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Breathless (Alt. No. 13)

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They scurry between building alleys, panting, sweating and covered in dried blood, sometimes even entrails. Their backpacks are heavy with the promise of at least having a week’s worth of food. 

 

Osomatsu is out on a scavenging run with Totoko, Kinko and Jyushimatsu—Kinko and Jyushimatsu provide the raw man power, Osomatsu and Totoko provide their quick feet.  

 

“That was a good run,” says Totoko in between pants when she goes to hide by the side of the car that Osomatsu is already occupying. Osomatsu grunts in agreement and changes the empty magazine of his gun.

 

“Kinko and Jyushi?”

 

“Just be-”

 

There’s a scream and barrage of bullets, all the walkers shuffle towards the sound of it.

 

“That idiot,” growls Osomatsu and stands up from his cover, rounding the car to jump on the hood, walks up the windshield and into the car’s roof. He starts shooting indiscriminately, he feels the car dip and Totoko’s back against his own as they get rid of the group that they attracted for themselves.

 

The sound of Jyushimatsu’s machine gun goes off and Osomatsu snaps his gaze to where the fifth born is at. Armed with his weaponized bat, Jyushimatsu screams in anger and jumps into the group of walkers. Knocking skulls off the bodies, shrugging off hands and teeth. 

 

“Should we help?” Asks Totoko, watching with wide eyes as Jyushimatsu single handedly clears the walkers, even Kinko is left breathless at the sight of Jyushimatsu’s carnage.

 

“No,” answers Osomatsu, mouth thinning into a line, eyes narrowing.

 

Jyushimatsu is panting at the end of the fight, lets go of his bloody bat and drops to his knees, shoulders shaking with unshed tears. Osomatsu and Kinko quickly go by his side, each grabbing an arm and hoisting him up. Totoko grabs the bat and shoves it inside her backpack, closing the zipper around it.

 

“It’s okay. We got you Jyushi, we got you,” says Osomatsu to his mute brother. Totoko is covering for them as they trek back to their hideout—an abandoned barn with a running creek a few miles down south from it. They have been living there for a good five months now, but per this last run into the nearby town, Osomatsu has this dreadful feeling that they’ll have to start moving again.

 

Totoko snatches the door open and shoots at a walker before following after the trio. Osomatsu lets his bag and machine gun slip off his shoulder.

 

“Clear up,” says Osomatsu, watching as Ichimatsu and Choromatsu get up and help to lay down Jyushimatsu against the covered mound of hay—at least that’s better than the unforgiving ground.

 

“Was it bad?” Asks Choromatsu, worrying a fingernail between his teeth.

 

“No,” a pause, “yes,” trails Osomatsu, unsure, and then, “ I don’t know okay?” he sighs and runs a hand over his face.

 

“Lets allow them to rest Choromatsu,” steps Karamatsu neatly, wrapping firm fingers around Choromatsu’s shoulder and nudging him away.

 

Osomatsu sits at Jyushimatsu’s feet and rests his face against his hands and lets out a heavy sigh. He can feel the beginning of a headache forming at his temple and running to the back of his head. This is the third time Jyushimatsu goes catatonic this month, those outbursts of anger apparently leaving the fifth born exhausted and defenseless for two full days before he drags himself up back to a semblance of reality. Homura’s and Todomatsu’s death really took a toll on the fifth born.

 

And how could he not? First his girlfriend gets bit, he’s forced to watch her moan in pain, struggle for air and slowly feel the life seep out of her. Watch her turn into one of those things. And then, by some cruel joke of life, he watches his only younger brother sacrifice himself to give them a chance to live.

 

Choromatsu never again refers to Todomatsu as a dry monster—but the nickname and Todomatsu’s actions still keep him up at night. Karamatsu mourns quietly, along Ichimatsu, the death of the youngest of the sextuplet. Osomatsu doesn’t do as much as bat an eyelash and acknowledges that,

 

Now they are five and Homura is dead.

 

******

He couldn’t do it.

 

“Once we are out of Tokyo, we can find an isolated place Jyushimatsu-kun. Somewhere where the rot, the moans and the smell won’t follow us!”

 

Osomatsu ties her up when Jyushimatsu is out on a run with Kinko and Totoko.

 

“Is it too tight?” He asks, eyes flickering to meet Homura’s glazed ones. She chuckles and shakes her head.

 

“They are fine,” she says airily and hacks into a coughing fit, “thank you,” she chokes out after taking several gasping breaths. Osomatsu gives her a tight smile and tucks a stand of brown hair behind her ear.

 

“Jyushimatsu won’t like it when he sees you like this,” he says quietly, and looks around the room. Todomatsu huddles close to Karamatsu, huffing as he tries to will some fitful sleep. Choromatsu has his back pressed against Karamatsu re-reading one of the few books they found in the place. Totoko and Kinko nowhere near sight, having left with Jyushimatsu on a run.

 

Homura laughs and rests a clammy hand against Osomatsu’s, making him snap his attention back to her, “it’s fine. I’ll tell him I asked. Better safe than sorry,” she says quietly and feels as another wave of sleepiness washes over her. Osomatsu notices her droopy eyes and places a hand over her eyes.

 

“It’s okay, just sleep. He’ll be back before you know it.”

 

“I love Jyushimatsu-kun! I love you! Let’s live together!”

 

As expected Jyushimatsu doesn’t take it too kindly when he sees Homura’s hands bound together and her legs shackled to the sofa’s foot.

 

“She’s not turning! She shouldn’t be tied,” he snarls with white fury, eyes glaring daggers at every single one of the occupants in the room. So unlike his usually upbeat demeanor.

 

“Oi, Jyushimatsu stop it,” starts Osomatsu, voice tight, “she asked me to do it.”

 

“Oh so it was you? ” Hisses the fifth born and before Osomatsu has the chance to react, he feels his head reel back and a warm trickle roll down his nose. There’s movement and Karamatsu is restraining his younger brother to keep him from further assaulting the oldest of the six.

 

“Let me go Karamatsu-niisan! LET ME GO!”

 

“Not until you calm yourself brother!” And he tightens his arms around Jyushimatsu’s middle, lifting him off the ground so he has no leverage. That still doesn’t stop Jyushimatsu from kicking to nothing.

 

“Calm the fuck down Jyushimatsu, she asked me I just did as she wanted!” Retorts Osomatsu, wiping the blood with the back of his hand, eyes narrowing in anger.

 

“Fuck you! How would you like it if I tied you up!?”

 

“Jyushimatsu-kun?”

 

All anger, movement and voices come to an abrupt halt when they hear Homura’s weak whisper. Karamatsu promptly sets his brother down to let him dart to Homura’s side.

 

“And we can grow our own fruits and vegetables. Mom always had me help her with the garden, so I know I thing or two.”

 

She giggles when Jyushimatsu leans to kiss her cheek and rub his face against hers, arms wrapping around her waist, pulling her into his lap. He buries his face in the crook of her neck and breathes in deeply, eyes closed.

 

He knew that that wasn’t Homura. All traces of the chocolate brown eyes and sing-song voice replaced by bloodshot bulbs and snarls. 

 

Their legs dangle from the edge of the building, Jyushimatsu swings them as he happily hums to whatever Homura is babbling about.

 

“We can keep you and Osomatsu-san on the scavenging, maybe even Kinko-san, I know she likes doing a lot of the active work.”

 

They ignore the wet moans and shuffling steps below them.

 

She takes her last shaky breath at nighttime. Osomatsu can’t tell what time exactly because they have no way of knowing.

 

Jyushimatsu sobs into her shirt.

 

I love Jyushimatsu-kun with all my heart!

 

Not too long after her death, does she reanimate again and Jyushimatsu pulls back so fast that it would seem like Homura’s body was on fire.

 

“Let’s get married Homura-chan!” There is a pause and Jyushimatsu stands up, keeping his steady hold around Homura who yelps in fright and automatically wraps her arms around his neck. She feels the vibration of his chest.

 

She moans, eyes peeling open and disoriented. Jyushimatsu covers his mouth with a clothed hand and a silent open-mouthed cry rocks his body, bringing him down to his knees.

 

“Homura-chan, will you marry me?” Asks Jyushimatsu, getting down to one knee and pulls out the other wristband he had on him—Homura having lost hers in her haste to escape the flesh-eating humans and the military shooting at everything, even the living people.

 

He had to but he just couldn’t.

 

“Karamatsu,” snaps Osomatsu, standing by the second-born. Karamatsu goes and picks up Jyushimatsu, trying to usher him away.

 

Jyushimatsu wretches himself away from his brother’s hold and shakes his head.

 

“I’ll do it! She’s my-” and he chokes on a whimper.

 

“You don’t have to,” starts Totoko, trying to calm the hysterical male, “you don’t have to do it Jyushimatsu-kun.”

 

He’s shaking, fear and anguish refusing to let him breathe properly, and he starts to hyperventilate.

 

“Oh Jyushimatsu-kun!” She cries out and jumps on him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, her cheeks reddening as tears leave happy trails over them, “Yes! Yes! I’ll marry you!”

 

He grips the gun, hands unsteady, and attempts to bring it up to eye-level. The action itself causing his shoulders to tense up and his back to cramp. His knees give out under stress. He’s gasping for air again.

 

“We can’t let him do it,” hisses Choromatsu in Osomatsu’s ear, pulling the eldest away from the circle that is trying their best to convince Jyushimatsu- to keep him from shooting Homura’s reanimated corpse.

 

Osomatsu’s eyes grow hard and distant, “No. No we can’t,” he says dully.

 

I love Jyushimatsu-kun.

 

Osomatsu walks to the fifth born, kneels by him and slowly takes the gun from his grip. Karamatsu and Choromatsu pull Jyushimatsu back, holding him, whispering reassurances and instructing him to breathe.

 

Osomatsu raises the gun, hand steady, and sees his vision blurr for a few seconds before clearing. 

 

The sound bounces off the silent walls. It tears at every single one of them and it breaks Jyushimatsu’s sobs into loud wails. Totoko looks away and lets Kinko wrap her arms around her, both closing their eyes to shield themselves for at least a moment, from their reality.

 

Slowly, Osomatsu lowers his hand, notes the faded and clean wrist band on Homura’s right arm, and lets the gun slip from his fingers. He reaches to his side where he has a knife strapped to his leg and goes to the body, meticulously ripping the binds and picking her up from the sofa. He carries the limp body to where Jyushimatsu is and merely says,

 

“You have until tomorrow. Make it count,” and wordlessly leaves the room. He climbs the stairs to the rooftop and has a smoke.

 

Osomatsu watches the orange sunrise.

 

******

“Just go! Leave me here!”

 

“Shut up Totty, just shut up ,” growls Jyushimatsu, stops to let go of Todomatsu’s arm and picks him up bridal style. They are both covered in so much gore, mud, and blood that Todomatsu can’t tell what is his and what is walker remnants. How Jyushimatsu still has the strength to carry him as tired and bruised as he is, Todomatsu has yet to understand that. But he does understand that-

 

That if they can’t walk faster they’ll be eaten. And now that Jyushimatsu is carrying him, they are both defenseless. Their brothers aren’t around, they were separated when the herd barreled through and tore down their newest hideout. God and they had just arrived there too. No one could bear to stay in the building, not after Homura.

 

And now this .

 

Todomatsu can be anything he wants, especially now that the world has officially come to an end, but an extra weight is not what he will be. If he’s going down, then he will go down fighting back and- and helping his brother escape. Todomatsu struggles against Jyushimatsu’s iron grip until he gets dropped to his feet.

 

“Todo-” and he’s cut short abruptly when Todomatsu reaches for his gun and points it at him. 

 

“Go.”

 

“Totty,” says Jyushimatsu, raising both hands, reaching for his younger brother. This is his only younger brother. He can’t lose him. “Totty please,” he whimpers.

 

Todomatsu squares his shoulders, jaw set, and he fires at Jyushimatsu’s feet. 

 

“Go.” He orders again, voice steely.

 

“Todomatsu no!”

 

Without breaking eye contact, Todomatsu peels off his shirt to expose his rib cage—there’s a bite. Nonchalantly, he lets go of his shirt and returns the hand to the gun.

 

“Now go.”

 

“We can-”

 

“Oh my fucking god. Jyushimatsu-niisan! GO! RUN!” He feels his throat tighten with the lump that is slowly forming. God, this is really how Jyushimatsu wants their last interaction to be? The herd is just behind them now, following after the sound of  the gunshot. Seeing that Jyushimatsu is refusing to leave him behind, Todomatsu closes his eyes for a deep breath and snaps them open with renewed determination.

 

Keep Jyushimatsu alive.

 

“Fine. If you won’t. Then I will,” and he turns on his heels and runs toward the herd. Jyushimatsu screams at the top of his lungs and attempts to run after Todomatsu only to be stopped by a hand that pulls him back and away.

 

Jyushimatsu lets anger take over him and he snatches himself away from the hands and turns around to punch at whoever is keeping him from following after Todomatsu.

 

His fist is caught and-

 

“HOW COULD YOU!” Shrills Jyushimatsu in blinding anguish, “YOU-” and his own throat closes up. The feeling too familiar that it ignites his sorrow all over again. Slowly he slides down to his knees, and grips at his brother’s arms. “We were supposed to keep them safe,” he whimpers, shoving his face against the red sweater, “Osomatsu-niisan,” he wails with open-mouth sobs.

 

“Not now Jyushi. Let’s go, we gotta go,” he says, voice wavering at the display, his brain holding back from understanding everything that has transpired up to this moment.

 

By the time they reunite with the rest of the group the sun is long gone and the moon shines brightly above their heads. Somehow, they all managed to stumble upon the same bridge and set up camp there.

 

Jyushimatsu wordlessly walks past everyone and lays down on the concrete, an arm folded under his head, near the small campfire the women had started. Karamatsu goes up to Osomatsu, brows furrowed, and notices that the youngest is missing.

 

Osomatsu doesn’t have to say it out loud and he’s thankful for that. He just holds Karamatsu’s gaze and sees realization take over dark eyes. Ichimatsu and Choromatsu don’t bother moving at all, knowing that the gut feeling they had hours ago, happened because of Todomatsu.

 

Now they are just five.

 

******

“You know,” starts Osomatsu, voice even unlike his body that feels in disarray, “you gotta start to move on Jyushimatsu.” He lifts his face from his hands and glances over at the other male. Jyushimatsu is merely staring up to the ceiling with a blank, far away look.

 

He stands up from his spot and goes outside. No one stops him. Everyone agrees to this unspoken deal that they stick together no matter what, that if one goes out they are expected to come back to the hideout before dark, in return no questions will be asked and no one will follow unless requested to.

 

 

Osomatsu is by the creek, a few steps away from its bank when it hits him—

 

“Fuck. Todomatsu you fucking idiot ,” he says under his breath and blindly reaches behind him for anything solid, he’s walking backward until his back hits the trunk of a tree. He stays there and collects his breath, and realizes that even though Jyushimatsu was hit hard by Homura’s and Todomatsu’s death, so was he.

 

“We were supposed to keep them safe.” 

“You have until tomorrow. Make it count.”

“Better safe than sorry.”

“We can’t let him do it.”

“Fine. If you won’t. Then I will”

 

Osomatsu clutches at his chest and he’s taking in sharp breaths. He leans his head back and closes his eyes, his mouth forming Os as he tries to calm down. His vision blurs, clears and blurs again. He falls to his knees, gasping as his shoulders shake. 

 

It’s his first panic attack—the only one really, he is the Osomatsu and the Osomatsu doesn’t have panic attacks, or so he tells himself every time he feels a weird buzzing under his skin.

 

But today he is riding it out against a tree near the creek. Everything in him is shaking. Rattling him to his very core. The words. The memories. Everything is spiraling inside his chest, tightening every muscle in his body and hot, burning bile rises up his throat.

 

They are five now, not six. 

 

Jyushimatsu loses a brother and his fiancé.

 

Everyone loses a part of themselves with those two. It remains buried somewhere not to be touched, just like those two. Just like Homura and Todomatsu.