“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, my last confession was two weeks ago.”
He recognized the voice right away. Suppressing a sigh, Karamatsu leaned forward. It was already a long enough day as it was, and while he, by no means, hated his duties as a diocesan priest, it never failed to exhaust him. Their church was a rather large one, and while he held confession several times a week—of course he would give all of his time to the church—the amount of people that confessed on a weekly basis easily toppled over a thousand. He tried to keep his voice light and his patience high.
“May the Lord be on your heart and lips, so that you may confess your sins.”
“You know who I am, don’t you, Father?”
He heard the voice on the other side hitch a bit, and then his voice was much clearer, almost as if he himself came closer to the screen. “Am I your last person? Can I come over?”
Karamatsu repressed another sigh, rubbing his very sore eyes. “No, I don’t, and no, you can’t. You should know better than that, Osomatsu. It’s bad enough that you’re here, at least adhere to the rules of the Church.”
“Ehh? No way, that’s no fun.”
“Then I can gladly escort you out if you wish.”
“Hey, is that something you should really be saying to a poor saint? What if I get so upset and lose all hope in the church? Turn my back on God and rot in hell for all eternity? You wouldn’t want to lose a precious lamb, would you?”
“It’s impossible to lose someone who is already lost to begin with. You’ve obviously have come for something. What is it this time?”
“I’ll tell you if you let me come over,” Osomatsu prodded again, and Karamatsu could see his cheeky smile as plain as day. “Just once.”
“Don’t think that the answer will change from two weeks ago and now.”
“Even if I beg?”
“If you must beg, beg to the Lord for his forgiveness, so that you might be spared.”
Osomatsu moved back from the screen with a huff, folding his arms like a petulant child.
“You’re so boring. Fine, I’ll tell you then. I just wanted to visit you; is that so wrong?”
Karamatsu leaned back as well, resting his arm on his make-shift desk. It wobbled a bit with the pressure he put on it, but he paid it no mind. Right now, the most pressing—and concerning—matter was sitting right in front of him, arms folded, legs crossed, and tail swishing with the intent of mischief. His aging furniture, along with his brother’s complaint to the local bishop, could wait.
“You mean you wanted to harass me. If you have no business here, you’re free to leave anytime you like.”
The demon pouted, but he didn’t deny it. “What a cold response. Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of beacon of light? The living embodiment of the Savior? That’s no way to treat someone. Accusing someone of a crime they haven’t even committed. Jesus wouldn’t have done that.”
“You’re right. Our Lord would have banished you the moment you stepped foot into this place. ‘This house is one of prayer, not a den of thieves.’ You should know very well that you have no place here.”
Without even sparing him a second glance, the priest muttered, “I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” not because he really meant it, but because his own guilt would overtake him if he didn’t, and then he slid the window shut. Karamatsu barely gathered his Bible, his rosary that stood proudly on the pedestal that he handcrafted, and his jar of holy water when he came face-to-face with the smiling demon that had been plaguing him for the last year and a half. Almost immediately, his eyes darted to the jar in Karamatsu’s hand.
“Is today the day you’re finally gonna kill me with that?”
Karamatsu frowned, pushing past Osomatsu who stared at the water with mild intrigue. “Of course not. If the Lord Almighty was generous enough to spare one of your kind, then who am I to persecute you? This is nothing more than protection and environmental purification.”
The demon said nothing, but he hummed in the back of his throat. Once they had reached the general vestibule, Osomatsu backed off a bit. His tail still swished around, but it remained high in the air, almost parallel to his back. If Karamatsu didn’t know better, he would have thought him to be a regular young man with an easygoing personality.
“Are you planning on following me to my quarters as well?”
Osomatsu snickered, rubbing his nose with a finger.
“Am I that predictable?”
The priest didn’t say anything, instead opting to make sure that no one was left in the sanctuary before heading to his changing quarters. He still wasn’t used to sharing a room with two deacons and the only male nun—who just so happened to be one of his younger brothers—but he was adjusting fairly enough. He rarely saw two out of the three anyhow. The deacons and the majority of the nuns never stayed past six in the afternoon except on high holy days, and even then, they were gone the moment the clock eked out another half hour past. And although he was grateful that their stance on what was personal and what was not was rigidly staunch, Karamatsu always wondered about that. If there was an emergency and someone needed prayer, who would they turn to if the deacons or the nuns weren’t there to offer assistance?
Karamatsu placed a thin barrier of holy water by the door as to encourage Osomatsu to stay out—something he has been having to do as of late due to his uninvited guest making himself quite at home even as he offered his own act of contrition to the Lord—and then while unclothed in nothing more than his undergarments, he knelt in front of the bronze crucifix that stood boldly on the right hand side of the room and murmured his prayers. When he finally finished a half an hour later and put on his clothes, he gathered the rest of his things and left. He was no more than two steps away when Osomatsu, with a slightly wide-eyed look, said:
“You know that those don’t actually work, right?”
He was used to this happening, and he already knew the right words to say to make this demon back off. “The wonderful part about our Lord is that we can ‘cast our cares upon him, because he truly cares for us,’ so no matter how much you tell me otherwise, I know that our Lord is one of love and diligence and will give everything to help us. So of course prayers work.”
“But does he really, though?” Osomatsu floated in front of him, blocking his only way out to the entrance. He pointed at the rosary with a long, offensive, maroon-coated nail.
“Can you honestly say with a straight face that God has answered all of your prayers?”
“I can. And there is nothing in the world you could say to dissuade me.”
“…I see.” Like he always did, Osomatsu let it drop, instead opting to tell Karamatsu about his late night excursions in hell. If Osomatsu wasn’t a devil, Karamatsu may have actually liked his company. His stories were often fascinating, much more fascinating than his own, which consisted of nothing more than praying for hours on end, reading several Hebrew Scriptures, trudging through formulaic high holy days, and listening to the same hackneyed sins that people always confessed, as if they didn’t learn from the shame the first time. But it was his job, his calling, and he wasn’t going to stray just because it didn’t give him the excitement he may have craved for. He was grateful just to get as far as he did.
“May Almighty God bless you as you respond to his call in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Karamatsu watched as the crowd murmured a solemn ‘Amen’ before dispersing. In a matter of minutes, only Karamatsu and a few stragglers were left, most of which were muttering a last minute prayer before leaving for the week.
“Father, could I talk to you for a second?”
The priest followed the sound of the voice, of which his and a beautiful young woman’s eyes made four.
“Certainly, my dear saint.” He beckoned her with a smile and a discreet wave, and she quickly shuffled along to follow him. Out of the corner of his eye, Karamatsu saw that foul devil perk up. By the time he had safely ushered her away to a private section of the vestibule, Osomatsu was only a few feet behind. In spite of this, he still carried on as if nothing was out of place.
“Now, what troubles you, my child?”
She fidgeted for a moment before she gained her nerves and asked,
“Do you have any time this week for a confessional?”
“Why, of course I do, Ms.…?”
“Kinko. Inuyama Kinko.”
“Right. Ms. Inuyama, what day would you prefer? I’m available at any day of the week from six in the morning to seven in the afternoon. I’m fully willing to commit everything I have into helping you however I can. Just say the word, my child.”
“Then…is five in the afternoon on Wednesday good with you?”
“It’s splendid. I’m certain that the Lord will bless you this week for your effort.”
Kinko gave a sweet smile, one that Karamatsu mirrored enthusiastically.
“Thank you, Father.”
“Non, non, don’t thank me; I’ve done nothing for you. Thank the Lord Almighty in heaven for all things, ‘for his mercy and grace endureth forever.”
When she left with a bit more prep in her step, Osomatsu floated up to him, his breath right on the center of the nape of Karamatsu’s neck. Karamatsu resisted the urge to place a hand to protect it.
“Why don’t you treat me that nicely, Father?”
“…Surely that’s a rhetorical question.”
“I haven’t done anything to deserve your coldness.”
“Besides attempting to possess me, trying to usurp my position, and uttering such offensive language to purposefully rile me up? Yes, you’ve done nothing at all.”
Osomatsu gave a sharp laugh, folding his hands behind his head. “Well, I can’t deny that, can I? You’re just so much fun to tease, you know?”
With a huff, Karamatsu tried to wave him off, but to no avail. “I just saw you last week. What do you want this time?”
“How cruel. I come with honest intentions of good company, yet I’m criticized and villainized. How petty humans are these days. Back when I was younger, people would kill to have what you have right now.”
“Those men were godless and brutal; of course they would want a bite from the forbidden tree.” Taking another glance in the now empty sanctuary, Karamatsu made his habitual rounds around the church before finally strolling into the shared dressing room. When Karamatsu finished everything, it was an hour and a half later than the time he usually left. He quickly put on his trench coat and gathered all of his belongings before exiting the building. Osomatsu hovered silently at his side as he locked the doors, and maybe Karamatsu should have thought something strange with that, but he welcomed the change.
Until Osomatsu said:
“That girl’s gonna die soon, you know.”
Karamatsu’s hand froze in the air.
“That girl who came to you after Mass. She’s gonna die soon. I’d say by the end of this month—”
Swiveling around, Karamatsu grabbed whatever his hand found first, which was the center of Osomatsu’s maroon tie, and pulled forward as hard as he could. In seconds, he found his chest uncomfortably pushed against the church doors, his arm painfully pressed up against the center of his back. Sliding his free hand into his pocket, Karamatsu was about to uncork the bottle of holy water he kept in case something like this ever happened, but Osomatsu quickly backed off, his hands raised in the air. His face brightened in amusement, which only served to vex Karamatsu even further.
Straightening out his clothing, Karamatsu hissed, “I’ve been merciful to you all this time, but if you dare lay a hand on one of my saints—”
“Here we go again, accusing people of things they didn’t even do,” Osomatsu interrupted with a drawl, the mirth visibly twitching along the corners of his mouth. “Who said that I was going to touch her? I was just telling you for your benefit.”
“Yep.” He moved closer, close enough that his breath fanned against Karamatsu’s face. “You’ve pissed off some folks with those exorcisms you’ve been doing lately. So I came back around to see how bad the damage was. Seems like it wasn’t all that bad since your God protected you. Too bad he had to sacrifice someone else.”
“The Lord would never do that,” Karamatsu huffed. He side-stepped away from the demon, brushing himself off. “He’s one who commands that all should choose life, not death. And I don’t recall ever upsetting anyone.”
“Oh, I don’t mean humans. I really don’t care if they have a grudge against you—that’s your problem. You pissed off some of my people, and they’re out for your blood. Seems like that girl got mixed in and got the brunt of it though. Which is why I said that she’s gonna die soon.”
Pensiveness donned the priest’s face like a snug mask. He didn’t want to believe that such a thing was possible. To him, God never steered him wrong. Whenever he cried out to him, he always got a sign one way or another, and that was more than enough for Karamatsu to believe. Once or twice was a coincidence, but surely more than that was divine will, wasn’t it?
Yes, of course it was. Furthermore, the Lord was a loving and just God; he would never protect him only to sacrifice someone else. Which meant that Osomatsu had to be lying. Sometimes he forgot that while Osomatsu was kinder than most of his peers, at his core, he was nothing but a filthy demon. Almost as if he sensed his unease, Osomatsu pushed it a bit further.
“You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true. Your God gives humans a certain amount of time to choose to serve him. If they do, then he protects them within reason. If they don’t, then he allows whatever curses come their way to befall them. Why do you think bad things happen to good people?”
“Of course, that’s… that’s because of sin. Sin caused this imbalance in the world—”
“But he’s a loving God, isn’t he? So even if sin distorts this world, he should be the one to protect the good ones. That was the whole point of sacrificing his son: saving those who should be saved. Like that girl you were with. Innocent lady, she is. She’s been wavering in her faith, but she’s always tried to give it her all.”
Karamatsu couldn’t find anything to say to that. He knew what the Bible said, but the question always churned in his mind. Why weren’t the bad punished? Why did bad things happen to good people? He lumped it up to sin, but it was true that even those that never sinned weren’t completely spared. But then…
He rushed from the gates of the church and onto the uneven path that led to his humble home. Satisfied, Osomatsu went ahead of him to greet Ichimatsu and Todomatsu. As part of the remaining Matsuno family, the three of them had the gift to see the supernatural. So when Osomatsu realized that they could see him too, he jumped at the chance to pester them. Todomatsu was less than amused, but Ichimatsu had a built-in tolerance to him, much like Karamatsu. Maybe it was because Osomatsu was genuinely kinder to Ichimatsu than anyone else; maybe it was because Ichimatsu was so starved for attention.
Either way, when the eldest of the house entered and passed by the two of them without a word, they both glared at Osomatsu. But Osomatsu wouldn’t elaborate—opting to give a half-hearted shrug and lop-sided grin—and Karamatsu couldn’t share. It was Karamatsu’s duty as the eldest that his siblings made it into heaven after all.
Wednesday came and passed with no sign of Kinko. Karamatsu figured that something came up, and she hadn’t had the time to cancel. Perhaps she simply forgot.
Thursday meandered along with no breath from her. Karamatsu figured that maybe there was some sort of misunderstanding with her appointment. Maybe one of the deacons did her confessional instead? But when he asked them that evening, none of them had even known that she existed, even when he described her to them as best as he could. It couldn’t be helped that they couldn’t keep track, not with how large the Body was.
Friday was about to catch him unawares, but he searched for her in the sanctuary. Somewhere deep in the back of Karamatsu’s mind, Osomatsu’s words tickled and niggled around, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he was right. Maybe something bad was going to happen to her. Maybe she really was cursed because of him. Maybe…maybe…
It was better not to think about it until he was absolutely sure.
So just in case, when he was done for the day, after getting a stern look from Todomatsu—“You’re actually coming home for dinner this time, right?”—he made a quick trip to the community hospital. He didn’t even bother to change his clothes, getting him a lot of stares, but Karamatsu would be lying to himself if he ever said he hated it. It was such a wonderful contrast from when he was growing up.
Upon his arrival, he was promptly greeted by several saints, some who obviously wanted something—a blessing for their loved one, a word of comfort and security—and some who just wanted to be in his good graces. Another professional smile later, Karamatsu was back on track and walking towards the reception area as fast as he possibly could. He held his breath as leaned over the counter, hoping that his expression betrayed none of his anxiety.
“Greetings, my fair lady. I come with an inquiry concerning a young woman named Inuyama Kinko?”
She took one look at his cassock and didn’t even question it. “Okay, just give me a second please…Inuyama Kinko is currently in Room 102B. She just came from ICU, but she’s fairly stabilized. If she allows visitors, then I’ll send you right up.”
Fifteen minutes later found him sitting in a small stool directly adjacent to Kinko, who sheepishly grinned at him despite looking so incredibly pale. The thousand cubic centimeters worth of saline fluid that sluggishly pumped into her arm appeared to do nothing for her very dry eyes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come to confessional, Father. If there’s anything I can do to make up for the lost time…”
Karamatsu waved his hand. “Perish the thought, Ms. Inuyama. I came here because I heard you might be ill. Would you feel comfortable sharing what ails you?”
She gave a curt, empty laugh, rubbing her ashy hands together. “I don’t think it even matters at this point. The doctors said that my condition took a turn for the worse earlier on this week. I wanted to go to confessional because I thought that maybe I was being punished for something I did wrong, so I planned to come clean about everything, but it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”
Reaching over, Karamatsu rubbed her wrist, hoping to offer some sort of reassurance. “Of course it does. I’ll pray for your recovery, and then when you’re feeling up to it, we can do a mini-confessional if it’ll make you feel better.”
She had hesitantly agreed, so he prayed.
Days turned into weeks, but Kinko’s condition hadn’t gotten any better. Karamatsu would know because he visited her every day. If anything, the more he visited her, the worse her condition seemed to be. It would take more than this to break his faith in God, but every so often, the thought floated into his head, innocuous as ever, if God was really listening to him. Was he just puffing smoke into the air? If he pleaded on others’ behalf, wouldn’t God help, just like he helped Moses in the Bible?
Six days later, he got his answer.
It wasn’t the one he wanted.
This was the third time this month that he was late to Mass.
For the last month, almost every day, Karamatsu entered the changing quarters, sat down in a dilapidated chair in the corner away from the crucifix, and stared into space. Quite often, the nuns of the church had to call him to remind him to do the duties that used to be second nature to him. But ever since Kinko left, he felt lost. If his life was not able to even extend another’s life for even a few seconds, then what was the point of being a priest? A priest was supposed to be the shepherd of the church; he was responsible for their well-being and souls. And as long as a person believed, he would be saved. But if Kinko didn’t believe before she died, would she go to hell? If he knew her better, would he have been able to change anything?
Would he have been able to change anything even if he had?
While he was deep in thought and definitely running behind schedule, Osomatsu snuck up and glomped him from behind with an impish grin.
“Caught ya! Wait…why the long face?”
Karamatsu shook him off silently, and the devil’s grin melted into a frown. He leaned forward to get a better look at Karamatsu, but Karamatsu turned his head away.
“Don’t tell me you’re still upset over that girl’s death.” Silence confirmed his suspicion. “Father, a human’s lifespan is short. There’s no reason to feel bad for something that already happened. And you didn’t even know her.”
“Ms. Inuyama was a saint of mine. She died because of some stupid grudge a demon held against me. Me, not her. How can I not feel remorseful?”
“So it’s guilt, then. You’re not upset that she died; you’re upset that she died because of you.”
That got a reaction out of him, and Karamatsu’s eyes quickly fastened on Osomatsu’s, his expression nothing short of indignant.
“T-that’s not true! Obviously I am grieved that she died at all. She was so young and had her whole life ahead of her. She could have lived longer, but I…”
Karamatsu’s gaze trailed back to the floor, and Osomatsu let out a sigh. Floating next to the priest, he wrapped his arm around Karamatsu’s shoulders, feeling the other stiffen and then relax. In return, Osomatsu’s grip relaxed as well, and he rubbed soothing circles along the outer edge of his clavicle.
“Listen. She was supposed to die from before. She was overdue for a long time. I told you that back then because I was telling you to be careful. She may have had a few more months to live at most, but you’ve got a few decades at least. But at this rate, you’re gonna die if you don’t lie low for a while.”
“Are you suggesting that I forsake the requests of my congregation for my own selfish whims?”
“I’m saying you should lay low for a while. Have one of your underlings do your duties or whatever. What are they called, deacons? Yeah, them. Let them do it. But you need to stop.”
Karamatsu was going to answer, what he was going to say, he didn’t know, but a hesitant knock came at the door.
“Father Matsuno? It’s been twenty minutes past. Are you alright?”
“I…” He cleared his throat. “Yes, my sister, I’m absolutely fine. My apologies for my tardiness; I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Please do. Everyone’s waiting on you.” The nun left immediately after, and disillusioned, Karamatsu shook Osomatsu off. Without another word to the devil, he quickly gathered his rosary, his Bible, and his notebook with his outline for his sermon and left the room. He tried to keep a clear mind as he made his way to the sanctuary, but his internal battle warred on. Especially since Osomatsu kept staring at him. He couldn’t keep his gaze on the congregation for more than five minutes with how many times he kept locking eyes with him. He resorted to staring at the Bible for the better part of the sermon.
At six in the afternoon, when he was finally done with his duties, he found Ichimatsu in the dressing room, sitting on Karamatsu’s desk, fiddling with his fingers.
“Ichimatsu, what are you doing here? You know that you can’t stay back for too long.”
“I’m sick of you coming home so late,” he grumbled, standing up. “So I did all your dirty paperwork and set up the alarms.”
Karamatsu smiled. He wanted to reprimand him, but he knew that in his own way, Ichimatsu was showing that he missed him. “Oh, did you? Thank you, my wonderful little brother! Your kindness is as vast as the—”
“Don’t push it. Say your prayers or whatever and let’s get out of here. Todomatsu’s already waiting at home.”
Even though Karamatsu gave Ichimatsu his scarf when he locked up the building, Ichimatsu still began to cough. He coughed until he heaved, and Karamatsu bent down and rubbed his back until he finally calmed down. Ignoring Ichimatsu’s feeble attempts to fight him off, Karamatsu dabbed the drool from his mouth and offered him a water bottle to hydrate himself with. Once he was done, Karamatsu carried his brother on his back. From the corner of his eye, he could see Osomatsu trailing silently after them all the way home.
And then, like Karamatsu feared, for the next few days, Ichimatsu’s condition worsened.
Ichimatsu was always weak from birth. He had asthma, so when Ichimatsu made the decision to follow after Karamatsu, Karamatsu advised him to always be the first to leave. It always got worse at night, and both of them knew that. At home, there was always the nebulizer if anything happened, but if he had a fit at the church, there’d be nothing to treat him with. Their idea of “first aid” was a Band-Aid kit with peroxide and alcohol.
About two weeks of staying back with Karamatsu, Ichimatsu finally worsened to the point that he was hospitalized straight from the church.
And although Karamatsu was the head priest, the church’s funds were not his own. He couldn’t just pluck a few hundred dollars from the basket to take whenever he wanted. He had to petition to his local Order for his cause, and even then, they could elect not to give it to him. He got paid on a set schedule, and there had to be a good reason for them to give him money outside of that. But still, on that afternoon, he drove a few dozen miles, praying all the while, to try regardless.
He tried not to take their rejection to heart.
Because Karamatsu’s personal funds were eaten up—if not by groceries—by his monthly donations to different charities, he didn’t have enough money to keep Ichimatsu in the hospital to cure his newly developed pneumonia. And although the hospital respected him, rules were rules, even for the same priest who prayed on their loved ones. Ichimatsu wasn’t allowed to stay for more than three days unless he paid a partial fee upfront.
When he finally admitted to himself that he was between a rock and a hard place, Osomatsu appeared before him again.
“I warned you,” he said. “If this keeps up, you’re gonna die.”
“I don’t care if I die,” Karamatsu muttered. “But Ichimatsu can’t die. He can’t leave Todomatsu alone.”
“He will, though. Because you’ve been with him. I told you, didn’t I? They hold a grudge against you. And because your God protects you, everyone else who is weak around you will die. And you’re too kind for that. So you’ll die too.”
And like the last time Karamatsu’s unyielding faith began to waver, Osomatsu saw his chance. He floated in front of Karamatsu and grabbed his chin, forcing his gaze upward into Osomatsu’s own.
“But I can make this better, Father. I can take this curse off of you and heal Ichimatsu. And I can protect you, if you wish. All you have to do is give yourself to me.”
The priest’s eyes widened at the implication, and he slapped the devil’s hand away.
“You dare suggest something as foul as that again? My soul belongs to the Lord’s, and his alone.”
“Try praying then. Pray to your God for Ichimatsu’s recovery.”
So, wanting to prove Osomatsu wrong, Karamatsu did. He prayed.
But three days passed by, and it became worse. Without the antiviral medication, things stood at a standstill. But with Ichimatsu’s weakened immune system, things couldn’t afford to stand still.
So two nights after Ichimatsu’s release, Karamatsu gave in.
“…You can have it.”
Such words were music to Osomatsu’s ears. Before Karamatsu could change his mind, Osomatsu floated in front of him, caressing his face, outlining his eyebrows. After studying his face, he bent down and pressed his lips against Karamatsu’s own.
And then he released him.
“You’ve been coming home a lot earlier nowadays, Karamatsu-nisan,” Todomatsu commented offhandedly as he scraped his food around, taking his hand off of his cheek. “Whatever happened to your duties with the church? Don’t tell me they secretly laid you off.”
“Hmph.” Karamatsu carefully placed down his chopsticks before posing at the dining room table. His younger brothers did their utmost best to ignore him. “Not at all, my adorable Todomatsu! I’ve recently realized that in all situations, family simply must come first.”
“Heeh…next thing you know, you’ll start coming to my choir recitals again.”
“I would certainly love to if you’d allow me, Todomatsu. But last time I went, you were quite embarrassed and told me never show my face again.”
“You were cheering for me on the front pews; who wouldn’t be embarrassed at that?! Actually, who does that? That’s like if I were to cheer for you during Mass; it just doesn’t happen.”
“You can cheer for me anytime, Totty. I would never say no.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t.” He took a small sip from his water and glanced up at his eldest brother, who seemed to successfully strike up a conversation with Ichimatsu, most likely aiming to help him feel included. After Ichimatsu’s miraculous recovery a month ago, he seemed a lot less reserved about talking to Karamatsu, even though he was a lot more aggressive about it. But considering Ichimatsu’s lopsided relationship with Todomatsu himself, he took it as a good sign.
And while he was happy that Karamatsu was with them again after so many years of eating without him, he couldn’t say the same for Osomatsu, who stuck to Karamatsu like glue. If the demon was clingy before, now he was inseparable. Todomatsu never did understand how Karamatsu and Ichimatsu could stand being near him. He was a demon, for goodness sake. He was a direct servant of the Devil himself, an agent of chaos, an enemy. And didn’t it say in the scriptures that ‘Can two walk together, except they be agreed?’
He stared at them for a while longer, feeling something indescribable in his chest, before he just gave a small sigh and returned to aimlessly scraping his food around.
Or would have, if something didn’t catch his eye.
“Karamatsu-nisan, what’s that on your chest?”
“That, on your chest. Did you get bitten by something?” And then leaning forward across the dinner table, he reached to touch the small red mark he saw in between the dip of his clavicles. Before he could even get close, a firm grip squeezed his fingers painfully. He glanced up at Karamatsu, who was staring at Osomatsu, the color drained from his face. But Osomatsu didn’t seem to notice Karamatsu at all. He was still staring at Todomatsu, and Todomatsu realized quite belatedly that he was the one who stopped him. Something flitted through his eyes, something dark that made a vicious shiver run down Todomatsu’s back, and then like a wave, his eyes changed, and an easy-going grin made its way on his face.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Todomatsu. He got bitten by a contagious bug. Makes anyone break out if they touch it,” he said, and although Todomatsu thought that was ridiculous—he’s never heard of a bug bite being contagious—he nodded, if only so Osomatsu could release him. His fingers were already numbing from the lack of circulation, and pins and needles were slowly pricking him.
Once Osomatsu saw that Todomatsu wasn’t going to pursue it any longer, his grin widened, and after releasing his fingers, he floated to Todomatsu, slinging an arm around his shoulder.
“You know I’m just concerned for my cutest younger brother in the world, right? I’d never want anything to happen to you.” He rubbed his cheek against Todomatsu despite his scowl, and with the hand that stiffly laid on his shoulder, he pulled Todomatsu’s other cheek.
“Don’t touch me. And I’m not your brother,” Todomatsu hissed.
“Aw, come on, don’t be like that, Todomachu. We’re all family here.” He gave Todomatsu’s cheek one more pull before releasing him entirely. Once he floated back to Karamatsu’s side, Karamatsu gave him a glare along with a particularly hard pinch to his side that was more painful than it looked judging by Osomatsu’s wince.
After they all finished eating, Karamatsu went to his room, biding them a good night. Osomatsu lazily trailed after him after giving Todomatsu and Ichimatsu a half-hearted wave.
Todomatsu wrung his hands together. “Don’t you think…don’t you think that Karamatsu-nisan is…different lately?”
“You think so too then, right? He’s been pushing himself really hard lately. I mean, he says that he believes family comes first, and I get that he was really worried about you, and it’s not like I wasn’t, but Karamatsu-nisan used to stay back for hours just listening to people and doing tedious paperwork so the deacons could have it easier. His whole-hearted dedication to God was why we followed him in the first place. Not to say that he’s not dedicated now, but…” He glanced back at the darkened hallway.
“It’s different now. I can’t say how, but it’s different.”
“Maybe it’s because of Osomatsu,” Ichimatsu suggested. “I heard the two of them talking one time when they thought I was sleeping.”
“What did they talk about?”
“My recovery, mostly. But Osomatsu said something about a curse. Maybe something happened to Karamatsu for all we know, and he’s just being an idiot and not saying anything. You know how he just loves to take the world on his shoulders.”
“Only one way to find out,” Todomatsu muttered, and he quietly slid out of his chair, beckoning Ichimatsu with a wave. He’d sneak in with Ichimatsu and snoop around a bit in Karamatsu’s room for any clues. As far as Todomatsu was concerned, if something was wrong with Karamatsu, he could figure out how to help him once he proved that it wasn’t just his paranoia acting up again.
With a reluctant shrug, Ichimatsu trudged along, his hands in his pockets. They avoided all the known creaks in the house, their padded feet quietly making their way to Karamatsu’s room, which was all the way in the back. His door was already slightly ajar, so all Todomatsu had to do was take a peek in—
He grabbed Ichimatsu’s wrist when he got too close to the door. Ichimatsu glanced at him, and Todomatsu fervently shook his head. But Ichimatsu squeezed his hand and peered in regardless.
He knew that Ichimatsu saw the same thing that he did when his older brother’s body froze entirely.
Just as quietly as they came was as quietly as they retreated back into the dining room, and then, without stopping, they retreated into Todomatsu’s room. Todomatsu closed his door as quietly as he could and leaned against it. He clutched his hand around his chest and squeezed until his fingers became numb around his shirt. Ichimatsu’s eyes were trained to the floor.
“That wasn’t Karamatsu-nisan, right?” At Ichimatsu’s silence, he asked again. “Right? That wasn’t him, right?”
“…I don’t know.”
“Of course it wasn’t him, Ichimatsu-nisan! He’s a man of God, the head priest, and—and—he’s our honest and pure older brother who loves God more than anything. He’d never let Osomatsu do those types of things to him. Right, of course not. I must have been seeing things.” He huffed a shaky laugh, wobbling to the bed before plopping down on it. Next to him, Ichimatsu slid down to the floor. Todomatsu sought his hand to find Ichimatsu’s. Without even looking his way, he held it.
For these two, who had no one else to rely on than someone that they thought they knew, they found comfort in each other as they stared into space until the sun rose behind their glistening eyes.