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He awoke with a chill down his spine early that morning. Peering wearily through the dark, Ichimatsu saw that the windows were closed. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and wondering where it came from, but was surprised to find that the air in the room was actually rather warm, after all.
 
Ichimatsu was bit confused, but chalked it up to him being drowsy. He got up to use the bathroom and clear his head, doing his best to avoid creaking spots on the floorboards.
 
Downstairs, Ichimatsu found that the door to the bathroom was slightly ajar. Upon opening it the rest of the way, Ichimatsu nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw a figure standing there.
 
“Who the hell- Kusomatsu?” Turning the light on, Ichimatsu's panic instantly morphed into irritation at having been startled so badly by Karamatsu. “What the hell are you doing?”
 
“...hm?... Ah, brother! I was simply... uh...” Karamatsu seemed perplexed. “Hm? The reason seems to have slipped my mind. Perhaps I was sleepwalking, hmm? Though I've never known myself to be afflicted by such-”
 
Karamatsu let out a surprised yelp as Ichimatsu kicked him in the back of the knees.
 
“I need to use the bathroom, so get lost already, Shittymatsu.”
 
“Ah, my apologies, brother,” Karamatsu stood up and dusted himself off. “I will take my leave, then. Good night, dearest Ichimatsu, and may you find the relief you're searching for in our home's humble b-”
 
Ichimatsu slammed the door in his face, gritting his teeth and grumbling to himself as he tried to wipe the second eldest's painful words from his memory. He spent a bit longer in the bathroom than he had planned, hoping if he stalled long enough that Karamatsu would be asleep by the time he got back to bed and he wouldn't have to bear another line as stupid as the last one.
 

As he left the bathroom, he was revisited by the chill from earlier. Chancing a look behind him, Ichimatsu stared back into the bathroom, trying to decide if he could see movement in there or if it was just a trick his mind was playing on him. Unable to see clearly and unwilling to get closer, he finally gave into his nerves and booked it back to bed.
 
Ichimatsu felt like he could strangle someone when, not two hours later, the phone rang downstairs. The others pretended to sleep, even as the phone continued trying to alert its inattentive household of the incoming call. After a minute or so of this charade, Todomatsu finally gave in and kicked the eldest awake until he got up to answer, but not without promising revenge on the youngest in the near future.
 
The relief felt by the remaining brothers was short lived, however, as they soon became aware of Osomatsu's raised tone, and the hair on the backs of their necks stood up at the uncharacteristic panic in his voice.

 
They arrived at the hospital just as the sun appeared fully over the horizon. Everything around Ichimatsu was going by in a haze; nothing called his attention as he lagged behind the others.
 
He snapped out of it upon seeing the second eldest in the hospital bed. Ichimatsu felt sick as he remembered their last conversation, and he gripped the railing of the bed in an attempt to steady himself.
 
"Get lost already, Shittymatsu."
 
Ichimatsu begged for a chance that those wouldn't be his last words to his older brother.

What the hell happened after that? How did things change so quickly? How did they not even notice when he left?

Ah, the nurse had probably told them. At least as much as she could. Maybe she was still telling them now, but Ichimatsu couldn't focus for the life of him. The room was spinning even as it moved as slow as tar, and Ichimatsu was barely aware of his surroundings.
 
Through the chatter of too many voices, Ichimatsu raised his head as the nurse's words caught his attention.
 
“He was brought in last night around midnight."
 
Midnight?
 
"That can't be right, he was home after midnight."
 
The nurse gave him a patient, practiced smile. "I'm sorry, sir, but he was definitely brought in at that time. I was on shift when it happened."
 
Was Ichimatsu going crazy? He knew it was after midnight that he'd seen Karamatsu. They'd only just gone to bed around midnight, and-
 
Karamatsu wasn't there. Karamatsu wasn't there when they went to bed, and he hadn't come back home by the time they all fell asleep.
 
"Ichimatsu? You look pale, do you need to sit down?" Ichimatsu looked up to see the others looking at him with concern.
 
"I'm fine," he mumbled, but took a seat on a chair in the corner anyway.
 
"Is he going to wake up soon?" Todomatsu asked the nurse hopefully.
 
"Unfortunately, we don't know. We were able to stabilize him not long after he arrived, but considering his current state... there's still a possibility he won't wake up."
 
Todomatsu burst into tears, followed soon by Jyushimatsu, and Osomatsu and Choromatsu set about trying to comfort them. Ichimatsu tried to calm his spinning head, but he was nearly certain he was going to vomit.

 



 
They spent the rest of that day at Karamatsu's side. Osomatsu tried to cheer them up, reassuring them that Karamatsu would be fine.
 
"Does he look fine to you?" Ichimatsu snapped.
 
Osomatsu looked a bit surprised, but walked over to sit next to Ichimatsu. He tentatively put a hand on Ichimatsu's back, then settled a bit when he wasn't pushed away.
 
"Ichimatsu," Osomatsu said softly. "I know you're worried. We all are. But Karamatsu's strong. And he wouldn't leave us. I know that."
 
Ichimatsu huffed and looked away. Obviously he'd like to believe that as much as the rest of them, but it was bullshit. At this point, it was out of anyone's hands. Even the doctors admitted they couldn't do anything more. The idea that Karamatsu of all people would have any power here was stupid.
 
Ichimatsu was drawn back to what happened early this morning. Karamatsu was supposedly here at the time. Then, was he just dreaming? Or maybe...
 
Ichimatsu snuffed out the hopeful feeling in his chest before it had a chance to grow. He wasn't going to let himself believe there was a chance here, but... he could still try.
 
"Well, we should probably get home now, yeah?" Osomatsu stood up and headed for the door, stopping to look back at the others. "C'mon, Kara's not going to be happy knowing we sat here all night. Let's get some rest for now."
 
One by one, they stood and filed out of the hospital room. Ichimatsu took one last look before they left, but quickly turned away when the shock returned at seeing his brother's pale face.
 



 
Ichimatsu lay awake, watching the hours tick by. He wasn't sure at what point he should get up. Around midnight? Maybe earlier? Should he wait until the same time as last night? Did it even matter?
 
It couldn't hurt to check, Ichimatsu decided. He was getting too restless to keep laying here anyway.
 
He slipped out of the futon and crept out of the bedroom. As he made his way to the bathroom, every little sound the house made set his heart racing. Even if he knew what to expect, thinking about the implications of this situation honestly scared the hell out of him.
 
As he turned the corner of the hallway and approached the bathroom, he strained to see through the darkness. Several feet from the door, he could finally see that there was indeed a figure in the bathroom, as before.
 
Karamatsu was facing away, staring into the mirror. The look on his face said he was hundreds of miles away, and he didn't notice Ichimatsu even as the younger approached him. Taking a deep breath, Ichimatsu spoke.
 
“What are you doing?” Ichimatsu monotoned, trying to keep calm. Karamatsu continued to stare deep into the mirror. “Karamatsu.”
 
Karamatsu must have finally heard him, as he looked to Ichimatsu's reflection, then turned back to Ichimatsu.
 
“What are you doing in here?” Ichimatsu tried again.
 
Karamatsu thought for a moment. Ichimatsu hated how he hadn't made even a sound yet.
 
“Hm, that would be the question of the hour, wouldn't it?” Karamatsu put a hand to his chin. “I believe I was trying to recall it when you happened upon me.”
 
Ichimatsu relaxed marginally, then shifted his gaze toward the floor. “Were you... close to remembering?”
 
Karamatsu thought again. “Not particularly. Rather, it felt a bit like my thoughts were drifting away from me. It was a strange sensation. Actually, I'm glad you interrupted me, brother! They say not to gaze too long into the abyss, and all that, af-”
 
“I'm sorry.”
 
“Hm?”
 
“Last night, I kicked you out, and I told you to get lost.”
 
“Hm?... Ah, I do recall that. Worry not, dear brother! For I could never be cross with any of you for too long! Ah, not that I was angry then. You were right, after all, I was staying too long.”
 
Karamatsu's wording sent a jolt of panic through Ichimatsu.
 
“You're wrong!” he snapped. “I was wrong, I mean. I didn't mean it.”
 
“Didn't mean it?” Karamatsu tilted his head confusedly, then chuckled. “I'm not sure what you mean. If you needed to use the bathroom, brother, that's fine.”
 
“That's not what I mean.” Ichimatsu stepped forward, keeping his head down. If he looked Karamatsu in the face right now, that sting behind his eyes would definitely turn into tears.
 
“I didn't mean what I said then. I didn't mean it, so...” Ichimatsu bumped his head against Karamatsu's chest. “so don't leave, nii-san. Please.”
 
Karamatsu didn't move or speak for a moment. Ichimatsu's heart rate slowly increased. What if he'd fucked this up? What if he was too late? What if he never had a chance of fixing this from the moment he thoughtlessly told his brother to 'get lost'?
 
“Ichimatsu, relax.” Karamatsu wrapped his arms around Ichimatsu's shoulders, which immediately slacked once Ichimatsu realized how tense and hunched they'd gotten.
 
“Rest assured, brother,” Karamatsu said warmly. “I've never even entertained the thought of leaving my dear family. Please don't worry yourself so much.”
 
Ichimatsu's arms slacked further, his anxieties soothed by Karamatsu's reassurances. Guilt crept up for all the times Ichimatsu had harshly rejected affection from the second eldest, and he pushed it back down even as it threatened him for only accepting that affection now. Ichimatsu leaned further into Karamatsu's shirt, and Karamatsu hugged him a bit tighter, and the chill that had haunted Ichimatsu since he woke up last night finally left him.
 



 
Ichimatsu was woken up the next morning almost violently by the eldest. He shot up, trying to clear his mind and decipher Osomatsu's mood. Joy? Despair?

“We got a phone call just now!” Osomatsu beamed. “Good news!”


As they made their way to the hospital not five minutes later, Ichimatsu was considering stuffing his eldest brother into the nearest dumpster for getting such a big head.

“What'd I tell you?” Osomatsu nudged Ichimatsu with his elbow. “I know my little brothers! So? When are you gonna pay up?”

“I thought you were trying to comfort me, you asshole,” Ichimatsu spat. “Since when did it turn into a bet?”

Osomatsu just laughed and ruffled Ichimatsu's hair.

“I'm just messing with ya. I'm glad you're feeling better.”

Ichimatsu sighed softly and murmured low enough that the others couldn't hear.

"...Thanks."


Ichimatsu rushed with the others to the hospital room. He thought about the daze he was in before and how he'd never even properly seen this room. Even now, tears were filling his vision and blocking his view of it. This time, however, he took in the sight of his brother, rather than looking away: with color on his cheeks, no longer unconscious, nor staring somewhere far away like he was about to disappear there.

Karamatsu smiled back warmly as all five of them crowded him.

“My brothers! I apologize for my incapacitation! However brief, it must have been near hellish to have gone a day without hearing such a soothing voice, such perspicacious speech! I mourn to think-"

Karamatsu was interrupted when the fourth born suddenly leaned over to give him a hug. Ichimatsu was silent, his face pressed into Karamatsu's shoulder.

"Ah," Karamatsu chuckled, "did I worry you, after all?"

"...of course we were worried, dumbass."

"Never fear, brother." Karamatsu hugged him back. "I could never leave you all behind like that."

Ichimatsu whispered, hoping the others couldn't hear.

"Welcome back, nii-san."

"...I'm back."