Osomatsu hated sleeping. Especially when his dad wasn't around.
He wasn't tired. He didn't feel sleepy. Why did the teacher keep forcing him to sleep? They are idiots! They didn't understand anything! Whenever he jolted awake, sobbing his eyes out, they thought he was throwing a tantrum. No! He had been having nightmares. He even tried telling the teachers, asking if he could call his dad, but they said it was unreal and would go away soon enough. They told him not to bother his father too much because it was hard being a single parent.
They didn't get it. This nightmares kept repeating itself every two or three days; and every time it came back, it became clearer. Osomatsu didn't understand what it was about, he just saw a shadow of an adult, stretching his arms towards him, then there was a sound of something crushed and he woke up all panicked. At first, it was hazy as if everything was covered in fog. However, in the latest nightmare, he started seeing the shadow's mouth moving.
"It's like that person was telling me something." Osomatsu said wearily, his head hung down, tears beginning to form, "It's really scary…" He started sniffing, remembering how his teacher was listening to him half-heartedly. "Do you…" he struggled, taking a few quick glances at his dad, "… believe-?" His sentence was cut off by a hand rubbing his head.
"Of course I do, Osomatsu." his dad smiled, crouching down to lift Osomatsu onto his shoulders.
Osomatsu always loved this gesture, despite his dad's heavy cologne. He would be four years old the oncoming spring, so he was only as tall as a kid could get. However, whenever his dad did this, he felt like he could see the whole world, as far as to the horizon.
And this was not all his dad could do. He could fly! But daddy said that it was a secret so Osomatsu couldn't brag about it to his friends in kindergarten. He almost slipped sometimes though, when those brats jerked their chins up to the sky, proudly talking about their dads being pilots or something.
"My dad is better than yours! He can fly without those metal birds!" Osomatsu yelled, getting dirty looks from the other kids.
"Liar!" those kids shouted in union.
"I'm not lying!"
"I heard your dad is just a reporter. There's no way he could fly!" a kid pointed out, the others all nodding in agreement, "If you still insist he could, then show us the evidence."
"… then I remember you said it's a secret so I let them win…" Osomatsu said dejectedly, leaning his chin on the top of his dad's head.
His father chuckled amusedly, tapping lightly on his legs with his fingers, "You did well. I'm proud of you."
Osomatsu puffed his cheeks, not liking that he lost to those brats; however, his dad was happy so the loss was worth it, maybe.
"I'll buy you your favorite drink as a prize for being a good boy. What do you say?" his dad said, walking towards the vending machine.
"Yayyy! I love you, daddy." Osomatsu lightened up almost instantly, hugging his dad's head, loving the feeling of his hair tickling his neck. "I want sake!" he yelled excitedly when they arrived in front of the vending machine, unknowingly earning curious looks from the passersby.
His dad froze for a few seconds. "You aren't old enough for that." he reminded.
Osomatsu made a discontented sound. Although he never tasted sake, something inside always urged him to go for it every time his dad let him pick a drink. What was it called again? Instinct? "I want beer then." he settled for the second choice.
"You're underage." his dad said, half exasperated half amused.
"What is underage?"
"It means you're not old enough."
"How old do I need to be old enough?" Osomatsu whined, clutching at his dad's hair.
"Twenty," his dad hummed, "so sixteen more years for you."
"That's so long!!"
In the end, they settled for a can of lemon flavored soft drink, of course after Osomatsu's tantrum for not getting what he wanted. He was pouting the whole way home, grumbling that his dad was a liar, going back on his promise. However, he soon forgot all that when their dinner began.
Aside from his ability to fly, there were many more mysteries surrounding Osomatsu's dad. For example, he had two names: Aogo Karatsugu - used whenever they were outside, and Matsuno Karamatsu - only used when there were two of them. Accordingly, Osomatsu took the last names in the same fashion. His dad once said 'Aogo Osomatsu' sounded off, but they had to make do with it.
Osomatsu didn't know what was off, to be honest. He hadn't been named until Karamatsu'd taken him in a year ago. Before that, his memory was hazy. All he could remember was the lonely feeling. He had been in a very dark place where people only frequent once in a very long time just to make sure he hadn't starved to dead yet. They had often kicked or punched him without any reason, or the reason had been too complicated for his child brain.
Then one day, a blue butterfly had landed in that dark place, and Osomatsu's life had changed entirely. He had been half conscious at that time but the raging blue inferno engulfing the whole village was still vivid in his mind.
"Daddy," Osomatsu called when they were watching a cartoon on TV.
Karamatsu made some acknowledging sound, tightening his hug around his kid as if to say he was listening.
"Did my mother hate me?" he asked quietly.
His dad was silent for a few moments, then he turned Osomatsu around and lifted him up so their eyes could meet. "Why are you wondering about that?" Karamatsu asked warmly, his eyes gentle.
"The other kids said that because my mother hated me, she left me alone with you."
Karamatsu's eyes went cold for a second then back to the previous gentle state, "I haven't met your mother so I don't know." he admitted honestly with a sad smile.
Fighting back the urge to cry, Osomatsu swallowed thickly, "So she did…" he mumbled.
"I honestly don't care if she did, Osomatsu." Karamatsu grinned, "She didn't deserve you."
Osomatsu's eyes widened, his mouth making an O. "B-But they said that she left me because I'm a bad child. They said if I keep bothering you about my stupid dream, you will leave me-"
"Shhhh." Karamatsu put a finger on his lips, silencing Osomatsu who was on the verge of tears, "I won't leave you, ever." he said firmly, "You're my most precious treasure. I'm thankful that we met and I have the chance to be your father. Whoever left you didn't deserve you in the first place."
Despite not fully understanding everything his dad said, Osomatsu broke out in tears, leaning onto Karamatsu's chest, letting his tears fall freely, soaking his shirt. "I love chu… daddy…" he blubbered, sobbing harder when he felt his dad's gentle pats on his head.
"I love you too." Karamatsu whispered lovingly, cradling Osomatsu in his arms.
With his dad's confirmation of his unconditional love for him, Osomatsu could face the other kids with pride whenever they teased him for not having a mom.
"You need to have both father and mother because you're too bothersome for them to take care of you by themselves!"
And that led to a fight where Osomatsu single-handedly took down ten kids without breaking a sweat.
Obviously, Karamatsu was called to the kindergarten the next day.
"Aogo-san. We understood your difficult situation as a single parent, but we think you should have a talk with your son." said the principal.
Osomatsu stood by the side of the principal's desk, looking at his dad apologetically. No, he wasn't sorry for hitting those kids because they deserved it. He was only feeling guilty for interrupting his dad's work. As if feeling his thoughts, Karamatsu gave him a reassuring look before sitting opposite to the principal.
"What did my son do?" Karamatsu asked casually, his eyes betraying nothing.
The principal seemed slightly taken aback but she quickly regained her composure. "Osomatsu-kun fought with his classmates."
Karamatsu's eyes immediately moved to Osomatsu with genuine concern.
"I assure you your son is fine, but the ten children he beat aren't." the principal cleared her throat uncomfortably.
The reporter clearly chuckled but hastily covered with a few unnatural coughs, earning a scowl from the lady on the other side of the desk. "I'm sorry," he said pacifically, "Did Osomatsu tell you why he did that?"
Osomatsu instantly averted his eyes when the principal turned to him with a stern gaze. "It was the usual children's quarrel." she explained simply to which Osomatsu was about to oppose but stopped when Karamatsu shook his head. "The parents of those kids are demanding an apology from Osomatsu-kun and you, Aogo-san."
"I see." Karamatsu stood up, putting a hand on his chin thoughtfully. "They're waiting outside, I presume?"
The principal gave a relieved sigh, "I'm glad you understand." she smiled, giving Osomatsu a brief look then turning back to his dad, "They're waiting for you outside." she confirmed.
Osomatsu didn't like the pity look she gave him. Luckily, before he displayed any kind of poor attitude, his dad kneeled down in front of him with his ever kind smile. "Osomatsu," Karamatsu called gently, "Let's go apologizing."
Taken aback by his dad's words, Osomatsu kept opening and closing his mouth. He thought his dad would defend him. He didn't do anything wrong. It was those kids' fault for picking on him first. He just mocked them back, and they ganged up on him. "I don't wanna…" was all he managed when all words were stuck at the back of his throat.
"You're making it harder for you father, Osomatsu-kun." the principal admonished, "He already abandoned his work-"
"Excuse me, madam." Karamatsu put a finger on his lips, signaling for silence. The lady nodded but didn't try to hide her disapproving expression. "Osomatsu, look at me." he said, putting a hand on his son's shoulder.
"I don't want to say sorry to them." Osomatsu shook his head rapidly, taking a step back.
"They kept teasing me for not having a mother. I'm not sorry for retorting!"
Karamatsu was silent for a few moments, then he glanced back at the principal, who gave a nervous nod, acknowledging that she was aware of the contents of the kids' fight. "We still need to apologize." he smiled, earning a disapproving look from the kid.
Even if it was his dad, Osomatsu wouldn't back down. He wouldn't apologize when he did nothing wrong!
"You only need to apologize for hitting them, because you're much stronger than them."
"Eh?" Both Osomatsu and the principal had the same reaction.
"What are you saying, daddy?"
"What are you saying, Aogo-san?"
They said in union, making the reporter chuckle. Karamatsu stood up, lifting Osomatsu with him so suddenly, the kid yelped. "I'll give them the apology they want because of their kids' injuries, but I don't think my Osomatsu did anything wrong." He gave Osomatsu a tight hug, "I won't ask them to apologize for causing my son distress,…"
Karamatsu said something more but Osomatsu's ears were covered so he couldn't hear what it was. He just knew that when his dad carried him out of the room, the principal was already as white as a sheet.
They moved to another kindergarten a week later. Osomatsu didn't have anything to complain about since he was used to moving around, and these kids here were just mean. He loved the previous kindergarten more, where he'd made a lot of friends, but they had moved due to some unknown reason.
Karamatsu said it was his job, but Osomatsu often felt like they were running away from something. The last time they moved was when he had brought home a white puppy with a rare pair of crimson eyes. Before that was because a jizo statue had appeared in the park close to their apartment.
On those abrupt moves, Osomatsu often stayed silent because his dad was scary. He kept mumbling something like 'They found us.' throughout the trip to a new town very far away from the last.
Osomatsu had tried asking a few times but his dad kept stirring the conversation away so he stopped. If only he could grow fast, he would never let daddy shoulder anything alone.
The moving trip this time was enjoyable and the new kindergarten soon became Osomatsu's favorite place aside from home. The kids there were friendly and the teachers were kind. They didn't pick on Osomatsu for not having a mother but treated him even better so he wouldn't feel out of place.
"I love it here, daddy." Osomatsu happily announced after swallowing a mouthful of his dinner, "They're so nice, and girls are pretty."
Karamatsu rolled his eyes but when Osomatsu tilted his head questioningly, he put on his usual kind smile, "I'm glad you like it."
"Can we stay here until I finish kindergarten?" asked Osomatsu.
His dad hummed thoughtfully then put a piece of meat in Osomatsu's bowl, "You should eat more meat, it's good for your growth."
"Let me get us something to drink."
Osomatsu followed Karamatsu with his eyes. Was it his imagination or his dad was avoiding the question?
"Why are you drawing so many people, Osomatsu-kun?" a girl in class questioned as she stared at Osomatsu's drawing, "I thought your family only has your dad and you?"
Lifting his gaze from the drawing, Osomatsu grinned from ear to ear, "They're my dad's brothers."
"They look a lot like your dad." another friend pointed out.
"Of course they are." he ran a finger under his nose proudly, "They're… what did daddy call them again?" he tilted his head in thought, "Ah! They're sextuplets!"
"What is 'sextuplets'?"
Osomatsu didn't know when all his class had gathered around his table but he didn't mind the attention, or rather, he enjoyed it. This felt more and more like the kindergarten he loved before, where he could tell his story all day without anyone telling him off.
"Sextuplets are six children born at the same time." he explained, glad that he remembered.
"But you only drew five adults."
Osomatsu blinked, looking down at his drawing. The one in the middle, holding a little boy, was his dad; and then, the other four were his dad's brothers… Did he get it wrong somewhere? Osomatsu scratched his head, trying to recall what his dad had told him.
"Besides you, I have four more brothers, but they're busy so we can't see each other."
That was what Karamatsu had said, and now that Osomatsu thought about it, it was kind of weird, wasn't it? However, he couldn't figure out what was weird about it. "My dad said he is a sextuplet, but he only has four more brothers…" he mumbled confusedly, looking at his friends for help but they all seemed as clueless as he was.
"L-Let's continue drawing." the homeroom teacher clapped her hands, her smile strained like just figuring out something she shouldn't know.
"Your drawing is so adorable, Osomatsu-kun." the teacher interrupted Osomatsu, picking up his half-finished drawing, "Your father will definitely love it."
Forgetting what he was wondering about, Osomatsu gave a sunshine smile, "Really?"
"Of course." the homeroom teacher patted his head, mirroring his smile.
When Karamatsu came to pick up Osomatsu in the afternoon, Osomatsu's homeroom teacher asked him to stay for a small talk. Because of the previous incident, Karamatsu was somewhat defensive but he quickly let down his guard after a couple of minutes chatting. Seeing his dad and his teacher getting along should be a good thing to Osomatsu, yet somehow he began to feel more and more pissed off the longer they talked and laughed.
"I'm hungry, daddy." He tugged on his dad's cloak. It took him several calls to draw attention from Karamatsu.
"Oh sorry, Osomatsu. I didn't pay attention to the time." Karamatsu sent him an apologetic smile then turned back to exchange a few sentences with his teacher before bidding goodbye.
They held hands like everyday but instead of talking to his dad about everything and nothing, Osomatsu remained silent. Sometimes, he would kick a rock or pebbles on the road and mumble something under his breath.
"Is something the matter, Osomatsu?"
Their walk came to an abrupt stop. Osomatsu tried to proceed but his dad's grip was strong enough to keep him from pulling back, yet it was not too tight to hurt him. Having no choice, he spun back and met with Karamatsu's curious look. "Nothing." he answered, puffing his cheeks.
"There is surely something." said Karamatsu firmly.
"I said nothing." Osomatsu put both hands on his hips, staring at his dad with an annoyed frown.
Karamatsu seemed troubled. He scratched his chin, gazing at his kid, eyebrows furrowed slightly. Then he lowered his tone into a more pleading one: "Can you tell me what is bothering you, please?"
Averting his eyes, Osomatsu tried to hold on to his annoyance. He was always weak to daddy's pleas. It was unfair for Karamatsu to use that tone on him, knowing he would surely give in.
"Osomatsu?" Karamatsu appealed, looking genuinely worried.
"I don't like it…" Osomatsu finally whispered under his breath, but his dad didn't seem to have any trouble hearing. Karamatsu tilted his head questioningly. "I don't like it." Osomatsu repeated more loudly, meeting his dad's eyes, "I don't like it when you… my teacher…" he stopped, thinking of what word to use.
"You don't like your teacher?" Karamatsu asked confusedly, "I thought you said you like her-"
"I like my teacher!" Osomatsu instantly corrected, "She's very kind. I just…" he faltered again, hating the ugly feelings he was having. Should he say it? It was stupid and selfish. What if daddy came to hate him? Karamatsu had declared that he would never leave Osomatsu, but what if…
Karamatsu reached up, touching his kid's cheek. Osomatsu was startled but didn't flinch away. "I won't be angry, I promise." Karamatsu soothed, his thumb caressing Osomatsu's cheek ever so gently.
Osomatsu found himself on the verge of tears at his dad's reassuring words. Why was he doubting Karamatsu? There was no way his dad would leave him over such a silly reason, wasn't it? Yet every time he tried to trust Karamatsu, his lonely past surged back as a harsh reminder. He had been once abandoned. He had been once unneeded.
"You know I love you no matter what you do, right, Osomatsu?" Karamatsu's lips curved up into his usual kind smile.
"You always have that sad smile on when you're around me, yet you kept grinning like an idiot earlier!" Osomatsu screamed, his hands gripping his shirt so tightly that his knuckles turned white, "I hate that you like her more than me!" Tears started rolling down his cheeks and before he knew it, he was already sobbing uncontrollably.
Karamatsu's hand on the kid's cheek froze in place while his body went rigid. His mouth kept opening and closing but no sound came out.
For a brief moment, through the blurry water layer, Osomatsu noticed how lost his father seemed to be; so he took a step forward and threw his tiny hands around Karamatsu, trying to hug as much of his dad as he could. "I'm… sorry, daddy." he blubbered, "I'm sorry…"
Karamatsu was silent for a few moments before pulling Osomatsu in a tight hug that it almost hurt. "I only have you now, Osomatsu." he whispered almost soundlessly, "I could never love anyone more than you. I'm sorry for making you feel like that, but I promise that you're the most precious person to me." His shoulders trembled violently and Osomatsu felt something hot wetted the back of his shirt, "Please don't leave me, Osomatsu. You're the only one I have now…"
Osomatsu didn't understand what his dad meant. He just knew Karamatsu was sad, so he gave him slight pats on his head. "It's okay, daddy. I'll always be with you." he whispered softly, stroking his father's hair. It was the first time since the day they had become family, his dad was this desperate and vulnerable.
"So you were jealous." was Karamatsu's conclusion when they arrived home, "I thought you said you hated me, so my mind went blank." He laughed, scratching the back of his head embarrassedly.
"I could never hate you, daddy." Osomatsu cackled as he kicked off his shoes and ran to his room to put his backpack.
Because of the earlier incident, Karamatsu made Osomatsu's favorite dishes for dinner as an apology. Obviously, Osomatsu was more than happy to dig in.
Half way through the meal, Osomatsu suddenly remembered something. He put down his spoon and ran to his room, ignoring Karamatsu calling that he should finish his meal first, anything could wait. Osomatsu came back after a couple of minutes, hand holding a neatly folded piece of paper. "It's for you, daddy." he beamed, handing Karamatsu that paper.
"Thanks," Karamatsu grinned, putting that piece of paper on the table, "Let's finish our meal first."
"You open it first." Osomatsu insisted.
"I said after the meal." Karamatsu stood his ground.
"Daddy…" he whined.
"I'm not changing my mind."
They stared at each other for a long time before Osomatsu huffed and returned to his seat. "You win." he mumbled discontentedly, starting to chew on his food again. Karamatsu sent him a triumphant smile.
Sometimes, his dad behaved like they were the same age. Osomatsu didn't hate that, to be completely honest, although it was annoying as hell. It was almost like having a sibling. Osomatsu wasn't sure though, because he never had one before, so he could only imagine it from his friends' stories.
Wanting Karamatsu to open his gift as soon as possible, Osomatsu helped him do the dishes and clean the table. Then finally, when they sat on the sofa to enjoy a TV show, his dad unfolded that piece of paper.
A gasp escaped Karamatsu's mouth. Osomatsu could even feel his dad's breath was taken away. He looked at Karamatsu with anticipation, "How is it, daddy?"
Karamatsu's face churned up in a mixture of feelings; the most apparent, unfortunately, was hurt and regret. Seemingly noticing Osomatsu's smile shrinking, Karamatsu turned away, clearing his throat. "It's great." he choked out, sniffing, "It's really great. Thank you."
"Why are you crying?" Osomatsu moved closer to his dad, trying to reach his face that was partially covered by a hand.
"I'm not." Karamatsu's voice was high. He definitely was crying. "I just miss my brothers… maybe."
Oh . Osomatsu didn't think about that. His uncles had to be so busy that they had never contacted his dad. Even on New year or Christmas, it was always only Osomatsu and his father. It was like his uncles had all abandoned his dad… "They don't deserve you, daddy." before he knew it, words already slipped from his mouth.
Karamatsu swirled back almost instantly. His eyes were bloodshot, and his cheeks were still wet from tears. He was clearly crying because of those horrible siblings.
"Your brothers don't deserve you. Don't miss them!" Osomatsu yanked his drawing from his dad's weak grip, "They don't miss you, so you don't need to miss them!" As he was speaking, he tore the paper in half, making Karamatsu gasp in horror.
"I-It's y-your gift-" Karamatsu stuttered with a terrified expression.
"I don't need it if it makes you sad!" Osomatsu screamed as he continued to rip his drawing apart. Then he threw them away and held onto his dad's hand, "Like you said, whoever left you didn't deserve you in the first place. You have me now, you don't need those heartless brothers who never care about you!"
Osomatsu had zero recollection of what happened after that. It seemed like he fell asleep instantly so he couldn't see what expression his dad was making. But there was something he was certain of.
"It's me who doesn't deserve them."
When you committed a crime, it would come back to haunt you.
Never for a second, Karamatsu doubted those words. The heinous crime he had committed was always around, like a rope slowly tightening around his neck. It was suffocating to live every day, seeing Osomatsu smiling and telling him that he loved him. It was the greatest blessing he could ask for, yet it frightened him down to the core thinking of what would happen when the truth laid bare.
"Today we learnt how to make a flower crown, so I made one for you, daddy." Osomatsu's excited voice pulled Karamatsu out of his train of thought. The kid giggled as he climbed over the table to put the crown onto Karamatsu's head. "It looks really nice on you." he grinned, running a finger under his nose.
"Let me see." Karamatsu ran to the bathroom to see his reflection on the mirror above the sink. He didn't know much about flowers but this was white orchid, wasn't it? It had been a long time but… he truly looked dazzling with flowers, he had to admit. Just look at how the flowers complimented his guilty face. Now if he put a hand on his chin, angling his head up a bit… Yes, that was perfect.
"What are you doing, daddy?"
Karamatsu almost jumped to the sky. He swirled back and met with Osomatsu's blank stare like he had witnessed something he wished that could be unseen. "Nothing, nothing." Karamatsu waved both his hands, smiling innocently, "I was appreciating your flower crown."
"But you were doing this." Osomatsu mimicked his gestures with a hand making V-shape on his chin and a hand stretched out, forming an imaginary gun, "and said 'Bang', or something."
Feeling like an arrow shot through his heart, Karamatsu had to use every bit of his will not to squeeze Osomatsu tightly. How could his older brother be this cute? Especially when he did those poses. Even in his wildest dream, he would never imagine Osomatsu, or any of his brothers, would pose like that without dreading their broken ribs.
"Do you like it?" While Karamatsu was deep in his own fantasy about a cute little Osomatsu, the kid already moved to another topic.
Karamatsu snapped back to reality soon enough. "Of course I like it." he gave Osomatsu his brightest smile, "No, actually, I love it."
Osomatsu beamed back. "I'm glad you like it, because our guest teacher was Ch-"
A familiar ring tone interrupted Osomatsu. Karamatsu rushed to his bedroom, where he had left his cell phone on charge. After a brief exchange, he wanted to smack his own forgetful head. He had already stuck a note on his briefcase to remind himself to turn in the article on the way home after picking up Osomatsu, yet it'd completely slipped his mind.
Changing into his working attire, Karamatsu took his briefcase with the article inside then ran to the door. "Osomatsu, I'll go out for a bit, can you watch over the house?" he asked, putting on his shoes.
Osomatsu, who had been following his dad around since the phone rang, tilted his head curiously, "Where are you going?"
Practically hearing fear and worry in Osomatsu's tone, Karamatsu almost decided to ignore his work, but the cell phone in his pants pocket vibrated, signaling that his boss wasn't joking about this being urgent. "To my workplace, I forgot something." he rubbed Osomatsu's head reassuringly, "Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it. Now promise me that you won't play with the stove-"
"I know, daddy." Osomatsu said exasperatedly, "I'll be five next week, I'm not a baby anymore."
Chuckling at Osomatsu's adorable expression, Karamatsu opened the door, stepping outside then looking over his shoulders, "Don't open the door for anyone except me."
From Karamatsu's apartment to the editorial office was only around ten minutes walking. He could teleport there in one seconds but he didn't want to leave traces of his youkai powers anywhere, so he ran as fast as a human could.
It had been almost a year since they'd settled here. One more year and Osomatsu would start elementary school. He grew so attached to the kindergarten and the friends he'd made here, so Karamatsu had been doing everything in his powers to keep things as it was. The last thing he wanted to do was to use his powers accidentally and get detected by them.
As long as no one found them, he could keep up this façade, pretending that his crime had never happened, and that he was truly loved by Osomatsu. If you repeated a lie often enough, it would become the truth, wouldn't it?
Osomatsu didn't seem to have any memory of his previous life despite being Shuten-douji at birth. That was why his own mother had denied him and left him to the mercy of the other villagers. Because of some superstitious tradition, the villagers kept Osomatsu alive to torture whenever disasters befell them, believing that would bring fortune back. Despite how cruel it was, Karamatsu was thankful that they hadn't hired an exorcist to kill Osomatsu before he found him. Therefore, he'd burnt down the whole village as a thank you gift for them.
"Good evening, Aogo-san. The editor in chief is waiting for you in his room." the secretary informed him as soon as Karamatsu entered the department.
"Thank you." Karamatsu darted to the stairs leading to the first floor. Was it his imagination or the secretary was calling him for something? Later. He shook his head and rushed to knock on the editor in chief's room's door.
"Come in." a voice sounded from inside.
Not wasting another second, Karamatsu turned the doorknob, pushing the door open and walking in. "I'm sorry. This is the article-"
"Put it on my table then you can go.'' The editor in chief was too focused on something on his laptop to look up, so Karamatsu did as told and turned to leave. He couldn't wait to go back and hug his little Osomatsu while watching TV. "Oh, wait a minute, Aogo-kun." the editor in chief called when the reporter was halfway to the door.
Karamatsu spun back, expecting to be yelled at for forgetting such an important article. However, his boss only stared at him, looking slightly amused. "What do you need, sir?" he asked, tilting his head questioningly, "Is there something stuck on my face?"
"Not your face," the editor in chief laughed lightheartedly, pointing on the top of his head, "Your head."
Remembering the flower crown he hadn't taken off, Karamatsu scratched his neck embarrassingly. "It's the gift from my son. I was in a hurry so I forgot to remove it."
His boss's look changed from amused to bewildered.
"I'll take it off if you don't like it." Karamatsu hastily removed the crown from his head. Not everyone had the eyes for beauty-
"Why did your son make something like that?" the editor in chief sounded troubled.
Karamatsu stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He tried to keep a polite smile, "It was a crafts class and he was learning how to make a flower crown." he explained, "I know white orchids are quite a strange choice but I'd love whatever my son made."
"Th-That's a flower crown?!" the editor in chief stuttered incredulously.
"It is!" Karamatsu said firmly, feeling offended. Of course, coming from a child, it couldn't be perfect. However, it was as beautiful as a flower crown could be. Why did his boss react like this was some kind of trash-
"What part of it looks like a flower crown to you, Aogo-kun?"
"Every part of it, sir."
The editor in chief stared at him with his eyes widened to the point they could pop out. "They're not even flowers, just a bundle of black feathers!"
"What are you-" Karamatsu halted, looking down at his hands. His whole body froze.
The white orchids had turned into black feathers.
And there was only one person he knew who could do this.
"Welcome back, Karamatsu. Took you long enough."
As much as Karamatsu wished he was in a nightmare, it was real. Inside his apartment, not only Choromatsu but the other three brothers also presented. They were all in their human appearances like how Karamatsu kept using Karatsugu's identity, but their crimson eyes showed they were more than prepared for a fight.
However, "Where is Osomatsu?!" was the first thing that came to Karamatsu's mind. His eyes darted around the apartment, trying to catch sight of the small figure of the person he had come to love so much in such a short amount of time. He had been loving Osomatsu as much as his other brothers, but these two years together made Osomatsu much more special. He was the only one left that Karamatsu couldn't afford to lose. At least not until he atoned for his sin.
"We're not here to harm him. Calm down." Choromatsu said coldly. With just a lift of his eyebrow, Karamatsu was forced down to the floor by a gale.
"Where. is. he?" Pushing on the floor to lift his body up, Karamatsu spoke through his gritted teeth, still looking around.
"Osomatsu-niisan is here, Karamatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu waved his hand cheerfully from the sofa.
Karamatsu immediately snapped his eyes in that direction. Letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding, he relaxed a bit seeing Osomatsu unharmed and seemingly sleeping… No. He sprang up, wanting to dash to Osomatsu's side but another gale pushed him down. "What did you do to him?!" he demanded. There was no way Osomatsu could sleep with all this commotion.
The third brother crossed his arms, looking down at Karamatsu with a frown. "We're not you, Karamatsu. Rest assured." his tone was dripping with sarcasm. Karamatsu unknowingly averted his eyes. That was below the belt.
"We just gave back what belongs to him." Ichimatsu's voice came from the direction of the windows, which he was leaning on.
"What belongs to him…" Karamatsu mumbled confusedly. What could Ichimatsu be referring to? His powers? No, Osomatsu already had his powers, he just needed more time to learn how to control it…
Then it dawned on him.
Karamatsu suddenly couldn't breathe, his ears stuffed with cotton. It couldn't be… He shook his head rapidly. "Why did you do that?" he questioned soundlessly, desperately lifting his head to meet Choromatsu's eyes. The third brother gave back an almost pitiful look. "It's too soon, Choromatsu." propping his upper body with his elbow, Karamatsu tried to drag himself towards the sofa, "He's too young… He isn't ready for this." His voice broke on several parts that even he himself had a hard time believing it was coming from his own mouth.
"He isn't ready or you aren't?" Todomatsu's giggle could be heard from behind the sofa. He was leaning on the backrest, smiling amusedly.
"It-It's too soon for him to know the truth!" Karamatsu stammered as he sat up with difficulty, voice rising in despair, "He's not even five yet!"
"What's wrong with Osomatsu-niisan having the memory of his past lives?" Ichimatsu questioned with a lopsided smile, "Jyushimatsu dealt with it just fine when he reincarnated as Oogami Toshio." He glanced at Jyushimatsu, who nodded vigorously, "Except that his dearest father turns out to be his murderer."
A chill ran down Karamatsu's spine at the accusation. It wasn't wrong… No, it was terrifying because it was right. His worst fear had finally become reality. He knew it would one day. He just didn't expect it would be this sudden…
What would happen to the smile Osomatsu always gave him? What would happen to the love they kept whispering to each other every day? What would-
"Osomatsu-niisan is waking up!" Jyushimatsu announced happily with his usual wide smile but all Karamatsu saw was a twisted cruel grin.
"It's time, isn't it?" Choromatsu nodded contently as he walked over to beside the sofa, where Osomatsu started stirring. He glanced back at Karamatsu and the gale disappeared.
Without restraints, Karamatsu could stand up and escape, yet he didn't find any strength left in his limbs. He sat there, staring at a waking Osomatsu helplessly. His younger brothers all gathered around the sofa, some throwing him a narrow look.
Slowly, Osomatsu sat up, wiping his eyes sluggishly. Then he opened his eyes, and met with Karamatsu's fearful stare. Osomatsu's eyes lit up, "Dad-" he halted, happiness vanishing. His eyebrows furrowed as he spoke, "Karamatsu."
Each word pierced Karamatsu's heart like someone stabbed him with a knife. His lungs constricted. He felt like crying, yet he knew full well that wasn't the right he deserved. He could only stare at Osomatsu, waiting for his next word.
Osomatsu grimaced, his breathing uneven when tears rushed to his eyes. He kept averting his eyes and turning back to Karamatsu, seemingly unable to comprehend his own feelings. Karamatsu could only imagine what was running through that tiny head. The father who had vowed to forever love him was actually the one murdering him in cold blood. "Why?" Osomatsu choked out, "Why, Karamatsu?" his shoulders trembling violently.
I'm sorry . Karamatsu wanted to say that, wishing he could throw himself at Osomatsu and gave him a tight hug, stroking his hair and whispering comforts till Osomatsu calmed down. However, he knew, more than anyone, he had lost that right forever.
"Is this the future you desired when you killed me?" Osomatsu sobbed, bringing his hands over his head, nails digging into his scalps.
No, he just wanted them to be together, talking and laughing about everything and nothing. Karamatsu really hadn't wanted to be impatient. He really hadn't meant to ruin their supposedly joyful reunion. Yet he did, all because of his selfishness. He had rushed to fill the hole in his soul left by centuries of loneliness… and ended up digging that hole far bigger and deeper.
After killing Osomatsu, he had woken up. All dark and twisted feelings had ceased with the Shuten-douji corpse he'd burnt. The time he'd spent around his younger brothers in his fabricated world had become empty and meaningless; and he'd often found himself wondering why he'd done that. Eventually, the younger Matsunos had all awakened. Ichimatsu'd instantly recalled the eldest brother's death.
"I will never forgive you for Osomatsu-niisan's death." was Ichimatsu's last goodbye before breaking out of Karamatsu's barriers.
And with it, they'd all scattered away.
So in the span of fifty five years, Ichimatsu'd managed to gather the other three and corner Karamatsu. It was impressive in a sense. If they weren't in this situation, Karamatsu would've been proud of his little brother's efforts.
"Are you done grieving?" Choromatsu's cold voice pulled Karamatsu back to reality.
Osomatsu'd stopped crying somewhere when Karamatsu'd been lost in thought, and now was sitting still on the sofa, eyes down casted. It had to be too overwhelming for a five-year-old kid. But then again, Osomatsu now had the awareness of an adult. Maybe he was no longer in shock. Maybe he just didn't want to see this disgusting murderer anymore…
Chuckling joylessly, Karamatsu moved his gaze to Choromatsu, "I'm done."
Choromatsu and Ichimatsu shared a look then nodded. "I assume you're ready for the consequence?" asked Choromatsu, yet it sounded more like a statement than a question.
Karamatsu gave a half-hearted nod. He had been ready for this day since his last goodbye to Osomatsu.
"Rest in peace, Karamatsu-" Choromatsu pulled out his fan, raging wind filling the apartment, "-niisan."
Karamatsu closed his eyes. He didn't know what dying was like, but based on Choromatsu's tone, this would be painless. Oh, how merciful they were…
"Wait a minute!!"
Feeling something scratched his neck, Karamatsu snapped his eyes open, his hand automatically reaching to his injury. There was a bit of blood but his neck was still intact. Who just shouted-
"What's wrong, Osomatsu-niisan?" Choromatsu turned his head back, annoyed in his tone, and something else. Relieved?
Osomatsu jumped off the sofa, running towards Karamatsu but got pulled back by one of Ichimatsu's tails. "Let me go!" he yelled, fighting against the tail.
"What business do you have left with Shittymatsu?" Ichimatsu demanded, shooting Karamatsu a begrudging look.
After a few seconds fighting in vain, Osomatsu settled at a distance where he could hear Karamatsu well no matter how soft he sounded. "Okay," he sighed, "First thing first, why no one told me that we're going to execute Karamatsu?"
Everyone, including Karamatsu, gave Osomatsu an incredulous look.
"I just woke up, filled with foreign memories and feelings, and you just proceeded with your stuff. I couldn't even keep up." Osomatsu crossed his arms, looking at each brother. "Then while I was adjusting, you just went and…" his eyes met Karamatsu, "say you want Karamatsu gone."
"That's his punishment." Ichimatsu said harshly, crimson irises glowing.
Osomatsu lifted a hand, "I know he killed me-"
"That's punishable by death!" Ichimatsu snapped, interrupting the eldest brother, hatred burning in the depth of his eyes. Who could blame Ichimatsu for acting like this? He'd witnessed Osomatsu's demise with his own eyes, completely helpless.
"Ichimatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu tugged on the back of Ichimatsu's shirt, shaking his head slightly. The fourth brother gave an annoyed huff, turning his head away with a deep frown.
Taking the chance, Osomatsu jumped over the tail blocking his way and made it in front of Karamatsu. Without thinking, Karamatsu reached out, catching his older brother's shoulder.
"Be careful!" Todomatsu shrieked, hand extended with his staff at the ready. The others immediately pulled out their weapons or readied a spell.
However, Karamatsu only pulled Osomatsu closer for a hug. "I'm sorry, Osomatsu." he whispered weakly, leaning on Osomatsu's small shoulder. Osomatsu was as warm and soft as he remembered; the only difference was that Osomatsu would never say he loved him again, would never give him his sunshine smile again… So if he would be executed later, please let him carve this warmth into his soul so that he could find the way back to Osomatsu once they parted.
"Let go of Osomatsu-niisan, Karamatsu." Choromatsu warned, wind circling around the two eldest brothers.
"It's fine, Choromatsu." Osomatsu said almost exasperatedly, "He won't harm me-"
"He killed you!" Ichimatsu growled.
"I know!" Osomatsu yelled back, "You keep going on and on about Karamatsu killing me, so I should be the one deciding his punishment, shouldn't I?"
Ichimatsu and Osomatsu stared at each other, both panting heavily in anger and frustration. Only when Jyushimatsu pulled Ichimatsu's hand, he turned around, walking further away from the two older brothers.
"Can't we purify him or something?" Osomatsu suggested, looking at Jyushimatsu, who sent back a wry smile.
"He's too far gone for purifying, Osomatsu-niisan." Choromatsu explained, "Corruption reached the very core of his soul, if you try to purify him, he will die in the process." He sighed audibly, "If only we purified him at that time…"
"That's why we're actually doing Karamatsu-niisan a favor for killing him now." Todomatsu piped in, "Choromatsu-niisan's wind slash is painless, don't worry."
So that was why Karamatsu never picked up on his negative feelings anymore. His whole being was corrupted, so even pain was dear to him. No wonder why happiness and love were suffocating.
Then his brothers weren't punishing him. They came to give him salvation-
"Can't we… not kill him then?" Osomatsu offered, spreading his hands in front of Karamatsu protectively. Karamatsu didn't know when he had let go of Osomatsu, but now his hands were resting loosely by either of his sides.
Choromatsu massaged his temples. "Listen, Osomatsu-niisan." he said tiredly, "We're not enjoying the thought of killing him one bit, in case you're thinking so. However, this must be done, or we won't be able to stop Karamatsu when the darkness in him grows worse."
"But he hasn't done anything wrong since the day he killed me, has he?" the eldest brother argued, "As far as I know, he's doing a good job raising me."
"Are you aware that he burnt down the whole village after rescuing you?" Choromatsu tilted his head to the side, throwing Karamatsu a disapproving look.
"I'm aware." Osomatsu gave a firm nod.
"Then surely you know he imprisoned your mother's soul?" the third brother lifted a brow.
Osomatsu swirled back immediately.
"It's true, Osomatsu." Karamatsu gave him a joyless smile, "That's what she deserved for abandoning you."
"B-But you said you haven't met her-" the eldest brother stopped, bringing a hand over his mouth, "It's a lie."
Karamatsu nodded, "It's a lie." he confirmed.
"What do I do with you, Karamatsu?" Osomatsu said exasperatedly, letting out a long sigh, "What else did you lie to me then?"
"Every time we moved due to my work was actually to escape our younger brothers." Karamatsu listed out calmly, "Because I was afraid this day would come." gesturing with his eyes at all his little brothers.
Osomatsu shrugged, "That's understandable, I would run too, if I knew these scary guys were coming after us."
"That's a very nice compliment, Osomatsu-niisan." Todomatsu complained, "We tracked you all the way here to give you back what Karamatsu-niisan was hiding from you, yet you're acting like we're ruining your perfect life."
"But you were." Osomatsu rolled his eyes, earning dirty looks from his younger brothers and a surprised one from Karamatsu.
"It's not funny, niisan." Todomatsu's joking tone became serious, his eyes narrowed.
Osomatsu stared back at the youngest brother. "You're punishing Karamatsu because he killed me, but did you ask me if I want any of this?" he crossed his arms, "Did you ask if I want my memories back? Did you ask if I want Karamatsu to die? No, you're just doing this for revenge because he denied you of the right to choose to be a human or a youkai-"
A light beam scrapped Osomatsu's shoulder and sent Karamatsu sprawling on the floor.
"Ichimatsu!" Choromatsu spun around in bewilderment.
"Osomatsu-niisan, that's not your idea." Ichimatsu shook his head, taking a couple of steps forward, "Shittymatsu has put those nonsense into your head during the last two years."
"He didn't!" Osomatsu protested instantly, "It's my genuine feeling. I can feel that his love is real also. We don't need to kill him- No, I don't want Karamatsu to die! He's my precious brother and father!"
A beam shot right at the middle of Osomatsu's face.
Osomatsu tumbled back a step. What just happened? Did Ichimatsu seriously blast him? However, it didn't hurt, or even itch. Was this some kind of prank? Poor taste nonetheless.
"Are you okay, Osomatsu?"
Looking over his shoulders, Osomatsu gave Karamatsu a reassuring smile, "I'm good." he said, checking Karamatsu's injuries. Aside from a burn on his shoulder, the second brother seemed well over all, except for one thing… Karamatsu's look sent chills down Osomatsu's spine, although he wasn't looking at him. "Don't worry, Ichimatsu probably didn't mean to injure me. That beam was to snap me back to my sense." Osomatsu joked, trying to pacify the situation.
Karamatsu didn't seem to listen. He glared at Ichimatsu, his eyes glowing a dark crimson color. The smoky butterfly wall that had just blocked the beam came back swamping Osomatsu and Karamatsu protectively. "How dare you hurt him." Karamatsu said in a low and threatening tone, his clawed hand moving slightly and a few butterflies transforming into burning human skulls.
"Come on, I've been waiting long enough for this day." Ichimatsu smirked, putting two fingers near his chin, several fox spirits forming around him.
"Karamatsu, I'm okay!"
Choromatsu and Osomatsu shouted at the same time.
Ichimatsu was the first to dismiss his spell. Karamatsu only calmed down when Osomatsu held his face in both hands and forced their eyes to meet.
"See, I'm okay." Osomatsu reassured, giving his da- younger brother the best grin he could manage. He really needed more time to adjust.
Karamatsu was quiet for a few seconds before returning the smile. "I'm glad you're okay." he said, rubbing Osomatsu's head gently like he always did over the past two years before abruptly retrieving his hand. "I-I'm sorry, it's a habit." He averted his eyes.
Not wasting a second, Osomatsu caught Karamatsu's hand, placing it on his head again. "It's fine, I like it." he beamed, making the second brother's eyes widen. "This calm expression suits you more, dad-Karamatsu…" he let out a loud sigh, "Fuck it, can I call you 'daddy' like before? Because I seriously can't get used to calling your name."
There was some bothered sound probably coming from the other younger brothers but Osomatsu ignored it. His eyes focused on Karamatsu, who apparently froze where he sat. He knew this would be awkward for Karamatsu - for himself too - but it was freaking hard to suddenly have to refer to your father by his name. So they would have to do with this now or no conversation could be done without Osomatsu correcting himself at least twice a sentence.
"I'm fine with anything." Karamatsu finally said, barely audible. "I'm fine… with everything you call me." he repeated but with more difficulty like trying to hold back his feelings, "As long as you still call me… as long as you still want to talk to me…" His face churned up, his breathing stopped in an futile attempt to keep himself from crying. His body trembled as tears started trickling down his cheeks. "I'm really sorry for my selfishness, Osomatsu."
Embracing Karamatsu carefully, Osomatsu stroked his hair, patting his back tenderly while whispering 'It's okay.' every time Karamatsu choked out an apology. He didn't know what Karamatsu was apologizing about among all his wrongdoings. However, that didn't matter, all he wanted was for Karamatsu to calm down. That previous frightening expression still gave him goosebumps when it flashed back in his memory.
As if reading Osomatsu's mind, Choromatsu cleared his throat, "That's what we meant by Karamatsu being corrupted, Osomatsu-niisan."
Startled, Osomatsu continued his reassuring gestures when Karamatsu tensed up. "I don't understand, can you clarify?" he asked more coldly than intended.
"To you, he seems normal, but in fact, it's only because you're the pinnacle of his sanity. His corruption was born from loneliness so he always sought company and love, especially from his family. He didn't approach us because we all pushed him away. However, you - without your memory - gave him exactly what he needed." Choromatsu explained with an indifferent tone like he was teaching a student, "Karamatsu's world is built around you and you only. Whoever hurt you will automatically be his enemy and he would do everything to get rid of them. You can see that he intended to fight Ichimatsu earlier, not a second of hesitation."
"But he stopped-"
"Because you told him to." Choromatsu cut him off, "Not because of his own morality. He's entirely under the control of his emotions-"
"I don't see it as a valid reason to kill him." Osomatsu huffed.
"Are you saying that it's fine if he kills us too, in case we accidentally harm you?" Todomatsu joined the argument, sounding irritated, clearly losing his patience.
"No, I-" Osomatsu halted. The youngest brother did have a point.
"Please see the bigger picture, Osomatsu-niisan." Todomatsu emphasized his position, "I can understand that your current self loves him, but you're not that ignorant child anymore. You're entirely Matsuno Osomatsu now, tell us what your other selves are saying about this matter."
Unable to argue to that so Osomatsu kept silent. He could hear what the other Osomatsu was saying in his mind but he didn't want to acknowledge it. He was the past, he shouldn't influence the present!
"Let's get out of here."
Surprised by Karamatsu's whisper, Osomatsu tried not to react to avoid growing suspicion. He wasn't even aware when Karamatsu had stopped crying but he sounded perfectly calm now. However, what should Osomatsu respond to this suggestion? No matter how appealing it sounded, running away wouldn't solve anything. Their little brothers would find them again, and they wouldn't show mercy next time. Yet, Osomatsu couldn't stand still and watch his dad getting executed; that was far more cruel than any of his nightmares.
"Please let me be with you for a little longer."
And all logic went out of the windows. "Let's go." Osomatsu whispered.
A flutter of smoky blue butterflies suddenly made their appearance and in a blink of an eye, Osomatsu was no longer in the apartment. However, they materialized… in the front of their building?
"What the…" Karamatsu mumbled confusedly, stumbling forward a couple of steps before falling on his knees.
"Daddy!" Osomatsu hurried to Karamatsu's side only to be repelled by a gust. Scrambling back to his feet, he tried again but got flown away once more. By the time he got up again, his little brothers already surrounded Karamatsu.
"Naïve of you to think we came unprepared this time, niisan." Todomatsu chuckled, knocking his staff on the ground. A pink light flashed; Karamatsu gave a choke groan, clutching at his chest. "This whole town is under my control. It took me five months to finish this spell, hope you enjoy it."
"Finish him already." Ichimatsu grumbled, golden energy focusing on the tip of his tails.
"Don't make it sound like we're some kind of assassins!" Choromatsu scolded, producing his fan from his sleeves.
"But that's what we're doing, Choromatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu reminded.
They were still discussing but Osomatsu couldn't hear anything anymore. They were crazy to speak so calmly about their own brother's death. Were they heartless? Or did they stop considering Karamatsu as their family? Osomatsu knew Karamatsu's sin was unforgivable, but he was still… his father.
What would he be in this life without Karamatsu finding him?
A monstrous growl ripped Osomatsu's throat apart, startling the other Matsuno brothers. They couldn't react in time when Osomatsu swatted them away with his giant arm, as easily as against some random bugs. Grabbing Karamatsu, now small enough to fit inside his palm, Osomatsu spun around and bolted away, not knowing where they were heading, just wanting to get away from those executioners.
"Are you okay, daddy?" Osomatsu was slightly taken aback by his own voice. It didn't sound human at all, almost like a beast growling.
However, Karamatsu seemed to understand because he gave a weak nod. He didn't look okay though. His breathing was laboring, his hands still clutching at his chest and his grimace grew worse with every minute passing by.
"You'll be okay when we get out of here." Osomatsu reassured, uncertain if it was for Karamatsu or himself. Seeing Karamatsu suffering hurt him so much. Yes, he knew full well that Karamatsu had killed him without hesitation… But that hadn't been exactly him. This Osomatsu only knew of a warm father who was always by his side through all ups and downs; who never failed to shower him with so much love and care whenever his past tried to convince him that he wasn't worthy of affection. No one could persuade him otherwise, even the past Osomatsu.
The danger alarm suddenly went off in his head. Osomatsu jumped right in time to evade a gale sweeping at his feet. He quickly made way to the roof of a three storey house, then continued to leap to another house effortlessly. He could hear wings flapping behind his back, probably Choromatsu-
Osomatsu immediately dove to the left at Karamatsu's signal, closely missing a light beam. Didn't have time to go back to his original direction, he proceeded with the way he found himself in.
With Karamatsu's command, Osomatsu managed to dodge almost all attacks aiming at them. However, basing on the destruction left behind, his little brothers were holding back their powers, presumably avoiding to injure Osomatsu more than necessary. A few attacks reached their target but only did so much as to make the eldest brother stumble a couple of steps.
"Stop running, Osomatsu-niisan!" Choromatsu shouted, "We don't want to hurt you!"
"Stop chasing after us!" Osomatsu yelled back almost amusedly. This had become more of a game of tag than a life and death situation.
Choromatsu started to complain about Osomatsu's attitude and how light he was taking the situation. However, his attacks didn't grow in intensity. On the other hand, Ichimatsu's light beam began to tear apart more obstacles like a silent warning. Osomatsu could only imagine his condition if those beams got him.
On their chase, Osomatsu once caught a glimpse of his reflection on a building's windows. A two-storey red skinned monster glanced back at him. On top of his head was a pair of red horns, much longer than Osomatsu ever remembered, completely different from the tiny pair on his little head that had been hidden away by Karamatsu's illusion to make him look human. His lower jaw also grew forward so the fangs wouldn't pierce his upper lips. His body became muscular. His youkai mark was totally visible after his child clothes were torn off.
He was truly a monster, wasn't he? It all thanks to Karamatsu, he had been allowed to live as a human, even if it was only for two short years.
"We're close, hang in there, daddy." Osomatsu whispered when Karamatsu stopped giving out commands for a while. His body was getting used to evading so hopefully this would save more energy for his father. The spell Todomatsu was casting didn't seem like the kind to kill but more of a suppression on Karamatsu. That was why his teleportation had gone wrong and all his illusion had worn off.
Eventually, the outskirts of their town came into sight. Osomatsu couldn't help increasing his speed. Just a few more houses, they would be out of Todomatsu's magic, Karamatsu's pain would ease and they could escape together-
Osomatsu's thoughts were cut off when he was thrown off his feet by something rising from the ground. It was too sudden, he couldn't hold onto Karamatsu, but that could be considered lucky because his weight might have crushed the second brother if they were rolling together. Crawling back up, Osomatsu let out a relieved sigh, realizing he was out of the town's vicinity.
"Daddy?" he called, looking around and quickly found Karamatsu lying several steps away. Not wasting a second, he made a dash and… crashed at an invisible barrier. "What the-?" he mumbled, slightly disoriented.
"One-sided barrier…" Karamatsu's voice sounded too weak to be his.
"Get up, daddy!" Osomatsu called desperately, seeing tiny Choromatsu and Ichimatsu approaching them at an alarming speed. "Only five steps, you can do it!"
After several calls, Karamatsu finally got into sitting position, then he tried to stand up but kept failing so he crawled forward.
Five more steps. Although Karamatsu was slow, Osomatsu believed he could make it before those two arrived.
Four more steps. Was it his imagination or Ichimatsu had stopped mid air?
Three more steps. Choromatsu also stopped moving. What was going on?
Karamatsu's arms gave up on him, he slid forward.
"Daddy!" Osomatsu tried reaching with his hands but the barrier was too sturdy. "Please! I can't lose you!" he screamed, ignoring his own monstrous voice. They were so close to escape; even the pursuers understood and gave them the chance, right?
"Let him die and reincarnate, you know it's better for him too."
"Shut up!" Osomatsu roared.
"It's not like you will lose him forever. Just like how Karamatsu found you, you will find him again-"
"But what guarantee do I have that he will love me again?!"
Stirring slightly, Karamatsu lifted his head off the ground. Osomatsu instantly looked at him. "I'll always love you." his lips moved, then he dragged himself forward, shortening the distance to one final step.
"You can do it! I'm here." Osomatsu opened his giant hand hopefully.
Karamatsu reached out.
And an arrow pierced his chest.
Osomatsu looked up to the sky from the bus's windows. Another day was coming to an end. Being a working adult was no fun, and office work didn't help one bit. He wanted to be a reporter like Karamatsu had been, so he could travel to the end of the world and come back with an earth-shaking article. However, his laziness in studying hadn't given him a pass at that career. Therefore, he settled for whatever he could get.
Being a youkai, he didn't exactly have to work, but he had been lazing around long enough to get bored of it. No wonder why Choromatsu still continued his work as a flower arranger, claiming that he was the descendant of Midorito Chorosuke. Osomatsu rolled his eyes. Like a virgin like him could have a chance with girls, let alone having descendants.
Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu changed their jobs several times to avoid getting attention for their unchanging appearance. They usually shared an apartment, sometimes close to Osomatsu, sometimes far away. However, they always made sure to frequent Osomatsu's home at least twice a week. Jyushimatsu openly said he wanted to spend time with his eldest brother while Ichimatsu affirmed that he just had too much free time.
Finally, Todomatsu was the only one refusing to live as a human. He resided in a temple in town, only appearing to take offerings from people. He also took care of all the jizo statues he had arranged around the town for the extreme spell he had used on that day.
"Osomatsu-niisan!" a yellow whirlwind crashed at Osomatsu when he was strolling home, sending him tumble to the side several steps. "You're late today." he chirped, holding Osomatsu's hand with his sleeved one and pulling him towards the building he had lived in with Karamatsu before.
"Where is Ichimatsu?" Osomatsu asked absentmindedly while walking to the elevator.
"He's in your house!" said Jyushimatsu excitedly.
"Great," he laughed. It was Osomatsu's idea to give the house keys to all his younger brothers so they could visit whenever they wanted without having to wait outside. However, he would appreciate it if they gave him a call in advance. Like, what if he opened the door and Chorofappysky was in the middle of doing it? Okay, that wouldn't happen, but still…
They arrived at his apartment after a couple of jokes. Jyushimatsu pushed open the door like it was his own house. Welcoming them inside was Ichimatsu, who sat on the worn-out sofa, reading a book.
A meal was prepared beforehand, which Ichimatsu insisted was bought from a convenient store although most of the dishes had cat-design. They ate and chatted about everything and nothing until it was late at night. The two younger brothers flew back to their house with youkai powers because it was quite far this time. There was no chance of them being seen by mortals, all thanks to Todomatsu's magic.
That had been how they'd concealed themselves during that chase.
Shaking his head, Osomatsu went back inside the apartment. He didn't mean to dwell on the past too much, but that night was still vivid on his mind like it was yesterday. Walking over to Karamatsu's room, he took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.
"How are you, Karamatsu?" he said lazily, sitting down on the end of the bed, "Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu came to visit, but I think you knew already, they were so noisy."
"I'm the one to talk?" Osomatsu pointed at himself, scoffing, "That's rude. They're clearly noisier than me. Stop spoiling your little brothers."
"Act my age? Excuse me?" he puffed his cheeks, placing a hand on his hip, "For your information, they're almost eighty years older than me. Why am I still their eldest brother anyway? I should be the youngest, they should spoil me."
Osomatsu leaned on the bed post, sulking like a child just got scolded. "Fine, physical age doesn't matter, right?" he grumbled then proceeded to complain more about how strictly Karamatsu treated him. After a few minutes, he pulled a leg up near his chest, hugging and leaning his cheek on it. "You know, Karamatsu," he called, not trying to hide boredom in his voice, "Working is so boooriiiiing. I want to go traveling. Our brothers haven't said anything but I know they're bored too, so wake up soon, will you?"
"We won't go without you, you know that." Osomatsu said firmly, his hand patting slightly on Karamatsu's leg, "I'm not going anywhere until you wake up."
An arrow imbued with Inugami purifying magic, enhanced by Kitsune's powers and accelerated by Tengu's wind. There was no way Karamatsu could survive that hit.
Osomatsu's time stopped at that moment. His mind went completely blank. His eyes focused on Karamatsu and the shining arrow piercing his chest. Karamatsu couldn't even let out a sound before his body went limp.
Did he die? That question kept circling around Osomatsu's head but his body refused to give any reaction. He kept standing there, staring at Karamatsu's still body. Even when his little brothers approached them and Todomatsu informed him that his spell was lifted, Osomatsu still didn't move. Couldn't move.
Yet when Choromatsu kneeled down to check Karamatsu's condition, Osomatsu forcefully pulled the third brother back by his wings, making him yelp in pain. "Don't touch him." he said, eyes never leaving Karamatsu.
"I'm just checking-"
"Don't touch him." Osomatsu repeated, reaching out his giant hand, poking at Karamatsu's head with his index finger. "He's alive. Don't you dare hurt him anymore."
Choromatsu shot him an incredulous look. "No way!" he protested, "He isn't even breathing!"
"He's gone, Osomatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu said hesitantly, a distressed look on his face. The bow on his hand indicated he was the one shooting the arrow. No wonder he hadn't joined the chase. He was aiming.
"He's alive." Osomatsu repeated more firmly, his finger moving to Karamatsu's chest, flinching when he accidentally touched the arrow. "He isn't vanishing… He survived your attack."
Both Choromatsu and Ichimatsu gasped at the same time while Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu's eyes widened.
"You're right." Choromatsu said hastily, pushing Osomatsu's finger away and placing his hand on Karamatsu's chest. He gave another gasp, staring at Karamatsu in total bewilderment. "He's…" he said breathlessly, "… really alive."
Osomatsu let out an incredulous laugh but it broke into a cry, tears streaming down his cheeks.
"I won't leave you, ever."
Karamatsu had kept his promise.
"Can you… heal him now?" Osomatsu choked out in the middle of his sobs.
Choromatsu pressed his lips together, taking in a shaky breath, "But…"
"You've delivered your final shot and he still hasn't died. Don't you think it's a sign that Karamatsu isn't meant to die?" aware of his beast-like tone, Osomatsu tried to keep his voice from shaking so his message would reach his little brothers. They would understand this, right?
Choromatsu took a quick glance at Ichimatsu for help but the fourth brother only shook his head, so he turned back to Osomatsu. "You know we kill him to end his corruption, don't you?" he asked, choosing his words carefully.
"But he survived your execution…" Osomatsu appealed.
"It's fine, Choromatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu interrupted, pulling Ichimatsu towards Karamatsu. "Please heal him, Ichimatsu-niisan." Both Choromatsu and Ichimatsu were too confused to react. Luckily, Jyushimatsu continued his explanation before any question was voiced, "I aimed at the core of Karamatsu-niisan's corruption with all my powers, so he's purified now. I don't see any trace of corruption anymore."
The two middle brothers shared a look, mixed between astonishment and relief. Then Ichimatsu immediately started healing while Choromatsu let himself fall on his bottom, releasing a long sign. "Thank God." he whispered.
Because Karamatsu had kept his promise, so now was Osomatsu's turn to uphold his part.
"I'll always be with you."
It had been fifty one years since that promise and Osomatsu never had a night not being by Karamatsu's side.
In the first twenty years, he hadn't even left this house, only loitering around Karamatsu's room and reading newspapers out loud in hope to keep Karamatsu updated with the changes of the world.
Next twenty five years, under Choromatsu's advice, Osomatsu'd started going out but he'd always been back before lunch, bringing whatever interesting stuff he'd found to show Karamatsu.
Then the recent five years, Osomatsu began working, not because he needed money but because he thought Karamatsu would be proud knowing the child he'd raised had grown into a fine adult. Well, based on his past memory, Karamatsu hadn't exactly had high hope in him, but maybe?
However, after such a long time, Karamatsu still didn't show any sign of waking up. The Aoandon part had returned to the spirit world for recovery, leaving the human body of Karatsugu sleeping in the material world. Todomatsu had put a spell on the body to prevent it from aging since Karamatsu seemed to like that identity a lot.
Karamatsu had said that time flew differently between worlds, so Osomatsu had no way to know how much time Karamatsu would need to fully recover and return to them. They had tried the one hundred stories several times to no avail. Therefore, he could only wait.
He had so much to tell Karamatsu. Well, he did tell them all, but he wanted to see the second brother's reactions. He wanted to see his smiles, hearing his laughs and listening to his painful comments. What would Karamatsu react knowing Choromatsu had been Nyan-chan's fan over many generations? What would Karamatsu say if he knew that Ichimatsu had made their story into a cheesy shoujo manga?… And would he be angry when he found out that Osomatsu's transformation that night was thanks to the wine chocolate Karamatsu'd tried to hide in the highest cupboard?
"Wake up soon, daddy, I miss you." Osomatsu smiled sadly, then chuckled at his own cheesiness, "Joking, just wake up so I have a drinking partner. Our little brothers are too weak to hold their liquor."
"No, of course I never force them to drink." he waved his hand dismissively, "That's why I drink alone most of the time, but it's become boring, so it would be nice to have you join me." Osomatsu stood up, walking to the head of the bed, gazing at his second brother's peaceful sleeping face, "Now I understand how difficult it was for you to wait for us over many centuries, all by yourself. It's only been fifty years but it felt like forever to me, but I won't give up, like you've never given up on us."
(26th May 2020)