osomatsu swallowed back his tears and he walked to the two of them and crouched down. “Karamatsu are you okay?” he asked softly. As soon as the words had left his mouth, he realized how stupid they were. Of course none of them were okay.

 

Karamatsu shook his head, avoiding Osomatsu’s eyes. He was sniffling and looked like he could start crying any moment. Osomatsu reached out and placed his hand on his shoulder, trying to give his brother the little comfort he could.

 

“I know… I’m sorry,” he said quietly, looking away. Then he moved his gaze back to Karamatsu, tilting his head in attempt to meet the other’s eyes. “But Karamatsu wouldn’t you come downstairs? We could be all together there,” he asked.

 

Karamatsu lifted his head up a little to meet his eyes with his teary ones. He took an erratic breath. “I- I can’t! I’m sorry! I- I just can’t!” he sobbed and brushed his cheek against the youngest’s head.

 

Osomatsu frowned sadly, biting his lip. “It’s okay. Don’t apologize,” he said and glanced to the side. A plate of food that he had brought to Karamatsu earlier was untouched. “You haven’t anything eaten again?”

 

The second oldest shook his head once. “I- I’m not hungry,” he said.

 

The oldest sighed sadly. “You have to eat something,” he said. Then he brushed Karamatsu’s cheek lightly with his finger. “Can I do anything for you?” he asked, eyebrows knit together in worry as he studied his brother’s face.

 

Karamatsu screwed his eyes tightly shut. “No-nothing can help. I- I’m sorry.”

 

“Shh… It will get better, I promise,” Osomatsu said even if he had no idea if would it. “Do you want me to take Totty downstairs with me?”

 

“No!” Karamatsu said surprisingly sharply, tightening his hold on the youngest and meeting Osomatsu’s eyes. He took a deep breath and it looked like he deflated a little. “No,” he said quieter. “I want to be with him.”

 

Osomatsu nodded and brushed lightly both of his little brothers’ hair. “Okay. Call me any time if you need anything,” he said and stood up. Todomatsu let out a small sound as the oldest walked away and glancing over his shoulder, Osomatsu saw how Karamatsu let his head hang low again and hold the youngest close to himself. It broke Osomatsu’s heart to see him like that. Everything about Karamatsu acting like that was so wrong and Osomatsu felt so helpless to watch it as he was unable to ease his pain.

 

On top of that Osomatsu was really worried of his own abilities of taking care of everything at home without Karamatsu’s help. He was completely clueless of all the things that he was expected and needed to do. How exactly was he supposed to take care of the house and their brothers? He was sure he couldn’t do that.

 

But he would anyway.

 

The oldest walked into the living room where the rest of his brothers were. Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu were huddling together on the couch. Jyushimatsu was sleeping, halfly on top of the older, who was petting his brother’s hair absent-mindedly. Choromatsu was sitting at the table, leaning his head on his hands heavily and staring at his book. Osomatsu could tell right away that he wasn’t actually reading it but he had drifted into his own thoughts.

 

Osomatsu stepped quietly next to Choromatsu and sat down. Ichimatsu turned his head to look at him but continued petting the younger without saying anything. “How are you doing buddy?” Osomatsu asked from the third born and started to rub his back comfortingly.

 

Choromatsu kept his gaze on the table, shaking his head comfortlessly. “Not good. I can’t focus,” he said, his voice strained.

 

Osomatsu inched closer to him and wrapped an arm around him. “You don’t need to focus on anything, especially not on studying. Is there anything that would make you a little less sad?” he asked, still rubbing the younger’s back.

 

Now Choromatsu turned to look at him. He looked so miserable that it hurt Osomatsu. “No. I don’t think anything can help yet. Only time,” he said quietly.

 

Osomatsu nodded understandingly. “Yeah. Say if you come up with anything,” he said and patted him on the shoulder for a few times before standing up. He turned to look at the fourth brother. “Do you need anything Ichimatsu?” he asked. Ichimatsu shook his head and lowered his gaze on his sleeping brother. Osomatsu smiled sadly as he watched them. “I’ll be in the kitchen,” he then informed them quietly and went there.

 

The oldest made his way there and leaned to the counter with his hands while staring to its surface. He could feel the burning behind his eyes again and how his lower lip was about to start trembling. It sucked. Everything was so wrong. They didn’t deserve this horrible tragedy. Why did fate have to be so cruel?! It sucked so much!

 

Biting his lip, Osomatsu straightened himself and took a deep breath. He had to cook something for his brothers to eat. He washed rice and put it into the rice cooker but that was pretty much where his skills ended. He could make cup noodles but they ate those yesterday. So he just boiled water for miso soup and made scrambled eggs with the rice.

 

Nearly an hour later, during which Osomatsu had attempted to clean up a little while waiting for the rice to cook, the food was ready and the oldest had set the table. Choromatsu had given up trying to read and was laying on the floor, facing a wall so that his expressions couldn’t be seen. Jyushimatsu had woken up and the second and third youngests were watching tv. Some time ago Karamatsu had brought the unhappily whining youngest to the downstairs and said only a few words before retreating back to their room, so now Todomatsu was following around Osomatsu, who tried his best to keep him happy.

 

“Alright boys, the food is ready,” Osomatsu said, forcing his voice sound like he was okay.

 

Jyushimatsu jumped to his feet and sat down at the table. Ichimatsu and Choromatsu were much slower to follow but they dragged themselves there soon after their younger brother.

 

“Scrambled eggs again?” Jyushimatsu asked as Osomatsu placed his plate in front of him.

 

The oldest grinned at him. “Sorry Jyushimatsu,” he said a bit apologetically. “You know I can’t cook,” he said as he picked Todomatsu up into his arms and sat down, he in his lap.

 

“Shouldn’t you learn now?” the second youngest asked and started to eat.

 

Osomatsu froze for a moment, looking at him. It was surprising how well something that he said could hit home. Osomatsu lowered his gaze to the table in thought and started taking food for Totty. He knew he should learn how to cook and it was pretty good wake when your innocent younger brother says you that. Osomatsu forced out a chuckle. “Yeah! I’ll try,” he said and started to feed Todomatsu.

 

---

 

In the same evening Osomatsu had just got the three youngest brothers to bed and was sitting in the backyard veranda, smoking his well deserved cigarette. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had went to bed without any problems and after changing Totty’s diaper and clothes and brushing his teeth, the oldest had taken him upstairs and Karamatsu had insisted on putting him to sleep. Osomatsu would be lying if he said that he hadn’t been relieved.

 

Osomatsu sighed and rubbed his face. It had been so rough. Now that the first days had passed as well as the funerals, Osomatsu felt like he couldn’t let his little brothers see him cry anymore. He had to be the example to them, to show that they would be fine, that they were allowed to smile, laugh and be happy again. But everytime that he forced himself to do those things felt like something was scraping his heart. He felt horrible and countless of times a day he felt like he would burst into tears but he was too stubborn to allow himself to do that.

 

The oldest wiped away a couple of stray tears that had escaped his eyes and took a long, final drag from his cigarette before putting it out. He sat some time on his spot still, dwelling in his ill feeling and sadness. Finally he got up sighing and went inside.

 

He frowned sadly as he stepped into the living room and saw the third oldest there, sitting in the fetal position on the couch, his head hidden behind his knees. “Choromatsu I think you should go to sleep too,” he said in a soft, sympathetic voice.

 

Choromatsu lifted his head up startled and turned to look at Osomatsu. His eyes were red and puffy. Osomatsu felt like something was squeezing his heart mercilessly. Had Choromatsu waited until the younger boys had went to bed before he had let himself cry? No, it was only Osomatsu who felt like he couldn’t be seen crying anymore. Right?

 

“Oh Choromatsu…” Osomatsu said sadly and sat down next to him, pulling him into a hug.

 

Choromatsu didn’t resist but he looked away and the only thing he did to respond to the hug was to take a hold onto Osomatsu’s hoodie’s front with his other hand. Osomatsu hug him close, pulling the third oldest’s head close to his with his other hand that he had placed behind his neck and he pressed the sides of their heads together, taking in a deep breath, letting Choromatsu’s familiar scent comfort him. “Do you wanna talk?” he asked quietly.

 

“No,” Choromatsu mumbled just as quiet.

 

“Alright,” Osomatsu said and ended the hug, leaning backwards and placing his palms on both sides of his brother’s face, lifting his head up slightly. The oldest smiled at him sadly. “But you know that we’re here for you any time. I’m here. Just tell me if I can help you in any way,” he said and moved his hands into his own lap. “Seriously, try to go to sleep,” he said. “I’ll clean up a little and go then as well.”

 

Choromatsu did a tiny nod with his head, his eyes cast to the ground. “Yeah, I will. Thanks Osomatsu-niisan,” he said and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.

 

The third oldest dragged himself to bed soon after that and Osomatsu was left alone to the downstairs. For about an hour he did his best collecting all the toys and putting them to their places, cleaning the kitchen and living room little half-heartedly but the best he could at the moment but he was also starting to feel really worn out that he just wanted to go to sleep. He also wished he could have a drink but now was not the time.

 

Little later Osomatsu had crawled under their shared futon, feeling extremely exhausted but now that he finally laid there, he wasn’t actually sure if he could sleep. His thoughts were haunting him. His last conversation with his parents had been horrible. He knew they were so disappointed to him. He wanted to prove that he could be a proper oldest brother so much. He would do it no matter what it took. There was a gaping hole in his heart that was bleeding sorrow and sadness to his every cell, making him feel nearly numb. His brothers were in so much pain and there was nothing he could do about it. Life was so unfair and he would give everything to change things.

 

Osomatsu shook with silent sobs. He took an erratic breath that hitched, making a whining sound and for a moment he feared that someone might have heard him. Luckily no one seemed to stir awake. After that he turned around to face the wall and wiped his streaming tears with his sleeve before he pressed his face against the pillow to make sure no more sounds escaped as he cried.

 

---

 

Osomatsu had tried. He had tried so damn hard but he had never been a good brother and he still wasn’t. He had cooked, burned food, tried again and gotten cuts to his fingers. He had gotten a job and worked a few shifts per week in order to earn money to feed his family. He had smiled and laughed for his younger brothers, hold them when they cried and told them what to do when they had felt lost themselves. He had stayed up late to clean up and worry about tomorrows. He had cried when no one had been around to see.

 

It had taken a while but when he had gotten Karamatsu back to his feet, so that the second oldest had started to take responsibility again, Osomatsu’s exhaustion over the past weeks had really taken over him. He had slept a lot even if he had felt like just sleeping hadn’t been enough to refresh him. He barely had even noticed that he had started to smoke more in attempt to relieve his stress.

 

Karamatsu had taken over everything and only in a day Osomatsu had realized how well the second oldest managed everything. The second born knew what he was doing and did it well and on top of that made it seem easy. Osomatsu in his part didn’t know where things in the house were, burned the food or alternatively made cup noodles for food and he just left mess behind him. Heck, he still had no idea how to do laundry! He had realized just how much he sucked at basically everything and somehow he had quickly slipped to the sidelines, letting Karamatsu take care of the house since he was much more capable to do it. Osomatsu watched after the kids much more happily.

 

But seeing how well Karamatsu did everything and comparing it to his sad attempt of taking care of things had really discouraged him and he had started to feel increasingly useless and pathetic. Every passing day he had felt less and less capable and the crushing weight of things had started to break him down. Osomatsu had started to lose his faith that he could be capable of doing anything right or at all. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do what he had been expected to do.

 

Osomatsu had let Karamatsu take more and more responsibility and he had nearly given up on himself. He was a horrible, no good brother. His brothers deserved much better. He had zero self-confidence and he had become more and more scared of even trying because he knew that he would do it wrong and mess up and then his brothers would point it out and look at him with that hurtful look of disappointment. That’s what he was, a disappointment.

 

Osomatsu had started to find it harder and harder to get up in the mornings and drag himself to work. For his brothers he did his best but still he let them down too often. He was feeling miserable, depressed and sad but there was nothing he could do to make himself feel better. He loved spending time with his brothers but at some point it would always remind him of his incompetence. Alcohol and cigarettes sometimes helped a little for a short moment and he had gradually started to use them more. He used them to ease his pain even for a little bit but everytime after getting drunk or wasting money yet on another box of cigarettes, he always felt twice as bad. He was a fuck up and his sweet little brothers had to put up with someone like him. Osomatsu would feel more horrible again and then he would light up a new cigarette or open the next can of beer.

 

He was not okay. He had way too many problems but it wasn’t like he could burden anyone with them when they already had too much to worry about.

 

He had tried but he had failed. It was pretty much up to Karamatsu now.

Chapter Text

“Welcome back!” Osomatsu called from the kitchen as he heard Karamatsu’s voice from the front door.

 

It didn’t take long before the second oldest appeared to the room, trying to suppress a yawn. He looked tired as always. “How was the day?” he asked. “Where is everyone?”

 

“Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu are playing with Totty,” Osomatsu said. “Choromatsu is still at work.” A frown appeared on his face and Karamatsu tensed slightly. He could see that there was something about it that bothered the oldest. “I got a call from his school,” he said, meeting Karamatsu’s eyes.

 

Karamatsu’s eyes widened before a worried frown took over his features quickly. He walked right next to the oldest and looked at him intensely. “What did they say? Is he in some kind of trouble? Oh god, he didn’t drop out, did he?” he asked, his voice rising higher.

 

“No, not really,” Osomatsu answered. “They called because he’s always tired and it’s gotten so bad that it’s seriously affecting his ability to study.”

 

Karamatsu’s frown deepened. “Is it really a wonder? He should just quit his job, he’s trying to do too much at the same time and wearing himself down. He’s just a teenager!” he said, getting agitated.

 

Osomatsu gave Karamatsu a look. “That’s true but just to point it out so are you,” he said.

 

Karamatsu shook his head. “That’s different. I’ve been working since I graduated from high school. But that’s unimportant. What else did they say?” he asked worried.

 

“They said that something should be done about it or he will be having trouble passing the exams,” Osomatsu said. “The tone kind of indicated that they are blaming us for not looking after him better. Apparently we should be strict.”

 

“Strict? With Choromatsu? He’s way too strict with himself!” Karamatsu nearly exclaimed. He rubbed his face with his palms. “But they’re right. We should force him to quit job since he’s pushing himself off his limits. Even if he wouldn’t like it. It would be the best for him.”

 

Osomatsu nodded, looking at the surface of the table. “But you can’t deny that it’s a relief to have a little more money to use that his salary brings to the table.”

 

“Of course I won’t deny it,” Karamatsu said and finally sat down on a kitchen chair opposite to the oldest. “But he’s still our younger brother and we’re supposed to take care of him. From how he’s tired, strained and stressed all the time, I wouldn’t say we’re doing the best job we could.”

 

“But we’re doing what we can,” Osomatsu said with a little stronger voice. Then he sighed. “We were just tossed into this situation with no clue of what we’re doing. But whatever, it doesn’t matter,” he said, not wanting to discuss more about it. “Anyway,” he said and he stood up, taking in a deep breath, “the rice is in the cooker ready. I’ll go check on the boys. I’ll have to leave for work in an hour so I trust that you’ll talk with Choromatsu when he comes home.” He started to make his way out of the room.

 

“Yes Osomatsu-niisan,” Karamatsu sighed and stood up. He had to start cooking.

 

---

 

After they had eaten dinner, Karamatsu was reading a picture book to Todomatsu. Both Osomatsu and Choromatsu were at work now. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had been playing outside but Karamatsu could hear the front door open and Jyushimatsu’s chattering as the two of them returned inside.

 

“Welcome back,” Karamatsu said as the two of them stepped into the living room where he was.

 

“We’re back,” both of the boys greeted him, Jyushimatsu naturally more enthusiastic than Ichimatsu. Jyushimatsu whispered something to Ichimatsu and nudged him, Ichimatsu responding by nudging him back and giving him an almost sharp look.

 

Karamatsu raised his eyebrows. The boys had something to say. He was curious but decided not to pry. That worked better with Ichimatsu.

 

It didn’t take many seconds more before Ichimatsu took a shy step closer to the second oldest and started speaking little hesitantly. “Karamatsu-niisan,” he started.

 

Karamatsu turned to look at him, smiling encouragingly. “Yes brother?”

 

“Umm.” Ichimatsu averted his eyes and fidgeted with his fingers. “Can I take a can of tuna?” he asked. “We found kittens and I want to feed them.” His eyes met Karamatsu’s, the look in them hopeful.

 

Karamatsu’s heart just melt. There was no way he could deny something like this from Ichimatsu because it must have meant a lot to him. And if he could do something little to cheer the third youngest, he would do it without a hesitation. “Of course you can take a can. But Ichimatsu I’m so happy you asked. That’s well done,” he said with a fond smile. “But actually since you have been behaving so well, we could go and buy actual cat food for them. Don’t you think the kittens need the best, most nutritious food?”

 

Ichimatsu smiled excited, his lips parting slightly as he looked at Karamatsu. “Really?” he asked, his voice rising with excitement.

 

Karamatsu chuckled and moved Totty into a better position in his lap. “Yes really. You can take some tuna for now and we can buy cat food tomorrow,” he said.

 

“Thank you Karamatsu-niisan!” Ichimatsu said. Jyushimatsu jumped next to him and started to pull his sleeve, urging him to go to the kitchen with him. Ichimatsu turned around and even laughed a little together with the second youngest as they left the room.

 

Karamatsu smiled fondly as he watched them go. At least the two were doing better.

 

Todomatsu started wiggling in Karamatsu’s lap and Karamatsu lowered him to the ground. “Where are you going?” he asked as the toddler ran after his brothers. Karamatsu chuckled before his expression got more serious and he glanced at the clock. Choromatsu should be back home soon.

 

---

 

“I’m home,” Choromatsu said , his voice bleak as he closed the front door behind himself and leaned to the wall with a sigh as he started to untie his shoes. He heard footsteps coming towards him and soon Karamatsu came into his view, holding the youngest in his arms. Karamatsu’s face was serious and his eyebrows knit together as he looked at Choromatsu.

 

“Welcome back,” the second oldest said.

 

Todomatsu reached his small hands towards Choromatsu.“Cholo-nii!” he babbled and accidentally dropped a toy that he had been holding, to the ground.

 

Choromatsu took a few steps, picked up the toy and gave it back to Todomatsu, who squealed happily. Choromatsu offered a small smile to him and petted his hair a little before he lift up his head and met Karamatsu’s eyes, feeling a little uncomfortable.

 

Karamatsu sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before looking at his immediate younger brother again. “Choromatsu we need to talk,” he said and Choromatsu started to feel anxious, his breathing getting a little faster. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing new, just about your school and work,” Karamatsu added to calm the younger brother.

 

Choromatsu’s eyes widened slightly at first before he frowned annoyed, averting his eyes from the other. “There’s no need,” he said.

 

“Yes there is,” Karamatsu said turning to go but glancing Choromatsu over his shoulder to get him to follow. “Come on now,” he said and went into the kitchen.

 

Obediently Choromatsu followed. Karamatsu had seated himself on a chair, Todomatsu playing in his lap with the toy. Choromatsu followed his example and sat down, crossing his arms and staring to his side, not looking at Karamatsu.

 

“Choromatsu,” Karamatsu started. “They called from your school saying that you’re always tired, you can’t focus and it’s starting to be a bigger problem,” he said and paused to give Choromatsu a chance to say something if he wanted.

 

Choromatsu just shrugged and met Karamatsu’s eyes. “I know. So what? It’s not like I care and I have other things on my mind.”

 

“Yes, I know that but what I’m trying to say is that this is not good,” Karamatsu said. “You’re too young to work yourself to this point. Choromatsu I know that it’s really important to you that you are working. It does help us a lot. But first of all you have to take care of yourself,” he said.

 

“I-” Choromatsu started but Karamatsu wasn’t finished.

 

“As your guardians me and Osomatsu-niisan can forbid your working. We can contact your workplace and tell that you’re no longer allowed to work.” Choromatsu looked at him, his eyes wide as the words sank in. “But,” Karamatsu continued. “I know that it’s important to you so I really wouldn’t want to force you to stop it. But if you don’t start taking better care of yourself, you leave me no choice.”

 

“You can’t force me to quit my job,” Choromatsu said, fisting his hands.

 

“I can but I don’t want to,” the second oldest answered. “So don’t make me to do it.”

 

Choromatsu took a deep breath and lowered his gaze to the table. “So what do you want me to do?” he asked.

 

Karamatsu’s look softened. “I want you to sleep enough and not worry about things at home. If you’re not interested in studying, I’m fine with that as long as you’ll graduate. I don’t blame you if your grades aren’t good if that doesn’t bother you. You can work but no more than three or two times a week, although I prefer even less and not so long hours. What is most important, is that you take care of your own well being. Alright?” he asked.

 

Choromatsu stayed quiet for a moment before he nodded. “Alright. I’ll try my best,” he said.

 

“Good!” Karamatsu smiled at him. “And you need to be a little more active at the classes. At least pretend that you’re listen to the teachers,” he said, smiling playfully.

 

Choromatsu returned the smile. “You don’t know how boring it is.”

 

“Oh, but I do,” Karamatsu said. “It’s not so long since I was in school myself.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Choromatsu said and grinned. “But fine. I’ll try my best.” 

 

Karamatsu smiled at him. “Good,” he said. The younger brother stood up to leave the room and Karamatsu continued: “Choromatsu,” his voice made the third oldest to halt, “I’m proud of you.”

 

Choromatsu turned to look at him eyes wide for a few seconds, then his expression melted into a warm, glad smile and he nodded to Karamatsu before he left the room.

 

Karamatsu watched him go fondly. He tightened his hold on Todomatsu until he was hugging the toddler, rubbing his cheek against his head. “He’s a good boy, Choromatsu,” he spoke to Totty. “You’re too Todomatsu.” He turned the youngest around, lifted him up some and kissed his forehead, making the boy to giggle. “My start of hope,” Karamatsu said, poking Totty’s nose and earning a happy squeal. “Don’t worry sweet brother. Things aren’t easy but we’ll keep you safe. Karamatsu-niisan and Osomatsu-niisan won’t let anything bad happen to any of you.”

 

Karamatsu looked into his youngest brother’s innocent eyes. He loved all of his brothers so much. He would do anything for them.

 

A small frown appeared on his face. “Well, I think it’s time to change your diaper.”

 

---

 

Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were running around the living room. The second youngest had stolen Ichimatsu’s bar of chocolate and now Ichimatsu was trying to catch him and get it back. Both of them were laughing, even if the fourth born was shouting threats to the other between laughter. It was still all a game and both of them knew that Ichimatsu would get his chocolate back eventually.

 

Osomatsu was sitting in the kitchen, reading a magazine. On the table in front of him were newspapers and fliers for job hunting and bills and receipts to be checked and sorted. It was a normal Saturday and only Choromatsu was at work.

 

A sudden sound of shattering glass made Osomatsu to snap his head up and knit his eyebrows together. The sounds of Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu’s running had ended and now they were quiet. Osomatsu stood up and walked into the living room. He should check out what they had broken and make sure they wouldn’t hurt themselves with the glass shards.

 

When he got into the room ready to lecture the boys, he suddenly froze. Both of the younger boys stopped their hussed bickering and turned to look at Osomatsu with wide, alarmed eyes. They were standing by a bookshelf and on the ground laid a broken picture frame. It was a picture of their parents.

 

Osomatsu’s blood started to boil suddenly and he started shouting to the two young boys. “You idiots! Don’t run inside you little brats!!” He stormed towards the two.

 

“Sorry!” Jyushimatsu squeaked pitifully.

 

“It was an- Ahh!!” Ichimatsu’s sentence was cut off when Osomatsu grabbed a hold of his hair and pulled it. “Ouch! Stop!”

 

The oldest stopped pulling the hair but didn’t yet let go. “Look what you did! It’s broken! You-”

 

“What is going on?!”

 

Karamatsu had appeared to the doorway a deep frown on his face. He halted as he saw what was going on and his eyes widened upset. He took in a sharp inhale through his nose and dashed towards the oldest. “Get your hands off him!!” he shouted and pushed Osomatsu backwards away from the two boys. Ichimatsu let out a yelp as Osomatsu pulled his hair while stumbling backwards before he released his grip.

 

Osomatsu grunted and met Karamatsu’s eyes angrily. “Hey!! Don’t fucking push me!!” he shouted and took a few steps so that he was only inches away from the second oldest’s face.

 

Karamatsu was seething with anger as he met Osomatsu’s eyes boldly. “Did you just fucking pull Ichimatsu’s hair?!” he snarled through his bared teeth.

 

“Yeah, what if I did? He should know better than to run around and break stuff,” the oldest answered.

 

“What if-” Karamatsu repeated filled with growing fury. “You asshole, no-good oldest!! How dare you even think of doing something like that?!” he shouted and poked the oldest’s chest angrily with his index finger. He was still little shorter than Osomatsu but he was puffing out his chest to make himself more intimidating.

 

“The hell did you call me?!” Osomatsu roared and shoved Karamatsu further from him. “You too should know your place because I’m the oldest!”

 

Karamatsu was shaking with anger, his hands fisted and teeth gritted. Over his shoulder he took a glance at Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu, who were staring at them with wide, worried, almost scared eyes. “Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu go somewhere else,” he said and quickly Jyushimatsu took a hold of the third youngest’s hand and the two of them left the living room.

 

The second oldest rushed forward and grabbed a hold on the oldest’s hoodie’s front. “My brothers won’t be treated like that!” he hissed furiously through his teeth.

 

Osomatsu narrowed his eyes and leaned even closer to Karamatsu. “Let go of me,” he snarled back dangerously.

 

Karamatsu tugged his hoodie. “You better apologize to Ichimatsu,” he said.

 

The oldest bit his lip and closed his eyes slowly. “I’m warning you Karamatsu!”

 

“No. I’m warning you Osomatsu-niisan,” the second oldest said poisonously. “If you ever again-”

 

Osomatsu’s fist landed to Karamatsu’s cheek and the second oldest staggered backwards, holding his cheek. “You what?!” Osomatsu shouted and grabbed a hold on his little brother’s hoodie, pulling him closer. “What would you do, Karamatsu?!”

 

Karamatsu let out a shout of fury and before Osomatsu could dodge, a punch had landed to his face. He grabbed a hold on the oldest’s shoulders, who did the same with Karamatsu. They gripped onto each other’s shoulders hard, trying to overpower the other as they growled and snarled.

 

Karamatsu tried to push Osomatsu against the wall but didn’t succeed. “You’re a horrible brother! Still I never could have believed you’d hurt our brother! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised!”

 

“I’m only trying to keep them in line! You let them do anything they want!” Osomatsu snarled back and stomped on Karamatsu’s foot.

 

“Ow!! Fuck you!! That’s not true!! I handle things with the boys million times better than you ever could!!”

 

Osomatsu roared furiously and pushed Karamatsu hard enough to make him to crash against the wall. That hurt. He knew that Karamatsu was right and the truth hurt. “Shut your fucking mouth fucking Shittymatsu!!” he roared as he pinned the younger against the wall. “If it wasn’t for me, they would never let a teenager like you take care of four kids!”

 

Karamatsu kicked Osomatsu to the stomach, making him stumble backwards. “Like you could take care of them without me!! Why do you have to be so selfish and incapable!! Couldn’t you help me even once!” He drew his fist behind, preparing to hit Osomatsu again.

 

Before his hit could land, however, Osomatsu took a hold of his wrist, bending it. “I’m sorry if I’m not perfect like you are but I was just trying to help right now! I-”

 

“Pulling our brother’s hair is not helping!!” Karamatsu screamed. “You hurt him!! I’m fucking serious that if you ever again do something like that, you’ll be sorry! I won’t accept anyone to even cut a hair from their head! I thought you if anyone would have understood but apparently no!!”

 

“Shut the fuck up!!” Osomatsu roared and bend the wrist harder.

 

Karamatsu winced and leaned to the side, trying to ease the pain in his wrist. However, he was not backing down. “I mean, what the hell is your problem?! Why can’t you take any responsibility?! I know you’ll be the fucking reason when things will go to hell for us!!” he yelled to the oldest’s face.

 

“I said shut the fuck up!!” Osomatsu roared even louder and he threw Karamatsu forward. The second oldest tripped over and hit his head to the corner of the table.

 

Hissing Karamatsu pressed his fingers to his temple and moving his hand in front of his face, he saw stains of blood on the tips of his fingers. He turned to scowl at the oldest darkly but he didn’t say anything. He just stared at him with a piercing, blaming look quietly.

 

Osomatsu’s eyes widened as he realized what he had just done. He had never meant to hurt Ichimatsu or Karamatsu. He just acted out of a stupid impulse and anger. When Karamatsu looked up at him, the oldest hardened his expression as their eyes met. Biting his lip and pressing his nails into his palms, he marched out of the room. In the hallway he saw Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu looking at him with big, scared eyes as he made his way to the front door, put on his shoes and left the house.

Chapter Text

I fucked up.”  

 

Osomatsu was sitting on a bench at a park, feeling like the lowest of the low. He had hurt Ichimatsu. And not just him but Karamatsu too when he had only tried to come stop him from doing something bad and what he was now regretting.

 

He was a horrible brother. Truly the worst.

 

Osomatsu fished another cigarette from a pack and lit it up. He took a long drag of it, hold his breath for a moment and then breathed the smoke out. Holding the cigarette between his index and middle finger, he rubbed his temple and the corner of the eye tiredly, his head hanging low.

 

I fucking hate myself.

 

He had sworn to keep his brothers safe. It was his duty and frankly the most important thing in his life by far. And yet, he had hurt his brothers himself! God!!

 

Osomatsu rubbed his face now with both hands and exhaled deeply. Why couldn’t he just do something right for once? Choromatsu and Karamatsu were right but he couldn’t admit that. It was obvious to anyone that he was a lazy piece of shit but there was so much more to it. How could he tell his little brothers that he really wasn’t okay? He had to be the rock to them, someone that would always smile, comfort and say it was going to be alright. They needed their onii-chan to be reliable and strong.

 

Someone not like me.

 

But he was not okay. It was all too much for him to handle and at times he felt like he suddenly couldn’t breathe as he thought about the shitty situation they were in and his own place in their family. He had to be responsible of everything now but he was scared. He was scared of failing everyone and that fear only made him to mess up even more.

 

Osomatsu dropped the cigarette butt to the ground and snuffed it out with his heel. This time he had went as far as to hurt his little brothers. He couldn’t lose his patience like that! He was the oldest, the one who had to always be there to save his younger brothers if needed. What if he became the one his brothers wanted to be saved from?

 

Clenching his teeth hard, he fished yet for another cigarette only to find the pack empty. Frowning annoyed, he took it out from his pocket, scrunched it and threw it to the ground.

 

He had to apologize from Ichimatsu and make sure that they were alright with the third youngest. He couldn’t stand the idea of any of his brothers being wary or scared of him. He’d never do anything to hurt his brothers intentionally.

 

Except he had.

 

“Shit!! Fucking fuck! Aaaargh!!” he cursed and grasped his head with both of his hands.

 

And Karamatsu, he was so perfect. Everything the boys needed, Karamatsu could give to them. He had been right to get mad at him.

 

What the fuck is wrong with me?!” Osomatsu gritted his teeth.

 

He didn’t like Karamatsu stepping on his toes and telling him if he was right or wrong. That’s why it was so good that the second oldest usually didn’t do that but he also wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion or lash out to him. Still, this time there was nothing Osomatsu could say to defend his actions.

 

Fucking idiot!! ” he cursed himself in his mind as he stood up and started walking towards the nearest convenience store, dragging his feet forward.

 

Osomatsu felt bad. Why was he such a sad example of an older brother? After realizing what he had done, he had just escaped the house. He hadn’t even said he was sorry or anything. He had just left. He was the most irresponsible piece of shit there was.

 

Osomatsu pulled the door to the store open and a chime informed his arrival. Hands stuffed into his pockets, he went to the counter.

 

“Welcome! How can I help you?” a female shop assistant asked with a cheerful smile.

 

“I need a pack of cigarettes,” Osomatsu said, not meeting her eyes as he dwelled in his gloomy thoughts.

 

“Is this one okay?” the assistant asked, pointing at one pack.

 

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Osomatsu said as he took a quick glance at it.

 

He paid the cigarettes and left the shop. As soon as he got outside, he opened the pack and lit up one. He started to walk, just hoping to get rid of his guilty thoughts.

 

---

 

It had taken a while but finally Osomatsu found himself standing in front of the horse racing track. Maybe races would take his mind elsewhere. He knew that there were still a few starts left for the day so he could bet on a horse. In fact he had kept a close eye on the races and how his favourite horses had performed, so he had a pretty good idea which horses he might bet his money on.

 

Osomatsu went inside and picked up a pamphlet where all the horses for each start were introduced. He sat down on a bench and started reading it. Or at least he tried. The guilt stinging in his heart and the blaming thoughts in his head made it impossible for him to focus on anything.

 

Oh come on. Suck it up! It’s not like you did something really horrible. People do punish kids physically all the time. And Karamatsu is pretty much your age so it’s not that weird that you had a fight. That’s life. You’ll apologize to them and it’ll be all fine again. So, stop dwelling in it and have some fun!”

 

Osomatsu closed his eyes and sighed. “ Okay, let’s do this, ” he thought and stood up, starting to walk towards the counter where the betting tickets were sold. He took a glance at the screen showing the names of the horses for the next start.

 

I should bet on 6 and 11, they’ve succeeded so well, but I think I want to go for 3, 6 and 9 again,” he thought.

 

Just as the customers in the line in front of him left and he reached the counter, Osomatsu halted, looking somewhere to the ground in thought. “ No, this is not right.

 

“Hello!” the customer servant greeted Osomatsu. “What can I get you?”

 

Osomatsu lifted up his head to meet his eyes. It took him a few seconds to answer. “I… think I need more time to think,” he said and walked away.

 

I can’t do this. Not now. It’d only make everything so much worse if I go now and waste our money on something stupid like gambling. I’m never going to win anyway. My luck is the worst. The only good thing about my life anymore are my brothers and I’m well on my way of fucking that up too.”

 

Osomatsu made his way home, suddenly feeling the urge to apologize Ichimatsu and make up with Karamatsu much stronger. He actually wanted to have a talk with the second oldest. Osomatsu knew how shitty he was and he felt like he actually should even try to explain himself for Karamatsu. Even if he had no idea what he’d say. His brothers were his everything and he had to try harder or he might lose them.

 

On the way back home, Osomatsu had stopped at another convenience store and bought some snacks for his brothers. It made him feel good. It was much better use of his money than horse races or beer. If something this simple made his brothers happy, why didn’t he do it more often?

 

Carefully he opened the front door. It was evening but not that late that anyone should be asleep yet. He could hear noises of the tv from the living room and Jyushimatsu’s loud voice laughing over it. “I’m home,” Osomatsu called, not daring to be very loud. Immediately the laughter ceased and a cold, uncomfortable feeling set on the bottom of the oldest stomach.

 

It took only a moment before Karamatsu stepped out from the living room and into the hallway. He met the oldest’s eyes with an unwavering, serious stare. On his temple Osomatsu could see a band aid where the corner of the table had cut him.

 

Osomatsu was standing at the lower level of the entrance which made Karamatsu taller than him as they looked each other in the eyes. The oldest looked back at him but a little timidly. He swallowed, unsure of how he should start. Before he could get a word out of his mouth, Todomatsu ran out of the living room and straight towards Osomatsu, letting out a happy shout as he saw his big brother.

 

A smile spread on Osomatsu’s face and he opened his arms. However, just as he was about to crouch down and start babbling to the youngest, Karamatsu grabbed a hold of Totty, as he was running past him, and lift him up to his arms.

 

Todomatsu screamed unhappily and tried to squirm out of the second oldest grip. Karamatsu managed to hold him despite of the youngest’s struggles. “No, let’s be with Karamatsu-niisan now,” he said quieter than normally, moving his gaze back to the oldest. He was waiting for him to make the first move.

 

Osomatsu’s smile had disappeared. He bit his lip uneasily before he took a deep breath and started speaking: “I’m sorry,” he said.

 

Karamatsu looked at him with the same firm look for a few seconds before he nodded. “You should be,” he said. “Come on. You need to apologize from Ichimatsu,” said and indicated towards the living room with a jerk of his head.

 

The oldest nodded and stepped up from the lower level of the entrance, walking towards Karamatsu, who went into the living room first. As Osomatsu stepped into the room, he saw how the rest of his brothers were sitting on the floor around the table. The tv was on but everybody’s attention was on the oldest. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu looked at the oldest with wide, wary eyes while Choromatsu scowled at him.

 

Osomatsu wetted his lips uneasily and walked further into the room. He sat down on the ground in front of his brothers to be better on their level. He met all of their eyes quickly before finally setting them on Ichimatsu. He smiled apologetically, his eyebrows knit together. “I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to get angry at you and I shouldn’t have hurt you. I’m really sorry and I promise never to do that again,” he said.

 

Ichimatsu was quiet for a short moment and Osomatsu could see how he casted a quick look at the second oldest. Then he spoke up: “It’s okay. I forgive you,” he said.

 

Osomatsu’s smile widened and he felt how a heavy burden rolled off from his heart. His smile spread and got happier. “Thank you. I’m honestly sorry. I was so stupid. I’ll really try to be better from now on!” he said. Ichimatsu only nodded, Jyushimatsu’s smile widened and the happiness returned. Choromatsu studied Osomatsu’s face silently, little doubtfully. Then Osomatsu remembered the small plastic bag on his hand. “Oh! I got you something!” he said and placed the bag on the table.

 

Jyushimatsu opened it quickly and excitedly. “Snacks!! Thanks, Osomatsu-niisan!” he said, eyes shining.

 

Ichimatsu was quick to follow Jyushimatsu, peeking into the bag. He looked excited as well. “Thank you,” he said.

 

“No need to thank me,” Osomatsu said, rubbing the underside of his nose with his finger.

 

Todomatsu let out a loud scream and Karamatsu lowered him to the ground. He immediately ran to the other young boys, climbing onto Ichimatsu’s lap and reached for the snacks. He had heard the rustle of the bags, which often meant something good.

 

Smiling fondly, the oldest stood up. He turned around and met Karamatsu’s eyes, his expression turning more serious again. Karamatsu was keeping a close eye on him but as their eyes met, he offered Osomatsu a tiny, approving smile.

 

“I need to talk with you,” Osomatsu said and started to walk out of the room, towards the kitchen.

 

Karamatsu nodded and turned to look at the younger brothers. “Make sure that Todomatsu doesn’t eat too much,” he said and followed after the eldest.

 

As soon at the two of them got into the kitchen, Choromatsu appeared behind them. “I want to talk with you too,” the third oldest said.

 

The two oldest looked at him. “Maybe you should go to the living room with others,” Osomatsu said. He wanted to talk about all the serious stuff and it was hard enough already with the second oldest but if there was his even younger brother, it would be even worse. “Everything is fine, we just should talk about all the boring stuff like money.”

 

“Yeah, you shouldn’t worry yourself about it,” Karamatsu said with a kind smile.

 

Choromatsu narrowed his eyes to them. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he retorted. “I know you have something serious to discuss and even if it was only about money, I’d still want to hear it. I’m only a couple years younger than Karamatsu-niisan!” he said.

 

“Yes, but-” Osomatsu started but was cut off.

 

“I have the right to know what’s going on!” Choromatsu said firmly. “Besides, I’ll stress about everything anyways, no matter whether or not I’ve heard how things actually are. Maybe I’d stress less if I knew how we’re doing.”

 

Karamatsu nodded. “You’re right. Let’s sit down,” he said. The third oldest nodded curtly and the two of them sat down on the chairs around the table.

 

Osomatsu looked at them with a frown. He didn’t like this. Then, however, he sighed and sat down himself.

 

The two younger brothers looked at him expectedly. “What did you want to talk about?” Karamatsu asked.

 

The oldest averted his eyes and bit his cheek. “I’m an idiot,” he stated after a while.

 

“We know that,” Choromatsu said. “I can’t believe you pulled Ichimatsu’s hair!” he said accusatorily.

 

“I know. I feel really bad about it,” Osomatsu said sincerely.

 

“Don’t ever do anything like that again!” Karamatsu said. “I’m sorry our fight got physical and I’m sorry I punched you among other things but know that I won’t hesitate to use force against you if you try to hurt our brothers again.” He was completely serious as he said that.

 

Osomatsu nodded. “And you have every right to do that. Someone has to stop me,” he said. “Again, I’m sorry. I want to change to better.”

 

“You’ve said that hundreds of times. Nothing has changed. Why would anything change now?” Choromatsu asked, eyes narrowed.

 

Karamatsu looked at Choromatsu, his eyebrow arched up. “You’re not going easy on him,” he commented.

 

“One of us has to be strict and you’ve never been good at that,” the third oldest said back, not moving his piercing eyes from the oldest.

 

Karamatsu shrugged. “That’s fair. Well, I’m glad you’re here,” he said and turned to look at Osomatsu, waiting for his answer.

 

“This time I went too far,” Osomatsu started. “Like way too far. I hurt my brothers. That really made me to stop and realize what I was actually doing. I need to chance or I might-” He swallowed. “Or I might lose you.” That thought alone scared him. He’d have nothing left if he lost them.

 

Karamatsu shook his head. “As long as you’re not aggressive, you won’t lose us,” he said and then narrowed his eyes. “But the moment you start actually acting violent against our brothers, I’ll be the one calling the social worker and telling them what you’re doing. Today got you a grave warning but if you ever hit any of them, apologies won’t help you anymore,” he said seriously.

 

Osomatsu nodded. “Understood.”

 

“So you’ll start taking your work seriously?” Choromatsu asked.

 

The oldest nodded. “I’ll work hard to make sure they’ll let me keep my job. I really, really want to change my habits. I’ll try harder,” he said. He really meant that.

 

“I’d appreciate that,” Karamatsu said. From the way he was looking at Osomatsu, the oldest knew there was many things on his mind he didn’t say.

 

Osomatsu let out a humm. There was more he wanted to say but talking wasn’t that easy. He averted his eyes and fidgeted with his fingers. “I… You know this is hard. I mean all of this. This situation we’re in, it sucks,” he said and rubbed his face with his hand before he let it drop and took a deep breath. “I’m obviously not handling this all well, as you know. I know that I’m horrible at this and I really feel like I can’t do this. That only makes me lose even more confidence in myself and I feel worse. It’s just… easier not to even try when I know I’m gonna fuck it up.”

 

Karamatsu’s serious expression had turned into a sympathetic frown. “Brother. I know what you mean. It’s really hard but for our brothers, we can do it,” he said, a tired smile on his face. “I know you can do it too, Osomatsu-niisan.”

 

Osomatsu returned his smile weakly. Karamatsu didn’t understand, not the depth of Osomatsu’s feelings and doubts. The oldest had managed to open his mouth but he had barely said anything. He just couldn’t make himself to tell his younger brothers how bad he was actually feeling. He couldn’t tell how worried and anxious he was or how much he loved them and was scared of screwing everything up. He shouldn’t burden them with his issues that he had brought upon himself. It would only make them worry more and they already had too much on their minds. He couldn’t do that.

 

The oldest’s smile widened as he hid his troubles away from the sight again. “I can’t believe that I put you through all this shit today. And Karamatsu, I’m sorry for hurting you too. I’ll seriously try to make it up to you and act proper now on,” he said and stood up.

 

“I really hope so but we’ll see,” Choromatsu said.

 

Osomatsu let out a chuckle, trying to lighten up the atmosphere. “I’ll go for a quick smoke and then I’ll help you to get the boys to sleep,” he told.

 

Karamatsu bit his cheek and kept his eyes on the surface of the table as he stood up as well. “I wished you’d stop that. Smoking kills, Osomatsu-niisan,” he said, scolding.

 

Osomatsu grinned as he walked towards the door. “Don’t worry, Karamatsu. They’re just cigarettes, nothing worse. We have bigger things to worry than them.” With that he made his way outside and lit up a smoke.

 

---

 

The next day Osomatsu had woken up early, or at least early for him. He had to prove himself and show that he meant what he had said.

 

The look on Karamatsu’s face had been funny when Osomatsu had walked into the kitchen hours before he’d normally get up. He had been surprised and just stared at Osomatsu for a few seconds as he had realized that the oldest had been fully dressed, meaning that he had actually gotten up that early. Karamatsu had reminded him that it was Sunday and Osomatsu didn’t have work that day. The oldest had just chuckled and told that he knew that. He had other plans in mind.

 

Osomatsu had prepared lunch packs for himself and for Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu. He wanted to spend time with the boys and hopefully they’d like what he had planned. It was a high time he did something fun with them.

 

As Jyushimatsu woke up an hour later, he saw how the ladders to the attic were pulled down and heard some noises coming from there. Curiously the second youngest tilted his head to the side and started climbing up the ladders.

 

He peeked to the attic and saw Osomatsu rummaging through cardboard boxes full of stuff that had been put away. “Good morning, Osomatsu-niisan!” Jyushimatsu said happily. “What are you doing?”

 

The oldest turned his head to look at the second youngest. “Morning, Jyushimatsu!” he answered happily, a smile spreading on his lips. “Have Ichimatsu woken up yet? I was thinking maybe you two would want to have some fun with me today,” he said and grinned happily.

 

Jyushimatsu’s eyes started shining excitedly. “Really?! What will we do?! I’ll wake Ichimatsu-niisan up!” he said, bubbling with excitement, and was already gone to drag his immediate older brother out of the bed.

 

Osomatsu chuckled to himself and took out a baseball bat from one of the boxes. He looked at it, smiling satisfied. He had been sure his and Karamatsu’s old baseball gear were stored up somewhere.

 

After a while Osomatsu walked into the living room the bat on his shoulder and carrying a bag of other gear. He saw how Jyushimatsu was wolfing down his breakfast while Ichimatsu ate his calmer, still half asleep. Close to them Karamatsu was sitting on the couch, watching tv and patching the knees of Jyushimatsu’s pants.

 

As soon as the oldest got into the room, the second youngest turned to look at him, eyes wide with excitement and his mouth full of rice. “A bat!!” he exclaimed, bits of food dropping out from his open mouth. The two other brothers turned to look at the oldest as well.

 

“Yep!” Osomatsu said and sat down at the table next to the two boys. He dropped the gear to the ground and rubbed the underside of his nose. “Today I’ll teach you two how to play baseball!”

 

Jyushimatsu’s already wide smile got even bigger and he jumped up to his feet excitedly. “Baseball?! I’ve never played that! Our teacher says we’ll get to play it next year!” he told.

 

“You can play it now. I’ll teach you,” Osomatsu said, grinning happily.

 

“I’ve played it,” Ichimatsu said. “I’m really bad at it.”

 

“Nonsense,” Karamatsu said encouragingly and turned to look at the oldest, smiling happily. “That’s a great idea brother. Have you asked if Choromatsu wants to come?”

 

Osomatsu shook his head. “Not yet,” he answered.

 

Karamatsu put the pants that he had been patching, down and stood up. “I’ll go ask him,” he said and left the room.

 

Jyushimatsu was tugging Osomatsu’s sleeve excitedly. “Can we really go play? It looks like so much fun! I want to play it! Can we go now?!” he spoke with a quick pace, making it hard for Osomatsu to find a place to answer.

 

Osomatsu laughed. “Yes. I told you we would go and onii-chan always keeps his word,” he said. “But you’ll have to finish your breakfast first.”

 

Jyushimatsu nodded his head eagerly and dashed back to the table, starting to shove food into his mouth.

 

Osomatsu smiled at him. “Good. We’ll go when you’re ready.”

 

---

 

The three brothers were playing baseball in a quiet park. Choromatsu had had too much homework so he had stayed home. At first they had played catch and practised some swings before they had started trying to hit the ball.

 

“Okay, I’m going to pitch again,” Osomatsu said. Ahead of him Jyushimatsu nodded, looking uncharacteristically focused. Osomatsu smiled and threw a ball towards him, trying to make it easy to hit. However, the second youngest missed it.

 

“Aaaww. I’ve only hit it once,” he said, disappointed.

 

“Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it,” Osomatsu said encouragingly.

 

Ichimatsu walked next to his younger brother. “I want to hit now. Let me try,” he said and tried to reach for the bat.

 

Jyushimatsu moved it quickly out of his reach. “No! I want to still try!” he shouted.

 

“Jyushimatsu still has three tries left,” Osomatsu said, picking up another ball. They were using tennis balls, which were softer in case one of them hit someone. He still had three of the balls and two were on the ground past the second youngest. “It’s five balls so five tries and then we switch. You two know that already,” he said.

 

“See?!” Jyushimatsu said and pushed his brother away, who gave up and went to lie down on the ground.

 

Osomatsu turned to look back at Jyushimatsu. “Are you ready for the next pitch?” he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded. “Bring it on!” he said.

 

“Alright, get ready!” the oldest said and threw another ball.

 

Jyushimatsu missed that one too. He followed how the ball rolled on the ground, a frown on his face. Then he turned to look at Osomatsu again.

 

“You’ll hit it the next time,” Osomatsu said encouragingly. “Say if you want to play catch for a change.”

 

The second youngest shook his head. “No, I want to hit the ball,” he said.

 

“Okay then. Ready?” Osomatsu asked and moved his hand back, ready to pitch another ball. Jyushimatsu nodded and Osomatsu pitched. This time Jyushimatsu touched the ball lightly with the bat, making it to drop on the ground few meters ahead of him.

 

Jyushimatsu’s eyes widened with excitement, his smile widening. “Did you see that?! Did you see that, Osomatsu-niisan, Ichimatsu-niisan? I hit it! I hit the ball!!” he shouted excitedly, swinging his head between his older brothers.

 

“You did!” Osomatsu cheered happily. “Well done, Jyushimatsu! That’s great!”

 

“But that was a really bad hit,” Ichimatsu muttered to himself. “I could do better than that at least…”

 

“I want to try again!!” Jyushimatsu nearly screamed, swinging the bat to his shoulder again, then looking Osomatsu expectedly.

 

“Alright, alright,” the oldest said. “Now, focus.” Then he pitched.

 

With a soft thud, the bat collided with the ball, which flew a couple of dozen meters. Jyushimatsu let out an excited shout and watched the ball in wonder. “I did it! I did it!” he screamed, all over the moon.

 

Osomatsu’s heart was swelling with happiness and pride. “Quick, Jyushimatsu, you need to run a homerun!” he told.

 

The second youngest’s eyes widened. “Homerun?! How do I do that?” he asked urgently.

 

“You need to run around me and go back!” the oldest told and before he had even finished, Jyushimatsu had dashed into a run, laughing as he went.

 

“That’s not how homerun really is…” Ichimatsu mumbled but couldn’t help but smile a little at his little brother’s happiness.

 

Jyushimatsu got back to the spot he had left, laughing and cheering. “Homerun!! I did a homerun!!” he shouted, jumping up and down happily, hands high in the air.

 

“You did! I’m so proud of you!” Osomatsu said fondly.

 

“I’m the best at baseball!! Homerun!!” Jyushimatsu shouted, turning to look at Ichimatsu. “I’m better than you!”

 

Ichimatsu pressed his lips together, annoyed. “No, you’re not,” he said.

 

“I am! You saw how I made a homerun!”

 

“That wasn’t a real homerun.”

 

“It was!”

 

“Hey! No yelling to each other,” Osomatsu said. “It was a real homerun in our game. Now, Ichimatsu, would you show us how good you are?” he asked with a smile.

 

“Okay,” the third youngest said and picked up the bat. “I want to hit a homerun too.”

Chapter Text

For a few days Osomatsu had really tried. Karamatsu had been so happy to see that he had kept his promise and worked much harder. The oldest had went to work on time, even begged for his boss to give him some extra hours that he had gotten in the end. That meant a little more money for them. The oldest had woken up earlier, helped Karamatsu more with household chores and spent more time having fun together with the boys.

 

Karamatsu had been really proud of him. Everything after their parents passing had been really hard, and having his big brother’s help made it possible for him to feel like they could somehow manage it. The long days at work and at home, the stress about their financial problems, their fights with Osomatsu and his worries for his brothers had been incredibly rough for him to handle. The sorrow wrenching his heart would have crippled him if it wasn’t for them, his younger brothers who needed him, and Osomatsu, who was his support. Despite all of the oldest’s flaws, Karamatsu needed him gravely. That’s why it had meant so much to see him really pull himself together.

 

Karamatsu had felt hopeful for a moment. He had always wanted to believe in people, most of all his own brother. He had really hoped that Osomatsu would have changed his bad habits for good. But of course, things were never that easy.

 

It hadn’t taken more than a few days before the oldest had started to slip back into his earlier ways. He helped a little less at home and woke up late to just barely make it to work on time. A couple of times, Karamatsu had caught him staring at the ground in his thoughts, wearing a sad, troubled look. As soon as Osomatsu had realized the second oldest’s presence, he had quickly wiped that expression away and pulled on his goofy grin.

 

Then one morning when Karamatsu had woken up early as always, he had seen that Osomatsu wasn’t in their bedroom. As he had went downstairs and peeked into the living room, he had seen the oldest laying passed out on the couch, beer cans and an empty bottle of sake scattered next to him on the floor as well as some empty snack wrappers.

 

Karamatsu had clenched his teeth and pressed his nails into his palms before he had closed the sliding door of the living room. His younger brothers hadn’t needed to see it. He had turned around and went into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast, disappointed.

 

Karamatsu was really worried for the oldest, but at the same time he also had a lot of repressed irritation towards him. He was endangering their future. Not to mention how bad drinking and smoking was for his health. What if one day he drank too much or passed out and choked on his own vomit or something? Something bad would happen sooner or later. Karamatsu didn’t think he could handle any more stress or worry than he had already.

 

Could he do nothing but follow from the sidelines as Osomatsu lost his grip again?

 

---

 

A yawn escaped Osomatsu’s mouth. He was sitting on the couch, watching some comedy program playing on the tv. He was bored, but he didn’t feel like doing anything so he stayed where he was. Maybe he should go to pachinko?

 

“Osomatsu-niisan, are you listening?”

 

The oldest turned to glance at Karamatsu, who was standing at the doorway, arms crossed, before he turned his gaze back to the tv. “Yeah, what was it?” he asked.

 

“I’m leaving now. My work, remember?” Karamatsu asked, raising his eyebrows.

 

“Oh, right. Have a good day,” the oldest answered, keeping his eyes on the tv.

 

Karamatsu frowned a little. “Todomatsu is in the kitchen. You need to check on him regularly to see everything’s okay. Please make rice and warm up yesterday’s leftovers for the boys when they return from school. I’d also appreciate if you cleaned the bathroom,” he said.

 

“Yeah, I’ll try to remember,” Osomatsu said, waving his hand dismissively.

 

“Even if you don’t do anything, that’s fine. Just keep Totty happy,” the second oldest said.

 

“Chill, Karamatsu!” Osomatsu said, now turning to look at him. “You always worry too much. Just go to work. I’ve done this a million times and still every time you worry.”

 

“I know, but-”

 

“You just hate being apart from your younger brothers, I get that,” Osomatsu said.

 

Karamatsu sighed. “Yes, that’s right. I’ll leave now,” he said and turned to leave. Osomatsu continued watching the program and from the kitchen he could hear Karamatsu’s bright voice as he talked to the youngest, who babbled happily in return. Then after a moment the front door opened and closed.

 

Osomatsu took in a deep breath. He was alone again - well, with the toddler. His neutral expression turned gloomier and he sighed.

 

It was early afternoon and the boys were at school. Osomatsu would have work in the evening but he was seriously considering calling it sick because of his pounding headache and just sheer lack of energy to do anything.

 

This isn’t working. Why am I so shitty?!

 

Karamatsu didn’t trust him. Not that Osomatsu could really blame him. He was the worst role model that his brothers could have.

 

Osomatsu rubbed his face with his hand. He should try talking to Karamatsu again. Maybe the second oldest would have an idea what could make him get a grip. He wondered if talking to the social workers would help. Maybe they could help him somehow? Or maybe they’d threaten to take away the boys and that would force him to act proper.

 

At times, Osomatsu felt that he was being selfish wanting to keep the boys. Maybe it would be best for them to be adopted into some other family, who could provide them better and give them what they needed. Maybe it had been a stupid, selfish thing to attempt to take care of them in the first place.

 

He sighed. Even if he decided to talk with the social workers, he’d have to talk about it with Karamatsu first.

 

Feeling shitty, Osomatsu stood up and walked into the kitchen. The youngest was sitting on the floor, hunched forward and coloring a coloring book with crayons. He looked very focused as he gripped a pink crayon hard and pressed it against the page with all his might as he colored. A small smile tugged the corner of Osomatsu’s mouth upwards.

 

“You’re having fun here, aren’t you?” he asked.

 

Quickly Todomatsu turned to look at him and smiled adorably. “Niisan!” he said loudly and picked up the book, waving it up and down in his hand as he showed it to his older brother.

 

“Yes, good job!” Osomatsu said, smiling warmly at the youngest. Totty giggled, pleased, and standing up, he wobbled to the oldest.

 

“Hmm? Do you want to play with your niichan?” Osomatsu asked.

 

“Wanna play! Niitan!” Totty said, taking a firm hold of Osomatsu’s pants below the knees, tugging them.

 

Osomatsu chuckled, rubbing the underside of his nose. “Alright then.” Without a warning he scooped the youngest up, who let out a loud, happy scream. Osomatsu laughed and arranged him so that he was laying stomach-down in his arms. Once the position was ready, he started wiggling him up and down, left and right.

 

“Oh my! It’s the famous Matsu-plane!” Osomatsu said and started walking around the downstairs, holding Totty that way and making him do hard turns and sometimes deep dives or rises. All this time Todomatsu screamed, laughed and squealed excited and happy.

 

“Oh no! We’re going to crash!” Osomatsu shouted a little later as he carried Totty towards the couch, tilting him forward so that his head was lower than the rest of his body.

 

“No!” Totty screamed and waved his arms. “No, no!! Oso-niisan!!”

 

Osomatsu grinned and lowered Todomatsu on the couch, making explosion sounds. “Oh no! The plane is destroyed!” he narrated and fell to the ground, laying still and quiet on his stomach.

 

Totty giggled and lowered himself down from the couch. “Niitan!” he said and hit Osomatsu on the back. When nothing happened, he climbed on his back, wiggling there and tapping the oldest with his hand. “Niitan!” When he still didn’t react, Totty slid down his back and walked out of the living room, already bored.

 

Osomatsu sat up chuckling to himself and looking at the door. “Not so light anymore, are you?” he chuckled to himself. The youngest was so silly. Osomatsu got up and walked after Totty into the kitchen, where he saw that the toddler had found some of his toys and was already playing with them.

 

Smiling, Osomatsu looked at him for a few seconds longer before he walked back to the living room, took a cigarette from his pack and made his way to the backyard veranda.

 

He’ll be fine while I have a quick drag.

 

---

 

An hour later Osomatsu was reading a manga book in the kitchen. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu should return in two hours and Choromatsu little later. The oldest got distractedfrom the reading often as he dwelled on his gloomy feelings and worries. He also thought every other moment that he should wash the rice and put it in the cooker. Still, he hadn’t done that yet. It felt so troublesome, but would only take a few minutes if he just got up and did it.

 

He was feeling bored but didn’t want to do anything. Osomatsu wished he still had beer. He just wanted to drown his worries in it, even for a moment. Feeling uncomfortable, he bit his lip. There was no other way he knew of to forget his worries and relax. He knew it was a bad habit, but drinking made him feel better.

 

Osomatsu took a glance over his shoulder to the window and saw that the weather was good. Maybe he should go out with Totty? The youngest was already so old that he kept himself happy for some time playing alone, but he sure loved attention from his niisans. Where was Todomatsu anyways?

 

Sluggishly Osomatsu got up and stretched his arms and back. Did they still have some cup noodles left? He was getting hungry. The oldest dragged himself to the living room doorway and leaned on the doorframe as he spotted the youngest laying on the floor, back turned to him.

 

“Hi, Totty!” Osomatsu said with a happy voice that he still somehow managed to do despite all the pain that he was carrying inside his heart. “What are you doing?” he asked.

 

Something felt off when after a couple of seconds he hadn’t gotten any reaction from the toddler. Osomatsu frowned and an uneasy feeling settled upon him. Quickly, he realized Totty’s rapid breathing and the panting sounds he made.

 

“Totty?” he asked, holding his breath as he quickly sat down next to him and turned the youngest to look at him. “Totty, hey?” he asked, his voice getting a bit louder. His worry only grew as he saw his face.

 

Todomatsu was breathing quick, laboured breaths. He was drooling too much for it to be normal and his body shook with tremors. What really made Osomatsu to go from worry to panic in a millisecond, was the unfocused, dizzy look in his eyes and his drooping eyelids. His skin was pale and a little bluish and he was sweaty.

 

Totty’s eyes moved as he tried to meet his brother’s gaze but didn’t really manage to do that. “Niitan…” he mumbled sluggishly.

 

“Todomatsu!!” Osomatsu shouted in panic and scooped him into his lap. The oldest had started to shake with fear immediately, his eyes were wide and his breathing fast. “Todomatsu!” he shouted again and shook him slightly.

 

The youngest whined and narrowed his eyes a little but the incognizance didn’t disappear. He swallowed uneasily, the saliva already staining Osomatsu’s sleeves.

 

“Todomatsu!!” Osomatsu screamed, holding the young boy tightly but afraid that he might hurt him accidentally. “Oh my god!” Tears were gathering into his eyes and first sobs escaped his mouth. “What is it?! Totty, please! What’s wrong?!” he pleaded for an answer.

 

What happened?! Oh my god!! What’s wrong?!! No, no, nonono!! What the fuck do I do?!!”

 

Tears poured over his eyes, blurring his vision as he looked around frantically. He gasped a breath as he saw a small pool of vomit on the floor a couple of meters away. Hurriedly he crawled there, holding Totty close against his chest. He frowned as he saw the vomit, unable to tell what the brownish black substance was. What had he eaten?!

 

Strong tremors shook Totty’s small body, causing the oldest to look at him immediately. “No, no no no, Totty!!” he cried and petted the youngest’s hair gently with his shaking hand. “It’s gonna be fine! I’m here!!” He lifted his gaze up and his eyes widened in horror and realization. “No! Please, n-no!!” His voice had started to break as his crying grew louder and more intense.

 

A little forward on the floor laid Osomatsu’s cigarette pack, opened. “ No!!” Quickly he snatched it. It was empty. He hadn’t left it empty.

 

A panicked cry escaped his mouth and he tossed the pack away, standing up hurriedly.

 

“N-no, Totty, please!!” he cried as he ran to the hallway and to the phone. He looked at the pitiful-looking boy, vomit staining his shirt and drool all along his cheek, his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. He didn’t know whether Totty was conscious anymore or not, and the glazed-over look in his eyes wasn’t giving him any hints. “N-n-no, Todomatsu!!” A loud sob escaped his mouth. “St-stay with me! Stay w-with niichan!!”

 

Osomatsu picked up the receiver and quickly dialed 119. He cried and cradled the small boy in his arms, kissing his hair. His expression had turned into a painful grimace as he followed Totty’s breathing in fear.

 

Finally Osomatsu heard a man’s voice: “ 119, what’s your emergency?

 

Osomatsu’s voice was teary and broken by his sobs. “My-my little brother a-ate cigarettes a-and-and he won’t respond!” he cried.

 

Where are you? ” the operator asked. Sobbing, Osomatsu told him the address.

 

How old is your brother and how many cigarettes did he eat?

 

“He-he’s almost two,” Osomatsu sobbed. “I-I’m not sure but two to f-four, I think.” His eyes never left his baby brother’s sick face. “N-no, Todomatsu, honey! S-stay with me!!”

 

An ambulance is on its way, ” the operator said. “ What symptoms of poisoning is he showing ?”

 

Osomatsu sobbed and breathed erratic breaths before he could make anything come out of his mouth. “H-he’s no-not really conscious anymore! He’s sweating a-and drooling and his breathing is rapid, he keeps shaking- O-oh g-god…!! Pl-please, you have to save him!! What- what do I do?!” Osomatsu hugged the trembling form of his brother close, pressing their foreheads together as he cried miserably.

 

Sir, try to remain calm and be ready for the paramedics to arrive. Do you have activated charcoal? ” the man asked.

 

“W-what? I-I don’t know what that is!” Osomatsu cried. In his arms Todomatsu moved and whined, tiredly. “Todomatsu?! T-Todomatsu, please look at Osomatsu-niisan!” the oldest cried desperately. Totty’s eyes cracked open, the look in them hazy, only for them to close again immediately after. Osomatsu petted his pale, sweaty cheek with his thumb. “T-Totty?!” His lower lip wobbled as he tried to hold back his cries, looking for any sort of response from the youngest.

 

It’s used to bind with nicotine and take it out of the body. Have you made sure that there’s nothing left in his mouth? ” the operator asked.

 

Quickly Osomatsu rearranged the receiver to stay pressed between his ear and shoulder and he gently put his finger inside Totty’s mouth, moving it around and seeing if he could find anything. He didn’t and he took his finger out. “N-no, there’s nothing,” he sobbed to the man.

 

The ambulance sent to you was nearby, so it shouldn’t take much longer for it to arrive. I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do until then. Try to keep him on sideways position in case he throws up. Be ready for the paramedics to arrive.

 

“I-I can’t do anything?!” Osomatsu cried, watching Totty’s pale face through his tears.

 

No, I’m afraid not, ” the operator said.

 

“H-h-he- Ca-can he d-die?!” Osomatsu stuttered.

 

If he doesn’t receive medical care soon, that’s a possibility.

 

“N-no…! To-Totty, you can’t!” Osomatsu cried, holding his tiny hand in his own tightly.

 

Sir, for now you just need to wait. Help will be there soon, ” the man said.

 

Osomatsu didn’t respond. He couldn’t. His breathing had hitched and no sound came out of his mouth for a moment as he cried before he started gasping in uneasy, erratic breaths. 

 

Sir, you can end the call now, ” the operator said.

 

“Pl-please come soon!” Osomatsu cried and ended the call, placing the receiver back down.

 

Osomatsu shook with his sobs and cries. He held Totty in his lap and had leaned over him as he cried his heart out, tears and snot staining everything. He was nearly curled around the youngest as he held him close, praying that everything would be okay.

 

“To-Todomatsu, not you t-too…” Osomatsu sobbed, his voice a quiet but high-pitched wail. “Please! Your niisans need you! Y-you’ll be okay! You h-have to be okay!!” he sobbed as he rocked the two of them slightly back and forth on his heels. Like this, he could feel the youngest’s small heart beating rapidly.

 

It’s all my fault!! Todomatsu might die and it’s all my fault!! If he dies because of my fucking cigarettes, I couldn’t live with myself. Why did this have to happen?! Todomatsu has done nothing bad! It should be me. Mom, dad, if you’re there, help! Don’t let Todomatsu pay for my mistakes!!”

 

Osomatsu straightened himself a little and looked at the youngest. It felt like something was ravaging Osomatsu’s heart to see him like this. His skin discolored, his hands weakly fisted and shaking, his shirt wet with vomit and sweat, his mouth occasionally making a sort of gagging motion without any result- And it was all because of him!

 

His breathing hitching, Osomatsu reached for the phone again. He had to let Karamatsu know what was going on. The second oldest would kill him mercilessly and he honestly deserved that.

 

Where was Karamatsu working today again? Osomatsu mentally kicked himself for not paying enough attention on anything important. He hated himself so much!!

 

He dialed the convenience store where the second oldest did most of his shifts and waited for someone to pick up. He sobbed miserably, following how Totty’s tiny chest rose and fell. Thank god, even if his breathing was fast and laboured, it was still constant.

 

A click sounded and then an older woman’s voice caught Osomatsu’s attention. “Hello, Nakayama speaking from-”

 

“I-is Karamatsu there?!” Osomatsu cried, cutting her off, his voice hoarse and teary. “Pl-please, I need to speak to him!”

 

“Huh? Who is this?” the lady asked. “Matsuno-kun is here, but-”

 

Osomatsu cut her frantically off again. “Please, th-this is his older br-brother Osomatsu! S-something’s happened, I need to talk to him!” he spoke in panic.

 

“Yes, of course,” she said concerned. ”Just a second.”

 

A moment later Osomatsu heard Karamatsu’s familiar yet worried voice. “Osomatsu-niisan?” he asked.

 

“K-Karamatsu!!” Osomatsu cried. He started crying so hard that for a moment he couldn’t get words out.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan, what happened?! What’s wrong?!” Karamatsu asked scared.

 

“I-it’s-!” His breathing hitched. “It’s T-Totty!” he stuttered through his cries, screwing his eyes shut. Loud sobs prevented him from continuing right away.

 

“What is it?! What’s wrong with Totty?!” Karamatsu asked urgently. Osomatsu didn’t need to see the second oldest to know that he was immediately filled with panic. “Osomatsu!! What happened to Totty?!” he shouted.

 

“H-he ate cigarettes!” Osomatsu sobbed. “I-I called an ambulance but I don’t know wh-what w-will happen…!” He clenched his teeth as he sobbed. Totty’s breathing was still constant, shallow and rushed as it was.

 

“Oh my god!” Karamatsu gasped, his voice muffling a little as he probably clasped his hand over his mouth. “No! Why- I’ve told you to stop smoking a thousand times!!” he shouted, suddenly sounding angry.

 

“I know!! I-I’m so sorry!! It’s m-my fault!” Osomatsu wailed.

 

“What hospital will you go to? How bad is it? Niisan, y-you can’t let him- him... ” Karamatsu didn’t finish his sentence and Osomatsu could hear him sniffling and his voice getting teary.

 

“I-I don’t know yet,” Osomatsu answered, petting Totty’s damp cheek. “I-I’m so afraid, Karamatsu!! Wh-what if his breathing just stops?!!” He covered his eyes with his hand, his body shaking with his cries.

 

“Oh god no! O-Osomatsu-niisan!! You have to m-make sure he’ll be fine!” Karamatsu said, his voice breaking a little. “O-oh my god, Todomatsu!” He started sobbing as well.

 

The doorbell rang and Osomatsu snapped his head up. “Th-the paramedics! I have to go!” he said, standing up carefully with the youngest in his arms.

 

“I-I’m on my way!” Karamatsu said through his sobs.

 

Osomatsu ended the call and ran to the door to open it. He looked down at the toddler, grimacing in pain at the sight of him looking so sick.

 

“Pl-please be o-okay, Totty! I-I’m sorry! I’m s-so so sorry!!”

Chapter Text

Karamatsu ran through the hospital corridors, his heart beating frantically and his breathing fast and shallow. He left work immediately after the call from Osomatsu. He had managed to stop sobbing, trying to convince himself that Totty was getting professional help and it would be okay. He was praying that Osomatsu was just overreacting. Totty would be fine. Karamatsu couldn’t let himself think of anything else. He’d be fine. He had to be.

 

The second oldest swallowed, but the lump in his throat didn’t leave. His insides were tied into fearful knots. He couldn’t survive if he lost anyone else. Todomatsu had to be fine.

 

Karamatsu slammed his body against the door to the emergency room, opening it and dashing through, the door being swinging behind him. Inside, he was greeted with loud voices mixing together. Some patients and relatives were crying, the hospital staff was discussing and sometimes nearly yelling orders to each other to be heard over the noise and there were a lot of machines making noise. The emergency room was a long room where beds were separated from each other by dividers. Karamatsu wasn’t sure how many beds were there, but there must have been many. It was really busy there and the hospital staff moved around constantly as they did their work.

 

Karamatsu had to slow his running into walking. His steps were still hurried as he searched for Todomatsu frantically. His heart was hammering as he made his way through the room. The atmosphere made him feel horrible and he really didn’t want to be there.

 

The second oldest scanned another divided bed and immediately his heart stopped and a horrified cry left his mouth. There on the hospital bed laid his baby brother, hooked up to machines and surrounded by hospital staff. Tubes attached to a respirator were going inside his mouth and a thinner tube was going from his nose to another machine. His skin was pale and damp, his eyes were closed, and he looked incredibly fragile.

 

"Todomatsu!" Karamatsu cried out, feeling his tears start pouring over his cheeks. He dashed to the bed. "Todomatsu! My dear, sweet Todomatsu!" He stared at his brother, horrified.

 

A hand was placed on his shoulder. Taking a glance, he saw Osomatsu, shaking with strong sobs. He looked horrible, eyes puffy and red, tears streaming down his cheeks and his nose runny. Karamatsu could tell that he hadn't stopped crying even for a moment.

 

"Ka-Ka-Karamatsu…" he sobbed and took his younger brother into a desperate embrace. Swallowing and sniffling, he continued: "I-I'm so s-sorry!! He- I-I didn't-!" He gasped air into his lungs. "I-it's all m-my fault! I- I-" His voice broke into miserable sobs.

 

A wave of mixed emotions washed over Karamatsu, but right now wasn’t the time to be angry at Osomatsu. His panic only grew as he saw how upset the oldest was. "To-Totty?! Wh-what are they doing?! Is he- Is he going to be okay?!" he asked, nearly sobbing as well. Seeing the youngest like this and now the way Osomatsu was behaving were making him even more scared than he was before.

 

Osomatsu sobbed miserably, grimacing and screwing his eyes shut. He was shaking all over as he tightened his grip on Karamatsu’s clothes and shook his head that was pressed against the second oldest’s shoulder. "H-he stopped br-breathing! H-he stopped breathing i-in my arms..." His sentence ended with a mournful wail. 

 

Karamatsu's eyes widened with shock and he felt like his heart stopped beating again. Immediately he turned to look at the small boy. "N-no, no!" Karamatsu sobbed. "Wh-what are you doing to him?! What's h-happening to him?!" He had to know what was going on! He had to hear that Totty would be fine!

 

“Sir, please try to remain calm. Panicking won’t help,” a nurse said as calmly as she could while focusing on her job. “We’re pumping his stomach. He’s on a respirator to make sure that his breathing will stay stable.”

 

Karamatsu sobbed, staring at Todomatsu who had done nothing to deserve any of this. How could something like this happen?! Totty had been happy and healthy just a while ago and now he was in a hospital bed.

 

The second oldest turned to look at Osomatsu. The oldest was gripping Karamatsu’s clothes and pressing his face into his shoulder as he cried hysterically.

 

“He- His breathing stopped?” Karamatsu asked. His sight was getting blurry with all the tears and he felt like he was having trouble breathing himself.

 

“I-I-I’m so- so sorry…” Osomatsu sobbed. “I’m s-sorry. I-I’m so sorry…” He clung onto his brother desperately.

 

Karamatsu stood frozen in shock. Some of the nurses were standing between him and Todomatsu, but he could still see the boy behind them. He focused his teary eyes to watch the steady rise and fall of his chest. He hadn’t truly understood the value of that small movement before now with it at risk of stopping. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from it as he said, sobbing: “H-he’s breathing now. H-he’s going to be alright, r-right?”

 

Osomatsu was crying so much that his breathing kept hitching so that no sound came for a moment. Whenever he could, he tried to sob that he was sorry and that it was all his fault, but he wasn’t really in much shape to talk.

 

Thankfully the doctor that was taking care of Totty answered the second oldest. “In most cases people survive from poisonings like these, but the next hour or two will be the most critical, especially since he’s so young,” he said.

 

Karamatsu took an erratic breath, his lower lip wobbling. There was no way that he could describe the helplessness and fear that he was feeling. Todomatsu meant the world to him and he was fighting for his life right next to him, yet there was not one thing Karamatsu was able to do to help him! He could only pray. Hadn’t their family suffered enough already? If there was any justice in the world, this wouldn’t have happened.

 

He had just opened his mouth to ask more about what they were doing to help Totty when suddenly the youngest started moving.

 

“Todomatsu!” Karamatsu’s eyes widened and for a second he thought that the boy had woken up. However, a new wave of terror filled him when he realized that the boy wasn’t awake at all.

 

“Todomatsu!!” His voice was higher and more panicked as he screamed. Osomatsu had released him from the embrace and was crying the boy’s name as well.

 

“He’s having a seizure!” one of the nurses said.

 

“Stop the gastric suction. We need anticonvulsants,” the doctor said and the nurses started working hurriedly.

 

Karamatsu held his hands tightly against his chest and wailed miserably. The young boy’s muscles were stiff at first and the second oldest could hear something between a groan, a cry, and a shout escape his mouth, although it was recognizably his little brother’s high-pitched voice. After that his arms and legs started jerking rapidly.

 

It was horrible to watch. Todomatsu’s limbs were bending, relaxing, then jerking again in an unnatural and scary way. His head moved with the jerks and he started drooling. The beeping of his heart rate had sped up alarmingly. There wasn’t much that the nurses and the doctor could do aside from giving him anticonvulsants through the IV and wait for the seizure to pass.

 

After a few violent convulsions, Todomatsu’s back arched and he went completely stiff. His mouth opened wider and fingers clawed. As soon as he relaxed his muscles continued the rapid spasming.

 

The two oldest brothers cried unrestrained. Karamatsu felt so powerless. He was terrified of what was happening and seeing Totty’s tiny body spasm like that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He’d do anything to make it stop! Literally anything! If he only could take his place and bear his suffering himself, he’d do it in a blink of an eye.

 

Osomatsu had covered his eyes with his hands as he sobbed and whined pathetically. Karamatsu wrapped his arms around him and cried against his shoulder. Immediately Osomatsu returned his hug.

 

Karamatsu couldn’t tear his eyes away from his brother whose limbs kept on jerking rapidly, almost rhythmically. He felt so horrible. He should have been able to prevent this from happening somehow.

 

---

 

Finally, after four agonizing minutes the seizure ended. Osomatsu and Karamatsu were hugging each other and sobbing together. It was horrible. It was just all too wrong. At least the seizure had ended, but Karamatsu had no idea whether Totty was okay or not. The hospital staff were discussing between themselves what they were doing, but Karamatsu didn’t understand half of it.

 

“I-is he okay?” the second oldest sobbed, scared to know the answer.

 

“He’s alright for now. We’re about to continue the stomach pumping.”

 

“A-and he’ll be fine?” Karamatsu asked further.

 

The nurse turned to glance at the two brothers sympathetically. “We’re doing the best we can,” she said.

 

Karamatsu’s heart sank. They still didn’t know for sure if Totty would be fine. He turned to look at the oldest.

 

Osomatsu was looking at the youngest and the nurses around him with teary, red eyes. His lower lip was wobbling and he was wearing a pained grimace. He was hugging himself as he shook. “I-I’m- I’m so sorry… I-I n-never… It’s m-my fault...”

 

Karamatsu clenched his teeth and without warning, he grabbed Osomatsu by the collar and turned him to face himself. “Yeah, it is your fucking fault!!” he shouted to the other’s face. Osomatsu met his eyes, distraught. “I can’t…” Karamatsu swallowed and tightened his hold on the collar. “I can’t even tell you how angry I am with you. I will never forgive you for this.” His voice was loud, but he wasn’t yelling. “But right now that’s not going to help anything and I just can’t deal with you when Todomatsu is fighting for his life!” Tears flowed down his cheeks but his stare was firm. “It’s your fault! I-it’s all your fault!! Totty is- Totty is... “ A sob escaped his lips and he let go of Osomatsu, crouching to the ground. “H-he has to make it through t-this. He h-has to! I-I love him s-so much, I c-can’t lose him…” he sobbed and covered his face behind his hands.

 

The second oldest could feel a comforting hand on his shoulder and then Osomatsu leaning against him. “H-he’ll be fine,” he said, wiping off his own tears. “H-he’s one of u-us. He’s str-strong!” he said, with an unsteady voice.

 

Karamatsu shot a quick glance at Osomatsu before moving his gaze to the ground. He clenched his teeth. He was feeling so angry, so furious that the oldest could have let something like this happen, but it was drowned by his overwhelming fear. Karamatsu nodded his head a tiny bit. Totty had to be okay. He appreciated Osomatsu’s words even though he knew the oldest didn’t have any idea of what would happen.

 

They stayed quiet for a long while calming themselves, which wasn’t easy as whenever they had managed to stop sobbing, one of them started up again and the other followed soon after. They were just watching the hospital staff work. In any other situation the noise of the room would have been distracting, but in the moment Karamatsu could only see Todomatsu and focus on him. He kept asking if Totty was okay and every time the staff answered with something vague like, “he’s okay for now, but we can’t say anything for sure yet” or “we’re doing everything we can.” He had asked them to tell him everything that they were doing so now the nurses were now explaining their actions occasionally. There was much that Karamatsu didn’t understand, but at least he got the impression that the nurses knew what they were doing.

 

“We’re done with the stomach pumping,” a nurse informed him after some time. “Now all we can do is keep an eye on his vitals and wait for him to wake up. Once an hour has passed with no problems, we’ll move him into a different room.”

 

The nurses started cleaning up and gathering their equipment. Karamatsu got up and walked next to the bed. He looked down at his brother, his heart aching.

 

The poor boy was so pale and sickly. He looked almost as if he could have been asleep, but the large tube going into his mouth said otherwise. It terrified Karamatsu. It just screamed wrong . Todomatsu also had an IV in his arm for hydration and medication.

 

Karamatsu leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his brother’s forehead. Then he petted his hair gently. Todomatsu was breathing in and out rhythmically, the respirator making some noise along his inhales. Karamatsu looked at Todomatsu’s face sadly. He hoped that the boy wasn’t in pain.

 

Osomatsu appeared next to him, his eyes glued to the youngest as well. Karamatsu ignored him pointedly. The oldest started petting Todomatsu’s hand softly.

 

“H-his hands are so cold,” Osomatsu said quietly and took his brother’s tiny hand into his.

 

Karamatsu kept petting Totty’s hair. He leaned closer again and looked at his beautiful face. “Don’t worry, T-Todomatsu,” he whispered. “You’ll be fine. I-I’m here, Karamatsu-niisan is here.” His lower lip started wobbling. “I-I love you so, so much! Please, Todomatsu… b-be fine.”

 

He straightened his back. Todomatsu breathed in and out without response. Karamatsu could feel his eyes watering again. His head was aching, his eyes were burning, and his throat was sore. He really needed some water.

 

Moving some of Totty’s hair behind his ear, he turned around and went to the sink that was on the opposite wall of the room, across from the beds. There was a tower of plastic cups, so he took one and filled it with tap water. He downed the cup in one go and filled it up again, this time drinking it slower.

 

Tossing the cup into a trash can, he started walking back and took one of the folded chairs that were leaning against the wall and carried it next to Totty’s bed. Most of the nurses were gone now, so he could sit there without being in the way.

 

Karamatsu looked at Totty. There was nothing he could do but to stay next to him and pray. He sighed deeply and started talking without looking at Osomatsu.

 

“Call the others’ schools. They need to come here. Ask if Choromatsu can go get Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu,” he said, his voice drained from crying.

 

Osomatsu frowned. “But-” He sniffled. “I don’t want to leave…” he said quietly, his voice scratchy.

 

Karamatsu fisted his hands. “Just do it,” he said bluntly.

 

“But-”

 

“Just do something useful for once!” Karamatsu said through his teeth, turning to glare at the oldest.

 

Osomatsu swallowed and nodded sadly. He rubbed his eyes and stood up clumsily. Then he started dragging his feet toward the door at the other end of the long room.

 

Karamatsu looked him go from the corner of his eye over his shoulder. Then suddenly he saw how Totty moved and he turned his attention on him immediately. A new wave of fear shot through him.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan!!” Karamatsu cried out and the oldest dashed next to the bed in a heartbeat. Their eyes were wide with horror as they watched Todomatsu start jerking again.

 

The last nurse that still was next to Totty quickly hit a call button, took a few steps away from the bed, and called for help from her colleagues.

 

Karamatsu had stood up in a second and he was leaning closer to the youngest. He took a hold on Todomatsu’s arms reflexively, wanting to protect him. “No, no, no no, Totty! You-”

 

“Don’t hold him down!” the nurse said and Karamatsu released the boy immediately. Totty continued jerking, now freely.

 

“Please, make it stop!!” Osomatsu shouted.

 

It was like something was squeezing Karamatsu’s heart and lungs, hurting him and making it hard to breathe. “Do something!! Please, do something!!” he cried to the nurse.

 

“Where’s the doctor?!” Osomatsu cried out.

 

“It’s okay. We just need to wait for it to pass,” the nurse said as two more entered the room and they started speaking rapidly amongst themselves but kept an eye on Todomatsu.

 

Karamatsu had covered his mouth with his hands as he tried to hold back sobs. Todomatsu was making a halting, groaning noise deep in his throat, which was muffled even more by the respirator’s tubes. His muscles were contracting, relaxing, then contracting again horribly. His head twisted violently from one side to another and his whole body went stiff for a few long seconds before the convulsions continued to jerk him. His chin was covered in drool.

 

The second oldest watched helplessly as his brother twisted and turned. He was vaguely aware of Osomatsu whimpering next to him as well as the hot tears falling down his cheeks again. If there was anything he could do... He wanted nothing more than to just pick the boy up and hold him in his lap and protect him from the world.

 

After what felt like forever, even if the nurses said it had been only two minutes, Todomatsu finally stopped convulsing. He laid on the bed like a ragdoll. His chest was rising and falling more visibly but his heart monitor was still going fast.

 

Karamatsu took a shaky breath. “Is h-he okay? What- what does it mean that he had a-another seizure?” he asked afraid for the answer.

 

“He’s fine for now. His heartbeat is slowing down to a normal level,” one of the nurses spoke up. “It’s bad that he had another seizure, but at least it was a lot shorter than the first one. That might not mean anything, but it could also mean that the anticonvulsants are starting to work.”

 

Karamatsu nodded. The nurses were positioning the boy better again. He tried to reach his hand out to touch him but didn’t want to be in their way. He withdrew his hand, deciding to wait for a moment, and looked longingly at Todomatsu.

 

“When- when should he wake up?” Osomatsu asked shakily.

 

The nurses glanced at each other, then one answered. “It’ll be best if he can wake up by tomorrow morning.”

 

Both of the brothers swallowed and nodded gravely.

 

“And i-if he doesn’t?” the oldest asked.

 

“With high overdoses there’s the possibility of coma, but please, there’s no reason to think about that right now.”

 

Karamatsu was shaking. His head was already hurting so much and he must have been dehydrated as well, yet still the back of his eyes started burning with new tears. Osomatsu took a hold of his hand and squeezed it. Karamatsu turned to meet his eyes.

 

“He’ll be fine,” the oldest said.

 

Karamatsu closed his eyes and took a few erratic breaths. Then he met his brother’s eyes, nodded, and took a seat. He looked completely drained as he stared at Todomatsu laying on the bed. After a moment he spoke up. “Osomatsu, please call the schools. They need to know what happened and come here.” His voice was quiet.

 

Osomatsu looked at Karamatsu, then at Todomatsu. He didn’t want to leave them, but he guessed he didn’t have a choice. “Yeah… I’ll do that,” he answered just as quietly and left the bedside. Before walking too far, he hesitated and took one more glance at his brothers. The guilt he felt was unbearable. Usually right about now he’d be itching for a smoke, but the thought of cigarettes made him nauseous in the current situation.

 

The oldest left the emergency room and started looking for the nearest phone. His head was hanging low and his hands were stuffed into pockets. He felt absolutely horrible. This was his fault. Todomatsu was in danger because of him and him alone. Losing their parents had been without a doubt the most painful thing that had ever happened in his life, but this was in some way even worse. He was the reason this happened. Todomatsu could die because of him!

 

The oldest took a deep, shaky breath in an attempt to calm himself. He couldn’t think of the worst outcomes. He was the oldest. He had to pull himself together.

 

His guts tied into knots and the lump in his throat grew. “ He stopped breathing. ” Todomatsu had been in his arms when suddenly he hadn’t been breathing anymore. Osomatsu shivered and sniffled. He couldn’t start crying again, especially not when his younger brothers would hopefully be here soon.

 

Osomatsu found a phone and lifted up the receiver. He took his wallet from his pocket and fished a few coins from it, inserting them into the phone. Then he took a small note that he had in his wallet as well. It had some important numbers written on it. He dialed the high school and waited, biting his lip.

 

After a short moment, a man answered. “Akatsuka High.”

 

“Hello,” Osomatsu said. His voice sounded hoarse and he cleared his throat. “I’m Matsuno Osomatsu. I need you to deliver a message for my brother Matsuno Choromatsu. He’s a freshman, but… I don’t actually remember which class he’s in.” He wanted to kick himself. He never paid enough attention to things that mattered.

 

“That’s alright. I can find him from the files. What message do you want me to give him?” the man asked.

 

Osomatsu swallowed. “He has to leave school. T-Todomatsu, our youngest brother, is in a- in a hospital and Choromatsu has to pick up his younger brothers Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu from their school and come to the hospital.” He gave the address and instructions on which part of the hospital they had to come.

 

“Alright, I’ll tell him right away. I hope your brother will be okay soon.”

 

“Thank you…” Osomatsu said and ended the call. He bit his lip and rubbed his eyes before he started dialing another number.

 

“Yes? Akatsuka elementary school,” a young woman answered.

 

“Hello,” Osomatsu started. “I’m Matsuno Osomatsu and two of my brothers are in the school. Matsuno Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu. They need to leave the school early today. Our brother Choromatsu is coming to pick them up, so could you see that they’re ready for him? Our youngest brother, Todomatsu, is in the hospital.” He was pressing his nails into his palms.

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the lady said, sympathy in her voice. “Yes, I’ll tell them and see that they’re ready for your brother. Do you want me to tell them that your brother is in a hospital?”

 

Osomatsu thought about it for a few seconds. “Yes, you can tell them. But tell them that he’ll be fine,” he added. The three boys would be so scared. Especially Choromatsu. Osomatsu felt horrible thinking how much he would panic. But they deserved an explanation of what had happened from a family member, not from a random adult.

 

“Alright. I’ll tell them. I hope your brother will get better soon.” Osomatsu thanked her and ended the call.

 

The oldest covered his face with his palms and leaned his forehead on the wall. His shoulders shook with the sobs that he had been holding back. Now they could do nothing but wait.

 

---

 

Almost fifty minutes had passed. Osomatsu and Karamatsu were sitting quietly in the emergency room, next to Todomatsu’s bed. All of the nurses had moved on to other tasks soon after everything had calmed down and now the only sounds in the immediate vicinity were the beeping of the machines, the humming of the air conditioning, and the rhythmic thrum of the respirator.

 

Osomatsu looked at the clock on the wall, then broke the silence. “He’ll be moved to another room soon,” he said. “ If nothing else happens,” he mentally added.

 

“Yeah…” Karamatsu answered, almost whispering. He was holding Todomatsu’s hand and petting it gently with his thumb.

 

Osomatsu followed the youngest’s breathing. It was calm and stable. Todomatsu had been cleaned and changed into hospital clothes. He was still really pale, but he looked peaceful aside from the tubes going into his mouth breaking the illusion.

 

“The others should be here any minute now,” Osomatsu continued.

 

Karamatsu stayed quiet for a moment. “I can’t leave Totty. You go fetch them.”

 

Osomatsu frowned. He didn’t want to leave Totty either. Besides, how was he supposed to face his brothers? He didn’t want to bring them any more bad news again. Hadn’t they all suffered enough already?

 

Before Osomatsu could say anything, Karamatsu continued, glancing pointedly at the oldest from the corner of his eye. “This happened because of you.” The words stabbed Osomatsu in the heart. “Take some fucking responsibility for once.”

 

Osomatsu stared at his hands on his lap and nodded. There was nothing he could say back to Karamatsu. He could only agree. He couldn’t blame the second oldest not wanting to leave Todomatsu alone with him. If- no, when - they got through all of this, Karamatsu would probably kick him out of the house, or at the very least he would never be let to stay alone with the boys again.

 

Osomatsu stood up. He felt a little faint after all the crying. “I’ll go wait for them,” he said and turned around, leaving Karamatsu to hold Totty’s hand.


You’re the worst brother in the world, ” Osomatsu reminded himself as he left the room.

Chapter Text

“Osomatsu-niisan!!”

 

Osomatsu turned to the sound to see Jyushimatsu running, quickly throwing himself against him and wrapping his arms around his hips.

 

“Jyushimatsu!” Osomatsu said, hugging him back tightly. He lifted his head and saw how Choromatsu and Ichimatsu walked to him hurriedly. Ichimatsu looked pale and serious while Choromatsu was visibly shaking with anxiety. “Ichimatsu. Choromatsu,” the oldest said and couldn’t help his face turning into a sad frown. How could he tell them what had happened? They’d hate him.

 

“What happened to Totty?!” Choromatsu asked, panic in his voice. “Where is he?!”

 

Three pairs of eyes were staring at Osomatsu, waiting for an explanation. The oldest’s guts were tying into knots. He felt absolutely horrible. Swallowing, he started speaking: “He should have been moved into a different room by now. His condition is stable. You don’t need to worry,” he said. He didn’t want them to be too scared.

 

“What happened?!” Choromatsu asked, agitated. He was looking Osomatsu hard in the eyes and the oldest got the feeling that his brother was already blaming him.

 

“He-” Osomatsu started, his voice shaking. “ Don’t you fucking dare start crying in front of your brothers.” “He ate cigarettes,” he finished.

 

Choromatsu’s eyes visibly widened and he inhaled sharply. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu shared a look and then looked back at Osomatsu a little confused. They didn’t really understand what that meant.

 

Osomatsu smiled at the boys sadly, hugged Jyushimatsu a little tighter and squeezed Ichimatsu’s arm. He lifted his gaze up to meet Choromatsu’s eyes to reassure him, but when he met the other’s eyes, he didn’t have a chance to start talking.

 

“You- you let him have cigarettes?!” Choromatsu yelled, his voice high. “How- You- you goddamn useless excuse for a brother!! What the fuck is your problem?!” he basically screamed. “Why can’t you do anything right?!

 

Osomatsu let go of Jyushimatsu and tried to reach out to grab the third oldest’s hand, but he pulled his hand away quickly, eyes burning with fury. The oldest felt like daggers were stabbing what was left of his heart. “Choromatsu, you’re right. I know that. But please, let’s discuss that elsewhere.”

 

“God!!” Choromatsu shouted, tugging his hair. Ichimatsu had inched next to Jyushimatsu and was holding his onto the younger one’s shoulder. They followed their older brothers anxiously. “Why do you have to ruin fucking everything?! We’d all be better off without you!!”

 

It hurt. It hurt so much. “Ch-Choromatsu-” Osomatsu tried, his voice pleading.

 

“You poisoned Totty!!” the third oldest yelled. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu turned to look at Osomatsu with wide, shocked eyes as well as some passers by.

 

Osomatsu swallowed. What could he say in his defense? Nothing. Everything Choromatsu said was right.

 

Before he could say anything, Choromatsu stormed past him. Osomatsu turned to look after him desperately before looking down at the two younger boys. They were staring back at him.

 

“Poison?” Jyushimatsu asked.

 

Osomatsu nodded hesitantly. “Cigarettes are poisonous,” he explained.

 

“But you smoke them,” the second youngest said, confused.

 

Osomatsu took in a breath. How should he explain this? “It’s different. They can be smoked, but never eaten. And they’re especially dangerous for young kids like Totty,” he said.

 

“My friend’s mom said they’re cancer sticks,” Ichimatsu said, speaking up for the first time.

 

Jyushimatsu turned to look at Osomatsu again, waiting for a reply to that. Osomatsu bit his lip. “She’s right. They’re really bad,” he said. “You should never even try them.”

 

“Then why do you smoke them?” Jyushimatsu asked.

 

Osomatsu wanted to scream. He didn’t know! He didn’t know why the fuck he had ever touched them. He wanted to beat himself up for ever being that stupid.

 

He looked at the two boys sadly. “Because I’m stupid. Onii-chan is very, very stupid. But you two aren’t.” He took hold of both of their hands. “Now, let’s go see Totty.”

 

Osomatsu led them to a counter where he asked where Todomatsu had been moved. After he got the answer, they started making their way to the elevator.

 

The two boys were really quiet. Osomatsu didn’t like that. “Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu, are you okay?” he asked.

 

Ichimatsu shrugged. Jyushimatsu frowned. “Is Totty going to be okay?” the second youngest asked.

 

It was like a knife was being twisted in the oldest’s heart. He squeezed Jyushimatsu’s hand. “Something like this is serious, but he’s going to be fine,” he said, offering a small smile to him.

 

A smile - albeit not really wide - returned to the second youngest’s face. He nodded. “Okay!” Then he started asking questions about everything interesting that he saw in the hospital corridors. Osomatsu did his best to remain patient, but the questions were really not helping him. Thankfully Ichimatsu noticed how the oldest’s answers were getting shorter and more annoyed, so he took up the job of answering the second youngest. That kept Jyushimatsu happy, even if Ichimatsu mostly answered with shrugs and muttered “I don’t know”s.

 

Osomatsu was relieved that he seemed like his normal self again. However, he couldn’t help but pray that he hadn’t just lied about things being fine.

 

Todomatsu would be okay. The worst was over.

 

At least that’s what he needed to believe.

 

Finally they reached the right door, which Osomatsu opened. Karamatsu and Choromatsu were standing next to the bed. Karamatsu was hugging Choromatsu, who was sobbing against his shoulder. As soon as the door opened, the younger brother freed himself from the hug, wiped tears off his face and shot a deadly glare at the oldest. Karamatsu turned to look at Osomatsu and their eyes met. The oldest averted his eyes.

 

Jyushimatsu ran to the bed, taking in everything that he saw. “What are those tubes?” he asked. Ichimatsu walked next to him, his expression somber.

 

Karamatsu petted Ichimatsu’s hair and gave Jyushimatsu a quick hug. “They’re helping Todomatsu breathe,” he answered.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded, accepting the answer. “What about that?” he asked, pointing at the youngest’s IV.

 

“He can be given medicine and water through it. It’s called an IV.”

 

“That?” Jyushimatsu pointed at the bag of liquid hooked in the IV.

 

Karamatsu continued answering Jyushimatsu’s flood of questions. Ichimatsu listened to everything that was being said and stared at Totty’s face in grave silence. Osomatsu was standing further from the rest. He felt like he wasn’t welcome there. He felt incredibly guilty. It was all his fault, so maybe he didn’t have a right to be there next to Totty. Maybe he didn’t have a right to be in the same room. Regardless, there was no way he could have left.

 

Choromatsu was standing on the other side of the bed, glaring daggers at the oldest. He was clenching his jaw and shaking, eyes red. Osomatsu could bet that he wanted to lash out to him again. Honestly, he deserved to hear it all.

 

He kept his gaze on the floor, but he could still feel the third oldest’s burning gaze on him. He took a quick glance which seemed to upset Choromatsu even more. Osomatsu turned his head away hurriedly, but the third oldest had already started walking up to him.

 

Choromatsu came right next to the oldest, and even though he was shorter and lankier, he managed to look intimidating. “This is your fault!” he hissed through his teeth. “His life is on the line because of you ! If- if this ends badly, I’ll make sure that you lose your custody of us if the social workers don’t do it first.” He met the oldest eyes with anger in his own.

 

Osomatsu bit his lip. “I know,” he said and meant it.

 

Choromatsu only huffed, turning his back to Osomatsu. He walked to the others and left the oldest alone.

 

Some time passed and Karamatsu had answered dozens of questions from Jyushimatsu. A silence had fallen upon the brothers as the second youngest followed the heart monitor’s beeping with fascination. The atmosphere was gloomy and depressing. Finally the silence was broken:

 

“...Will Todomatsu wake up?” Ichimatsu asked.

 

The three oldest brothers tensed up, not ready for such a question. Choromatsu turned to look at Karamatsu in fear, trusting that the second oldest would know what to say.

 

Karamatsu offered a sad smile to Ichimatsu. “He should be awake by tomorrow morning,” he answered. He shared a quick glance with Choromatsu, who bit his lip uneasily.

 

Ichimatsu studied his eyes for a moment. His look said that he wasn’t sure if he was completely satisfied by the answer, but then he nodded and turned to look back at the youngest.

 

Osomatsu felt himself let out the breath that he had been holding in. They really shouldn’t lie to the boys, but sometimes it was better to do that in order to protect them. There was no reason why they should know everything.

 

Some more time passed in the pressing silence. Osomatsu was still standing separate from the rest. Karamatsu was sitting next to Totty on the hospital bed, holding his hand and petting his hair. Choromatsu was sitting on a chair next to the bed, his eyes cast down anxiously. Ichimatsu had sat down on another chair. He was staring at Todomatsu breathing in and out worriedly, but he also kept an eye on the second youngest.

 

Jyushimatsu was walking around the room, exploring everything that there was to see. He was getting restless. Every now and then he sat down and swung his legs back and forth. “I’m bored,” Jyushimatsu whined. “Can we play something?”

 

“I’m sorry, brother, but there isn’t much to do here,” Karamatsu said. “And we can’t leave Totty.”

 

Jyushimatsu let out an unhappy sound and started shifting his position. It didn’t take long before he was upside down on the chair. He started laughing. “You’re all on the ceiling!”

 

“Jyushimatsu, stop fooling around!” Choromatsu said.

 

The second youngest grumbled and sat down properly again. Soon he started kicking the chair’s leg and making weird sounds to humor himself.

 

It was starting to get on Choromatsu’s nerves. “Jyushimatsu!” he said again. The second youngest flinched a little at others irritated tone.

 

Then Ichimatsu stood up. “Jyushimatsu, let’s go exploring,” he said.

 

Jyushimatsu jumped on his feet immediately, his smile widening. “Okay!! That sounds fun!!” He bounced happily to his immediate older brother.

 

Karamatsu looked at them, frowning. “Are sure you won’t get lost? This hospital is really big.”

 

Ichimatsu shrugged.

 

Karamatsu bit his lip, then he stood up. He found some paper and a pen from the counter next to the sink and he scribbled something down. He gave the paper to Ichimatsu. “That’s the ward and the room number. If you lose track of where you are, ask someone for help. Okay?”

 

The two boys nodded.

 

“Okay then,” Karamatsu said and squeezed both of their shoulders before straightening his back. “Don’t be away for too long. I hope you find something interesting.”

 

Jyushimatsu took a hold on Ichimatsu’s hand, starting to drag him towards the door. “Come on, let’s go!”

 

“Take care of each other. Thank you, Ichimatsu,” Karamatsu said, gratefully.

 

Ichimatsu only nodded and then the two left the room.

 

Karamatsu sighed, looking at the closing door with a sad smile. They were such good boys. Then he turned around and his smile disappeared. He made his way back to the bed, sitting on it and placing a soft kiss on Todomatsu’s forehead. The respirator kept pushing air inside his lungs with a rhythmic thrum. Karamatsu took a hold of his cold hand again and started brushing the back with his thumb.

 

Finally Osomatsu made his way to the bed and sat down on a chair on the opposite side from Karamatsu and Choromatsu. He reached forward to pet Totty’s arm lightly.

 

“Why do you have to be so selfish?” Choromatsu asked suddenly. Osomatsu looked up at him and saw how he was glaring at him. “Is it really that much to look after a child? It’s not like you have another job to be doing!”

 

Osomatsu stared at him in distraught. “I-”

 

“I bet you were too busy reading porn or getting drunk,” the third oldest spat out. “I- I can’t believe how irresponsible you are!”

 

“I’ve told you thousands of times to quit smoking,” Karamatsu said, joining the attack.

 

“Exactly!”

 

“But did you ever listen to me? No.”

 

Choromatsu breathed in, ready to continue when suddenly there were a few knocks on the door, before it opened. The brothers fell silent and a nurse walked in. “Is everything okay in here?” she asked, frowning and obviously sensing the tense atmosphere.

 

“Nothing has changed,” Karamatsu answered. “Is that good?”

 

The nurse started checking that everything was as it should be. “For now it can be good. But we can start to wait for him to wake up. It might still take quite a few hours so there’s no need to worry about it right now, though.”

 

The three brothers nodded and the nurse left soon after, reminding them that someone would come to check on the boy again soon. The moment the door closed, Choromatsu attacked Osomatsu again.

 

“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for you,” he started. “What if he doesn’t wake up?! What if we lose him too?!” he practically shouted in the end.

 

Without a warning, Osomatsu stood up and took a step closer to them even if the bed was still separating them.

 

“I told you I’m sorry!!” he shouted suddenly, tears in the corners of his eyes. “I’m so- so sorry! I’ve told you that hundreds of times! How do you think I feel?! I’m dying inside! I- I- Fuck!! What else do you want me to say?! What do you want me to do?! I’d do anything in my power if it would help Totty!!”

 

Osomatsu stopped his outburst and was heaving in heavy breaths of air. Fresh tears were rolling down his cheeks as he kept his eyes on his two brothers. They were both looking back at him with their eyes wide. Then Karamatsu frowned, troubled, but Choromatsu narrowed his eyes. 

 

“It’s too late to say sorry,” he said, averting his eyes, and a lot of the previous malice had left his voice. Now he sounded more tired and hurt.

 

“Choromatsu, stop that,” Karamatsu said. “I’m angry at Osomatsu too, but I don’t want you to talk like this will end badly. Todomatsu will make it through this,” he ended firmly.

 

“You don’t know that,” Choromatsu said. “You don’t know what will happen.”

 

“No, but I can’t think of what might happen,” Karamatsu answered and squeezed Totty’s hand gently. “And that would kill me,” he said, nearly whispering.

 

They fell into a long silence. None of them really knew how much time had passed when Choromatsu spoke up again. “What if something is wrong when he wakes up?” Osomatsu and Karamatsu turned to look at him and Choromatsu went on. “This is serious and he’s so young. What if he’s disabled in some way? If- if the poison destroyed his nervous system or something?” he asked anxiously.

 

Osomatsu and Karamatsu looked at each other. They had been so busy worrying if Todomatsu would live to the next hour that neither of them had even thought about that possibility.

 

Osomatsu felt sick. He hated himself so much.

 

Karamatsu shook his head. “We don’t need to think about that now,” he said but his eyes were unmistakably watering. “And even if there would be some permanent damage, he’s our brother and we’d take care of him. We would adapt.” He stood up. “I need to go to the bathroom,” he said and left the room.

 

Osomatsu watched him go, then glanced at Choromatsu. The third oldest averted his eyes and climbed on the edge of the bed, to the spot where Karamatsu had been. He petted Todomatsu’s cheek carefully with his finger before leaning closer to whisper something in his ear.

 

Osomatsu looked down to his feet. His body was exhausted and hurting from all the crying, but it was nothing compared to the ache in his heart.

 

---

 

All of the brothers were back in Todomatsu’s room. There was less than an hour before the visiting hours would end. Jyushimatsu had enjoyed his and Ichimatsu’s walk around the hospital and it had been a long time before he had managed to stop talking about all the weird and exciting things they had seen. They had found a family room with a few boxes of toys and Ichimatsu had taken a board game from there that he was now playing with Jyushimatsu on the floor. Jyushimatsu’s excited shouts and laughs were too loud to the otherwise silent room, but Ichimatsu did his best to keep the volume down. The three oldest brothers, even Choromatsu, didn’t care too much, however. At least one of them wasn’t feeling as horrible as the rest of them.

 

Suddenly Karamatsu felt how Totty moved. He tensed up in fear, but as he hurriedly turned his head to look at the boy, he saw that his eyes were open. Before he could react in any way, Todomatsu started coughing and choking on the tubes deep inside his mouth.

 

“Todomatsu!!” Karamatsu said and moved so that he was facing him better. The rest of the brothers stood up and surrounded the bed, Osomatsu hitting the call button immediately.

 

“Todomatsu, dear, it’s okay! Everything will be fine,” the second oldest spoke, soon getting a control over his own voice and managing to sound reassuring. Totty was choking and coughing and his eyes were full of panic. Karamatsu’s hands were shaking as he held the youngest’s hand. His choking looked scary and Karamatsu wanted to take out the tubes, but he didn’t know if that was okay. “It’s okay. It’s okay, honey. Karamatsu-niisan is here,” he spoke and turned to look at Osomatsu fear in his eyes. “Nurse,” he said just barely below a yell.

 

The oldest’s look was just as scared, but he nodded and nearly ran to the door. Just when he was about to step out, two nurses entered the room.

 

“He’s awake! He’s awake and the respirator- he’s choking!” Osomatsu said hurriedly.

 

“We need to sedate him, but it’s good he’s fighting the intubation,” one of the nurses said, going to Todomatsu while the other left the room.

 

“Totty, I’m here. No need to be afraid,” Karamatsu kept talking to the boy. The youngest’s eyes were getting teary and muffled whines escaped his mouth. The way he looked at Karamatsu hurt him. “You-you’ll be fine.”

 

The other nurse returned with a small bottle and the two started applying something to Todomatsu’s IV bag.

 

Karamatsu kept talking to Totty. His youngest brother was the only thing he was able to see and focus at the moment. The poor boy was terrified.

 

Jyushimatsu’s smile had disappeared and he looked really scared. Choromatsu crouched down next to him and wrapped him into a hug that the second youngest returned immediately. “What’s happening to Totty?” he whined.

 

“He’s okay. He’s just scared because he has the tubes in his mouth. It would be scary to wake up like that, right?” Choromatsu asked.

 

Ichimatsu stood next to them, following eyes wide and scared of what was happening. Osomatsu was holding Totty’s left hand while Karamatsu held the other.

 

It didn’t take long before the sedation started working. Todomatsu’s movements turned sluggish and he slowly stopped choking, his breathing turning even again.

 

“Yes, there’s no reason to be scared. You’re alright, Todomatsu,” Karamatsu spoke to him reassuringly as the look in youngest’s eyes turned cloudy. “You can rest a bit more for now.”

 

Osomatsu turned to talk to the nurses. “He woke up. That’s good. He’ll be okay, right?” he asked.

 

“It’s really good that he woke up,” one of the nurses answered. “But we need to do some tests to see that everything is as it should be. I’m sorry, sir, but you need to move a little,” she then said to Karamatsu, who stood up reluctantly. The nurses started removing the respirator tubes.

 

Karamatsu walked over his younger brothers. “Are you guys okay? Jyushimatsu, Ichimatsu?” They turned to look up at Karamatsu, Jyushimatsu still hugging Choromatsu tightly while Ichimatsu stood close to them.

 

“I-I don’t understand what’s happening,” Jyushimatsu said pitifully.

 

Karamatsu felt bad for him. He crouched down and took the second youngest’s hand into his. “Todomatsu just woke up. That’s really good because we’ve been waiting for that. Those tubes in his mouth were helping him to breath, right?” Jyushimatsu nodded. “He got scared because of them, so the nurses gave him medicine to calm down. Now they’re removing the tubes,” Karamatsu explained and smiled a little. “He’s fine. It just looks scary.” He turned to look at Ichimatsu. The third youngest nodded, signaling that he was okay and that he understood.

 

Karamatsu offered them a reassuring smile, then straightened his back and walked back to the bed. He wondered whether it had been a good idea to get the boys in there in the end. He hated seeing them so scared. But then again, if something had gone really wrong…

 

It took some time for the nurses to finish with what they were doing. When they were ready, they left the room. Karamatsu took his place on the bed again and spoke gentle murmurs to him in a calm, soft voice.

 

Osomatsu followed him in doing that, but at some point he spoke up: “The visiting hours are ending.”

 

Karamatsu turned to look at him. “I’m not leaving,” he stated.

 

“Me neither,” the oldest said.

 

“You have to.”

 

“No, I can’t. I need to be here and see that he’ll be okay,” Osomatsu said clearly.

 

Karamatsu frowned, then turned to look at Choromatsu. “Choromatsu,” he started. “Do you think you’d be fine alone with Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu for tonight?”

 

Choromatsu bit his lip and nodded. “Yeah, we’d be fine.” He cast a quick glance at Osomatsu, then continued talking to Karamatsu. “You need to stay here and it’s not like Osomatsu would help at all at home.”

 

The oldest visibly flinched.

 

“Thank you, Choromatsu,” Karamatsu said. “If you need me, you can call this ward’s office. I’ll get you the number.” Then he turned to look at Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu. “Me and Osomatsu have to stay here with Totty. Will you two be okay?” he asked.

 

Both of them nodded. Karamatsu smiled at them fondly. “Good. I think you should leave then. You must be starving. Come say bye to Totty.”

 

Choromatsu nudged the two boys slightly and the three of them walked closer to Todomatsu.

 

Jyushimatsu frowned. “Is he sleeping?” he asked, studying Todomatsu’s serene face.

 

“He’s sleepy now because of the medicines,” Karamatsu answered.

 

“Ah. Bye, Totty,” Jyushimatsu said.

 

“Bye,” Ichimatsu muttered quietly.

 

Choromatsu leaned a little forward to brush a lock of hair behind the youngest ear. “Bye now. Sleep well, Todomatsu.”

 

“Good. You can come back tomorrow if Todomatsu can’t return home yet,” Karamatsu said. I’ll come see you off,” he said and the four of them started making their way out of the room. Before leaving, the second oldest turned to look at Osomatsu. “I’ll be away for a minute or two. Take care of him.”

 

Osomatsu nodded. “I will.”

 

The oldest was left alone with Todomatsu and he sat down on the bed next to the youngest. He started petting his hair gently. “Everything’s fine,” he spoke quietly and felt how his eyes started burning again with tears. “I love you so much…”


He kissed Totty’s hair. “ Please, be okay.”