Arriving back at the house after their “family dinner”, Sakurai-san asked Reita to please get the front door open for him. He was having to carry Ruki who had fallen asleep on his shoulder not too far down the street from the front gate of the estate.
“This happen often?” Sugizo asked his uncle, smiling.
Sakurai chuckled softly. “Yeah, almost every time. He’ll outgrow it, but for now I’m just glad he’s small enough to carry easily. Unlike you.”
“Huh?” the auburn-haired man asked.
“Oh, you don’t remember that, do you?” he began with an amused grin. “When you were a young pup you used to do this too—so did Heath. Ichiro would usually carry him and I’d carry you.”
“You’re kidding…” Sugizo said, feeling a bit sheepish.
“No, not at all. You’ve fallen asleep in my arms more times than I can count,” Sakurai stated, smiling at his nephew’s apparent embarrassment. “And damn it if you’re not all arms and legs.”
Making his way over to the stairs that led up to the boys’ rooms, he turned back to his nephews.
“I’m going to put the little one to bed. Yes, you can use the bath house but be sure to clean up after yourselves,” Sakurai said, having overheard Heath and Hide’s discussion.
“Thank you, Uncle,” Heath said, giving him a small bow.
“Boys, everyone get changed, please,” Daddy Acchan told them, starting to climb the steps.
“Yes, be sure to get the little baby tucked in bed,” Reita said with an eye roll.
“Oh shut it, Rei. He can’t help it,” Uruha replied, following behind Sakurai, Aoi, and Kai.
“All I’m saying is that he needs to decide if he’s nine or if he’s nineteen with a mental problem,” Reita retorted, being the last one to start up the stairs.
Hide shook his head and laughed. “They argue like we used to, don’t they, Hiroshi?” he said with an exaggerated smile and ducked just in time to keep from getting swatted in the back of the head by his brother.
“Go on, Hideto,” Heath replied, shoving his redheaded brother in the direction of his and Sugizo’s bedroom.
Upstairs, Daddy Sakurai carried his youngest son into the bedroom that he shared with Aoi and set to getting the boy ready for bed. Aoi began gathering his things for his bath that he always took immediately after returning from a hunt. The other three boys went to their rooms to change and to decide what to do with the rest of the evening.
“Wonder if Hide will be hanging around more often now that Sugizo and Heath are home?” Kai asked, pulling his shirt off and tossing it into the clothes hamper.
“Don’t know…probably. The three of them seem to get along great. My question is how did he turn out to be so…eccentric…since his brothers are pretty much normal?” Uruha asked.
“Good question. He does seem like a good guy though, if a little odd,” Kai responded.
Turning on the small TV that the older boys kept in their room, Uruha quickly found a program that he liked.
“Hey, let’s watch the end of this and then we’ll go downstairs and play a few games, okay?”
“Sure, that’s cool. Wonder if Reita went out into the garden?” Kai asked, taking a seat on the bed.
“Of course. You know how he is.”
Back down the hallway, Sakurai had just finished putting Ruki’s sleepshirt on him and tucking him into bed complete with a kiss on his forehead.
“Goodnight, Ru-chan,” he said and quietly closed the door. ‘Hope Imai hung around,’ he thought as he started down the stairs.
Memories of putting his nephews to bed when they were pups ran through his head, causing him to chuckle. ‘Ruki is definitely easier to handle than either Sugi or Heath was. Damn, how long ago was that?’ he mused while he went to find his brother.
Once their program had finished, Kai went to make a pit stop before he and Uruha moved downstairs. The door was closed but unlocked so he stepped inside quietly to answer the call of nature. While he was washing his hands afterward, he glanced over to see Aoi in the soaking tub, completely motionless, dead-to-the-world asleep.
“Oh, Aoi-kun…” he whispered and shook his head. “It’s not just Ru, is it?”
Kai thought for a moment and then went back to his room to get Uruha.
“Oh, hell no. He busted my lip the last time I tried to pick him up while he was asleep. Go get Dad,” Uruha said in response to Kai’s request for help.
“Fine, fine,” he said, leaving the room and heading for the stairs.
It certainly wasn’t the first time Aoi had fallen asleep not long after feeding and it wouldn’t be the last. The problem was that Aoi insisted on bathing as soon as possible upon returning home and the warm water lulled him to sleep.
Kai had a pretty good idea about where Sakurai could be found, so he headed to the adult sitting room to check. Knocking lightly on the doorframe, he heard a voice telling him to come in. He slowly pushed the screen aside.
“Dad? Excuse the intrusion. I need your help,” he said, acknowledging his Uncle Imai with a small bow.
“Oh? Everything okay?” Sakurai asked, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.
Kai sighed. “Aoi’s asleep in the soaking tub again and Uruha won’t help because of how violent he can get when he’s woken up suddenly. Reita is still outside, I believe, but he’s useless in these situations anyway. Can you help? Aoi-kun won’t lash out at you.”
Imai chuckled and took a long sip of scotch.
“Sorry to disturb you both,” Kai said, wishing he didn’t have to be bothering them with this. He was the eldest brother so certain things fell to him to handle.
“No, no—it’s fine. I know how wild Aoi-kun can get when he’s startled. Don’t need any more black eyes and split lips,” Sakurai said and then drained his glass and stood up slowly. “Brother, I’ll be back.”
Imai nodded. “Go ahead, Papa-san. I’ll be here,” he said with a definite amused tone to his voice.
Upstairs in the bathroom, Sakurai looked down at his young son asleep in the water and just shook his head.
“Aoi-kun…it’s a good thing you can’t drown,” he said in a low voice, taking off his haori and hanging it on the nearby hook. He picked up the large towel that Aoi had gotten for himself and then stopped and thought.
“Better get me another towel like this. I’m going to have to wrap him up and try to keep from getting soaked myself,” Daddy Acchan directed Kai.
Once he had both towels, he pushed his sleeves up and reached in, letting the water drain from the soaking tub. Laying the large towel over the boy’s body which covered him from mid-chest to mid-thigh, Sakurai held the other towel across his arms and then reached under Aoi and picked him up, bridal style. Kai helped cover him up and caught some of the dripping water with yet another towel.
But just when they thought he was going to sleep through being moved, Aoi suddenly realized that he was being touched and held and he didn’t know who had him.
“Mmm…mmm!” he began to groan, still mostly asleep but starting to fight back. The towel across his arms worked to keep them fairly bound, but his legs were free and Kai very nearly took a foot to the chin.
“Move back, Kai—I’ve got him,” Acchan said, holding Aoi tighter and curling him into his chest, pinning his arms and almost tucking the boy’s head into his neck.
“Shhhh, Aoi-kun…it’s Dad. You’re okay, you’re okay…don’t fight me. I’m just putting you to bed,” Sakurai said to his son, carrying him into his bedroom.
“Dad?” he asked in a weak voice, trying to get his eyes to adjust.
“Yes, Baby—it’s me. You’re fine. You just fell asleep in the bath again and I didn’t want you to go under,” Acchan said in a low voice, knowing that Ruki was asleep nearby.
“Uhhh…I’m sorry. Just so tired,” Aoi responded.
“It’s okay, I understand. Let’s just get you into bed so that you can rest,” Sakurai said gently, laying him on his bed.
“I can get dressed. Thanks for pulling me out of the water,” Aoi said, feeling childish.
“Okay, I’ll leave you alone then. Get some sleep,” Acchan replied, leaning down and kissing his son on the forehead. Afterward, he shooed Kai out of the room and closed the door, heading back over to get his jacket.
“Dad? Can I ask you something?” Kai queried, following the older man from one room to the other.
“Sure. What’s on your mind?” he asked while pulling his haori back on and straightening his robes.
“It’s about Aoi.”
“Oh? You want to know why he—and Ruki, for that matter—always fall asleep right after feeding?”
“Well…that wasn’t my first question, but yeah, I had wondered about that too,” Kai replied, looking up into his dad’s face.
“Don’t really know what causes it, but it happens a lot. Lots of young ones have that issue for a year or two and then they outgrow it.”
“Uruha and I were curious because that never happened to me or him or even Reita and then Aoi and Ruki come along and they’re both that way.”
While they were talking, they walked down the hallway to the older boys’ bedroom where Uruha was sitting, still watching TV. Sakurai walked in and took a seat.
“Lots of our clan have been sleepers when they were pups but grew out of it. Your older brother Hisashi, for one. Your uncles Sugizo and Heath were too. My youngest brother U-Ta. It’s not uncommon at all.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad if Aoi didn’t wake up lashing out at whoever is close by. He’s normally so quiet and meek. What makes him freak out like that?” Uruha asked.
“It’s only when he gets startled awake. It’s a defense mechanism. Have you ever noticed how he sleeps with his back to the wall?” Sakurai responded.
Both boys nodded. “But he’s got to know he’s safe here and with us. I wouldn’t let anything happen to him and I know you certainly wouldn’t,” Kai said.
“Of course not, but you have to remember that he’s not all that far removed from a hard, dangerous life. That disgusting pimp that I rescued him from would’ve killed poor Aoi if I hadn’t stepped in when I did. Rabid creature. I sometimes wish I’d made him suffer instead of snapping his neck so quickly.”
“Didn’t you say he was choking Aoi when you found him?” Uruha asked.
Acchan slowly nodded. “Had him by the throat against a wall, feet off the ground. I’m not sure what Aoi-kun had done to piss that asshole off, but…” he trailed off and sighed. “And people say we’re the demons.”
“So is that where his obsession for being clean comes from?” Kai asked. “I mean, he knows he’s likely to fall asleep in the bath yet he absolutely has to shower and bathe every time we come home from a hunt.”
“Not only that. I have never seen anyone scrub their hands and fingernails like he does,” stated Uruha.
Sakurai nodded. “Yeah. He’s told me that he never really feels clean. He said that sometimes he can still feel people’s dirty hands on him. I don’t know how he’s ever going to have a relationship with anyone. I’m afraid he’s been ruined for any kind of physical closeness. Sad really. So young.”
“Yeah…” Uruha whispered, suddenly feeling really bad for his younger brother.
“While we’re talking about the young ones…” Kai started but was interrupted.
“You mean younger ones, don’t you? You’re still pretty young yourself, Kai-chan,” Daddy Acchan reminded him.
The young man blushed slightly and smiled. “Yeah, younger ones. How do you think little Ruki is settling in? I don’t want to say anything wrong, but…is he okay? He seems a bit, I don’t know…disturbed sometimes, really.”
Sakurai tilted his head and looked intently at him. “As far as I can tell, he’s doing okay. You may have noticed something that I haven’t though. What do you mean by disturbed?”
“I like Ruki and I’m not trying to be mean at all, but I think he has some sort of personality disorder,” Uruha offered and Kai nodded, looking at their dad. “He can act like two very different people in the space of a few minutes.”
“Like sometimes he’s a teenager and sometimes he’s a kid?” Acchan asked and was met with nods from his two oldest. “Again, I think that’s a defense mechanism. He seems to change to suit the situation, but
I don’t think he has multiple personalities.”
“And Reita? Does he seem okay to you?” Kai asked.
“He’s my problem child, no doubt, but deep down he’s a good kid I think. Have you been having issues with him?” Sakurai asked.
“He can be a bit of a bully, to be honest. I’ll put him on his ass if he tries it on with me, but he likes to pick on Aoi and Ruki,” Uruha stated.
“Yeah, and it pisses me off. He shouldn’t be like that. I straighten him out every time I catch him doing it, but he’s definitely got some issues when it comes to them,” Kai said.
Acchan sighed. “There’s always one. Hopefully he’ll outgrow that, but you’re right to reprimand him. Keep it up.” He paused and thought for a moment. “Where is he anyway?”
“Probably still out in the garden. He always goes out there and smokes after a hunt. He likes to be alone so we just leave him be,” Uruha said.
“Alright, that’s fine. If he needs some solitude then he should be allowed that. I just hope he knows that he always has someone to talk to if he needs it. Doesn’t have to be me,” Sakurai said and then stood up and stretched. “So I’m going back downstairs to talk something over with Imai. Unless one of you had something else you wanted to ask?”
Both boys shook their heads ‘no’ so all three of them headed downstairs.
“Get everything taken care of?” Imai asked when Acchan reentered the sitting room.
“Oh yeah, that’s two—anyone else need tucking in? You good, Imai?” he asked with a grin.
“I don’t know. You leave me alone drinking this excellent scotch for much longer and you just might have to,” the older man replied with a laugh.