Karamatsu had had a lonely, sad feeling clinging to him lately. He'd grown to hate it. It felt like walking through a pool of tar, like he could barely move and all his energy was being sapped away. Over time, this tar had risen from his ankles to his chest, and it was getting harder to move.
Karamatsu sat in the bedroom, up against the wall and staring at the floor. He pondered what had caused this mood and why it had only gotten worse. He had been wondering what he could do to ease this sadness when Osomatsu walked in. Karamatsu looked up upon hearing his name. As soon as he saw Osomatsu, he was struck with the feeling that he wanted to be hugged, and he almost teared up at the pang of loneliness it brought with it.
"Whatcha doing, Karamatsu?"
"Eh? Ah, well... I was just thinking, I guess."
"You guess?" Osomatsu laughed, though Karamatsu didn't mean for it to be funny. "What are you thinking about?"
"Well, I feel a bit... slow?"
"Slow?" Osomatsu's tone said he was trying to understand, but it was thrown off a bit by the amused smile still on his face.
Karamatsu didn't know how to explain. He wasn't sure he wanted to. It was hard to explain, but not just because Karamatsu didn't understand it. It felt like his motivation was draining away right now with every word, and he wondered if it was worth expending what little energy he had left today for a chance to feel better. And with the way this conversation was already going, Karamatsu was unsure if his older brother would even understand in the end.
"I'm just a bit tired today, I think." Karamatsu stood and smiled. "I appreciate your concern, though, brother."
"Oh, is that all? Are you sure?"
Osomatsu stepped aside as Karamatsu walked past him, heading out of the room.
"I'm sure. Thanks, aniki."
Karamatsu headed outside, thinking a walk might change his mood. It felt a bit too awkward to stay in the house after that failed conversation. Although, Karamatsu wondered if Osomatsu saw it that way. Most likely, he didn't even realize something was wrong.
How can you complain when you were the one who gave up? It's not anyone else's fault that you can't even sort out your own head enough to explain yourself. And how could you expect him to be able to help? There's no way he could help you find a solution to a problem you don't even understand, yourself. Idiot.
Karamatsu sighed and tried to shake those thoughts from his head. It seems like this walk isn't helping much, either. He just wanted to get his mind off things, for a while.
Osomatsu was sitting in the living room watching TV when Karamatsu came home a few hours later.
"Oh, hey Kara! Finally, someone's home~! Nii-chan was getting lonely all by himself!"
"Ah, Os, somats! My sincerest apol'gies, my dear brother!" Karamatsu stepped into the house, leaning against the wall for support.
"Did you go out drinking, Kara?" Osomatsu stepped out into the hallway. "Isn't it kinda early for that? Well, not that I can really say anything."
Karamatsu stared at the floor, willing it to stop spinning. When it seemed he had a handle on it, he removed his shoes.
"The spirit of the night had, called t'me early! 'N so I, uh..."
Even now, Karamatsu couldn't keep up this act. He was about to head upstairs to avoid saying too much, but tripped before he could even step up out of the entryway. Osomatsu, thankfully, was quick to catch him.
"Woah, careful! You alright?"
Karamatsu didn't answer. He simply hugged Osomatsu back, burying his face in his brother's hoodie.
"...Let's get you to bed, yeah?"
Osomatsu helped Karamatsu upstairs, making sure the younger didn't slip and crack his head open or break an arm. Karamatsu sat on the couch while Osomatsu pulled out the futon.
"Okay, here ya go." Osomatsu helped Karamatsu over to the futon. "You need anything?"
Karamatsu just shook his head.
"...Well, alright," Osomatsu turned off the light and started out of the room. "Night, Kara."
Karamatsu didn't feel any better. He should've known drinking would be a mistake, but he had honestly gotten his hopes up a bit that a hug would help. And he had felt better, for a moment. But as soon as Osomatsu let go, loneliness crept into his heart again. It was like trying to save a sinking ship where the water was flowing in much faster than Karamatsu could dump it back out again.
Karamatsu didn't know what to do, he just buried his face into his pillow as the water level rose.
Karamatsu woke the next morning feeling much better, for all of a few seconds. All of the negative thoughts and memories from yesterday bombarded Karamatsu the moment he recalled them.
He needed to get his mind off things. He felt like he was going insane. Fortunately, a distraction did appear, but Karamatsu couldn't help but feel like it was just as unfortunate.
Walking with Osomatsu to the pachinko parlor, Karamatsu tried to participate in the conversation, but found it extremely difficult. Although he was no longer lost in thought, it was practically a chore to make any response.
You're the one who wanted a distraction. You couldn't even be bothered to ask, either, you were just fortunate enough to have received an offer. Feel free to go suffer on your own, just make up your mind already, and stop being ungrateful.
The pachinko parlor proved to be even more exhausting. With all the lights and sounds and chatter everywhere, Karamatsu almost felt nauseous. He had to leave. He looked to his brother, who was busy on one of the machines. ...Maybe this was a good opportunity? Ungrateful, perhaps, but at least he didn't have to bother Osomatsu into leaving. So Karamatsu quietly made his exit, giving one last look back before heading outside.
What can he do? It seemed like no matter what he did, Karamatsu was only feeling worse. At this point, he was starting to feel physically ill. Should he go home? He didn't want to have to run into anyone there and potentially be asked about his mood. Then again, if he stayed out, he would be in the presence of a bunch of strangers instead, and he wasn't sure which sounded worse.
Karamatsu's shoulders slouched and his feet started to drag, and Karamatsu felt what energy he had left instantly vanish. The sudden weight of it was overwhelming, and Karamatsu wondered if he could even make it home like this. Logically, he knew that was silly, but it felt like he could stop at any moment and just never move again.
Karamatsu did indeed make it home, after a time. He sighed in relief when it appeared no one was home and headed straight upstairs. Practically falling over onto the couch, Karamatsu gave up and let himself sink into that tar pit that had been working so hard to pull him in. The room felt cold, and Karamatsu shivered, but he couldn't get up. He couldn't move at all, even to roll down his sleeves, and so he stared out across the room, hoping he could drift off and be done with this, just for a little while.
...He wondered what happened to Osomatsu after that. He hoped his brother wouldn't be too disappointed. Truly, he had appreciated the offer, but it seems he was unable to do even that much today.
Perhaps if Osomatsu had noticed how Karamatsu had been feeling, he would have asked about it, and Karamatsu could have opened up more easily. Really, Karamatsu longed for someone to notice...
Karamatsu made his way through the forest, hoping the path he was on was the right way. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he had a sense that he'd know when he'd found it.
The path was easy, at first. Flat, smooth, and well worn, it had the feeling of some familiar route you'd travelled a thousand times. Soon, however, it fell away and was replaced. Thick underbrush covered the forest floor. The once sturdy, high-up branches now drooped and snagged Karamatsu's clothing. The dappled sunlight disappeared, coldly taken away from Karamatsu by the canopy in between.
Karamatsu shivered at the drop in temperature, but continued on. Surely he could be done here once he'd found what he was searching for.
Karamatsu had started off optimistic, but these woods were proving more formidable than he thought they would be. His arms, neck, and face were constantly scratched by thorns and dying branches. The underbrush had grown so thick that he had to reroute himself at times when he found a thicket too tangled and dense to push through. The ground was much rougher, as well. It was rocky and uneven, and Karamatsu had nearly hurt himself several times now by tripping or falling on it.
Karamatsu longed for his objective now more than ever, and yet it felt farther away than before. He dragged his legs with him, urging them to keep up the pace, but felt his own motivation waning, as well. The forest had grown so dark by now that Karamatsu could barely see a few feet in front of him, and the trees were now growing far too close together.
The increased darkness and the claustrophobic atmosphere put Karamatsu on edge, and he nearly jumped out of his skin when, in the hollow of a nearby tree, he spotted a young boy.
The boy was curled up on the ground, sniffling and shivering and hiding his face in his knees. Karamatsu felt a bit guilty for being so spooked, and knelt down in front of the tree.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?”
The boy was startled by Karamatsu, as well, and looked up at him with wide, teary eyes. Upon seeing the boy's face, Karamatsu immediately realized who he was.
“What are you doing out here all alone? Shouldn't you be home with your family?”
The boy relaxed, seemingly recognizing Karamatsu as well, and sat up in his spot.
“What about you?” The boy responded, wiping his eyes with his sleeves.
“I was looking for... something. I don't know if I'll find it, though.”
"So how did you end up this far?"
"...We were playing, and I went too far into the woods and got lost. I found my way back after a while, but... I don't think they noticed I was gone. So I came back here."
Karamatsu looked at him a bit scoldingly. “You ran away to see if they'd notice?”
"No, I-! I didn't... really mean to. At least, not at first." The boy looked down at his feet. "But then, I started thinking... maybe they'd notice if I was gone longer."
Karamatsu sighed softly, then knelt down and put a hand on the boy's head.
“I know it hurts, and I know this seems like an easy solution, but you'll only make it more difficult for yourself.”
“What else can I do?! ...How will I know they love me?”
“Well,” Karamatsu smiled, “perhaps you should try reaching out, rather than pulling away?”
The boy frowned at the ground, kicking at the dirt.
“They're dumb,” the boy pouted. “They won't get it.”
“Aren't you also a bit foolish for running away like this? I think if you were direct with them, you'd get better results.”
“They're not going to say what I want them to say!”
“...That's true. Most of the time, they probably won't... But I think you'll find that, if you keep trying, they'll come to understand. And once they understand, they'll do their best to let you know they care. They do care, after all.”
“That's too hard.” The boy's shoulders dropped, his eyes misting over. “Why can't they just say it sometimes? Why can't they just be nicer?”
“Well, they're idiots, like you said,” Karamatsu chuckled, ruffling the boy's hair. “But they don't mean to hurt you. I mean, isn't that why you ran back here? Don't you think they're worried right now?”
The boy looked away guiltily. “Yeah, probably.”
Karamatsu stood up and held his hand out. “Then perhaps we should get back to them, hm?”
The boy took Karamatsu's hand and gave him a smile. “Okay.”
As they made their way back out of the forest, gentle ferns brushed against their legs, and a warm wind carried a new, fresher air through the forest.
“What about that thing you were looking for? Aren't you going to go find it?”
“Hm... I don't think I was very close to it. I think I'd rather get back for now. Also... I have a feeling that I may have better luck when I'm not searching so arduously.”
Karamatsu woke up, thankful when he felt less ill than before. He felt a slight weight on him. It was warm. It seemed that someone had covered him with a blanket while he was sleeping, and Karamatsu wondered who had arrived home.
He considered whether he should pretend to be fine or not if they came back in. Just the thought of it weighed his heart down more, but he felt a sense of duty not to put that weight on anyone else's shoulders.
The door opened, and someone peeked in to check on him. Osomatsu. Karamatsu's motivation to keep up any act dwindled. Though he still felt an impulse to hide his condition... maybe it would be alright, having someone know. Maybe it would be better.
Karamatsu was startled out of his thoughts when he felt a hand land on his head. Osomatsu was kneeling in front of him, trying to catch his attention.
"Geez, Karamatsu, you were starting to really freak me out. I called you a bunch of times, you know?" Osomatsu took a seat on the floor in front of Karamatsu. "So? What's wrong?"
Karamatsu hummed in thought. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. How does he answer? Even though he was just thinking about opening up, it was kind of terrifying to suddenly be faced with it. What if it turned out like before? Could Karamatsu handle that again? Karamatsu frowned. If he didn't try, it would still get worse, wouldn't it? Karamatsu didn't want to know what would happen if this kept progressing. He didn't want to see it get worse any more.
"Hey, Kara!" Karamatsu snapped back to attention. "I've never seen you this out of it before. What's going on?"
Karamatsu took a deep breath.
"I just... don't feel well?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well... I feel tired a lot of the time... even if I was fine just a minute before. And... I don't feel very happy." Karamatsu teared up at the confession. "I feel lonely, too. Even when you all are right next to me. Last night, when I hugged you, I felt a bit better, but... I felt just as bad as before, not a minute later."
"Hmm... but it made you feel a bit better at first?"
"Well, that's a good sign, at least," Osomatsu said, grinning and rubbing a finger under his nose.
The familiar gesture reminded Karamatsu of their childhood, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia in the worst way.
"Eh, what happened?! Why are you crying?"
Karamatsu didn't know. He didn't have an answer. He lay there, sniffling and wiping his tears away, when a hand landed on his shoulder, and he looked up at his brother.
"Scoot over a bit?"
Osomatsu ushered Karamatsu back, then laid down next to him. Osomatsu wrapped his arms around the younger, then tucked Karamatsu's head under his chin.
"So what's up, hm? Why'd you start crying?"
"...I don't really know. I was just thinking about when we were kids and..."
"What about it?"
Karamatsu sniffled. "Nothing in particular... I just felt like I missed it all of a sudden. But it's not like I'd been feeling like that before... It's like my brain is just trying to find more reasons to be sad. I don't get it."
"Hey, it's okay," Osomatsu soothed. "There doesn't always have to be a reason, you know? Has there been anything else lately? Anything that might've caused this?"
"No. Nothing happened, at least not that I can think of."
"When did it start?"
"I don't really know. It's hard to pinpoint... Maybe it's gotten worse, though, in the last few weeks. But I really don't think there's a reason for it... I can't think of one."
They lay there in silence for a few minutes. It was warm, and Karamatsu could no longer feel the chill in the room. He was just starting to become drowsy again when Osomatsu spoke.
"Hey Kara, could I ask you something?"
"You haven't had any... bad thoughts lately, have you? You know..."
"No!" Karamatsu replied quickly. "No, no, it's nothing like that..."
Osomatsu relaxed a bit, letting out an almost imperceptible sigh.
"Actually, sometimes, it's more like the opposite. It feels like I'm thinking less and less, and at times, I'll watch hours pass by and it almost feels like I can't do anything about it. And then other times, my thoughts won't quit, and most of them are negative." Karamatsu frowned. "...I don't like it."
Osomatsu started rubbing circles into Karamatsu's back. “Maybe you should talk to someone?”
Karamatsu pressed his head into Osomatsu's hoodie. “...I don't really want to do that.”
“No? It might help.”
Might it? “Maybe... Maybe later. If it, um... if it gets worse?” Karamatsu hoped it wouldn't get worse, but starting this explanation over, and with a stranger, especially...
Osomatsu was silent for a few moments.
“Well, that's alright. If you don't want to right now, you don't have to. But if it does ever get worse, you'll tell me, right?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Okay.” Osomatsu hugged him tightly. “Also, you don't have to wait until you feel bad to come talk to me, either. Or even if you don't want to talk. We can just hang out. We don't have to do anything. And maybe then you won't get lost out in space as much, yeah?”
Karamatsu chuckled softly.
“...Yeah. That sounds good.”
Karamatsu was near falling asleep again at this point. He didn't want to- it was nice, having this one-on-one, and it was nice to be comforted after feeling so awful. But this slump had thoroughly worn him out.
Karamatsu was woken a bit by Osomatsu carding through his hair.
“I love you, Karamatsu,” he whispered, and as Karamatsu drifted fully off to sleep, the loneliness that had sunk its teeth into his heart and weighed it down was gently pried away.
Karamatsu found himself standing in an open field next to an expansive woods. Karamatsu took a deep breath, taking in the fresh, warm air, the green grass, the wide blue sky.
The peaceful atmosphere was mildly interrupted by the sound of laughter and yelling. Karamatsu turned around and smiled.
Six boys ran around, chasing each other. They were all laughing, with wide smiles on their faces and not a care in the world.
Karamatsu watched them with a softened expression. The forest loomed in the background, but Karamatsu paid it no mind. For now, he would enjoy this peace.
Karamatsu sat down on the grass, laying back with his hands behind his head. Taking another deep breath, Karamatsu settled down to watch the clouds go by.