Osomatsu kicked his feet lazily, watching Karamatsu draw on the bench beside him. It was sketchy, made with light pencil on eggshell paper, but Osomatsu could already see that it was turning out amazingly. Karamatsu would occasionally look up, study a person or their dog or just look at the line of trees, and then return his attention to the sketchpad on his lap. Osomatsu could see the same line of trees taking shape, and a slight oval for the pond on the other side of them.
He leaned closer. Instead of the people who had been walking past, Karamatsu had drawn Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu; Jyushimatsu looked like he was explaining something very animatedly, and Ichimatsu had the patient look he always wore around his younger brother. Just a few steps behind them, Choromatsu had his scolding face on, mouth open in the middle of a word, face angled toward Todomatsu who was on his phone and clearly ignoring him. At the front of the pack, Osomatsu himself was walking with confident steps, arms folded behind his head and a grin on his face.
“Where are you?” Osomatsu asked, nudging Karamatsu very gently on the shoulder.
Karamatsu looked up. “Ah,” he said at first, and then, “Brother,” and Osomatsu nudged him again, harder this time. Karamatsu took the hint and a corner of his mouth twitched up. “I’m taking the picture, I suppose.”
Osomatsu frowned down at his drawing. “I think you should be there,” he replied simply. “Draw yourself in, walking next to me.”
Karamatsu’s smile fell. “Then who would take the picture?” he deflected, looking anywhere but into Osomatsu’s eyes. Karamatsu was always a shit liar when it came to his only older brother.
“I don’t like how it looks with just five.” Osomatsu shifted closer until their thighs were pressed together. “I want you to draw yourself in.”
“I want it to be five,” Karamatsu shot back, some of his very rare irritation rising to the surface. When Osomatsu just looked at him, surprised, he flipped the front of his sketchbook closed. “H-How about we check out the races today?”
Osomatsu, tempted by the offer, willed himself to stay serious. “Why do you want it to be five?” he asked.
It was a kind of ominous sign when the sun that was shining brightly all morning suddenly dimmed, covered by clouds. Karamatsu tucked his pencils and eraser into the backpack he brought with them, moving their water bottles over so he could put his sketchbook inside as well. Then he strapped the backpack shut and stood. As he was picking it up to drape over his shoulder, Osomatsu caught it by one of the straps and tugged.
“Karamatsu,” he said in full older-brother mode. “Tell me why you want it to be five?”
The day had started out so well. Breakfast at 10, a bit of a nap afterward, and then as Karamatsu went to pack his things to leave, Osomatsu rushed after him and tagged along. This wasn’t the first place Karamatsu wanted to stop so he could draw. They ended up a few feet from their house, and then one of the alleyways that Ichimatsu fed his cats in, and then on the side of a busy street—Osomatsu had a scare when Karamatsu almost stepped in the way of a passing car.
And now Karamatsu was reluctant to talk to him. For all he bent over backward to please the five of them, he didn’t like talking about how he felt. Osomatsu had a sneaking suspicion that made his blood go cold but he didn’t like thinking about things like that. Like when Karamatsu had run away in grade school. Or when he started going to therapy sporadically in their last year of upper secondary and got prescribed anti-depressants. Osomatsu didn’t think anyone but Karamatsu, their parents, and he himself knew about that one.
Karamatsu fumbled in his hoodie pocket with one hand for his sunglasses. He slid them on with a flourish and, as soon as his eyes were covered, he grinned. “It’s for the balance of the picture, brother. I can teach you about painting composition if you’d like.”
“Cut the bullshit, Karamatsu.” Osomatsu stood as well, snatching the backpack from Karamatsu’s grip and swinging it over his own shoulder. “C’mon. Walk with me.”
Osomatsu thought for a moment that Karamatsu would refuse and walk home, but again, he couldn’t resist what his brothers asked. He nodded once, subserviently, and Osomatsu’s blood turned to ice. “Of course, Osomatsu,” he said. At least they walked side by side; if Karamatsu walked a stride behind him he probably would have screamed.
They got a little way down the path that circled the park in silence. Once they entered the more shaded, quiet part away from families and dog walkers, Osomatsu turned and glanced at his brother. “What’s wrong?” he asked before he could stop himself. If Karamatsu lied, he knew the truth already. If Karamatsu told the truth… he wasn’t sure what he would do.
Karamatsu continued to look forward, head held high and back straight, but Osomatsu could see the haunted look in his eyes all the same.
“Today is not a good day,” Karamatsu said eventually. His deep voice was steady but his fingers shook as he raised his hand to adjust his sunglasses.
Osomatsu hummed. “I see,” he replied, even though he didn’t really. “Just in general?”
“Yes.” Karamatsu stopped and Osomatsu didn’t notice until he had already walked ten feet away. Karamatsu was crouching on the path, coaxing a corn snake into his hands. He placed it very gently in the grass.
Osomatsu hummed to himself. He wished Karamatsu was more selfish, more mean. He admitted his feelings in the dim light, in the quiet, but he didn’t take it out on anyone like Ichimatsu tended to. He continued to help anyone and anything he could.
“Can you tell me more about it?” Osomatsu asked. Karamatsu stood up and, once he reached Osomatsu’s side again, they continued walking.
Karamatsu slowly took his sunglasses off and folded them carefully, placing them back in his pocket. “Osomatsu, do you remember when we were little, very, very little, and you said you wished you were an only child?” he asked in a neutral, nonjudgmental voice.
Osomatsu still had intrusive thoughts about his sibling status; it wasn’t so much that he wanted to be an only child anymore, but that he had gotten so used to the presence of every single one of his brothers that it made him uncomfortable to think of them as anything but extensions of himself. He supposed that made him a bit of a narcissist.
Karamatsu was looking at him, finally, and he realized he hadn’t answered. “Yeah, I remember. Of course I remember,” he replied almost flippantly. Karamatsu blinked at him and turned away.
“I remember thinking, of course he does. Of course he would be better suited to our parents’ attention. He would be successful without us dragging him down.” Karamatsu still sounded flat, nothing like his… normal self. The rest of his brothers always asked him to just be normal, to not put on his painful persona, but they had all become used to it. If Karamatsu were to go to any of his younger brothers about his problems with this demeanor they would probably be more anxious than supportive.
Not that Osomatsu was all that supportive himself.
“And then I started thinking about the four youngest,” Karamatsu continued. “Obviously Choromatsu is going to be one of the most successful businessmen in the world. And no matter what Ichimatsu thinks, he’s worth… everything.” He pressed his lips thin for a moment. “Jyushimatsu is constantly taking time to think about me, to do things with me that I could do alone. I think likes me a lot and he shouldn’t, he shouldn’t! Todomatsu has already gotten his life half-together, with that café job and that boyfriend of his.
“So after all that, everything I considered about… about each of you that I love so much, I realized.” Karamatsu swallowed hard, clenching his fists at his sides. “I realized that the problem is me. I-I can’t… I can’t do anything, I can never do anything a-and I try to help you, I really do, but I fail every time, and you’re all so angry with me—“
Osomatsu felt close to tears. He took Karamatsu by the elbow to stop him in the middle of the dim, cool path and pressed his other hand to Karamatsu’s cheek, turning his head so they were eye-to-eye. “Karamatsu, I’m really gonna need you to shut the fuck up right now.”
Karamatsu closed his mouth and nodded. His eyelashes, always longer than any of theirs, were soaked and stuck together with tears. He seemed to be trying to hold back an apology because Osomatsu told him to be quiet, his mouth turned down and eyes imploring.
“I’m taking us home. No more drawing for today. You need to sit down and talk to me, man to man.”
Karamatsu shook his head this time. “I don’t want to talk anymore,” he said, voice hoarse and breathy like asking for what he wanted made his lungs close in rebellion.
Osomatsu didn’t know how to respond. He released Karamatsu’s arm and returned his own to his side. “You don’t have to, then,” he decided. “I’ll talk and you’ll listen.”
Neither of them said anything until they got home.
Osomatsu was the one to open the front door when they got home. He didn’t shout a greeting, and Karamatsu didn’t either. They took their shoes off and tromped up the stairs. Instead of dropping Karamatsu’s bag on the floor like he would his own, Osomatsu handed it to him and received a nod of thanks. He took out his drawing supplies and put them next to his magazines and notebooks full of poetry on the top shelf of the bookshelf.
Karamatsu used to take the bottom one until Ichimatsu let his cats get ahold of everything. He just laughed it off at the time but Osomatsu heard him crying in the living room that night; he couldn’t be mad at Ichimatsu either because, while Karamatsu was upset to the point of tears, Osomatsu himself did nothing about it.
Osomatsu gestured for Karamatsu to follow him back down the stairs and onto the balcony. It was still light outside, not quite time for dinner, but the sun was throwing purples and oranges up into the clouds above them. They sat and dangled their legs over the edge, feet just brushing the grass below.
“I want to tell you something I haven’t told you all,” Osomatsu began, slowly kicking his legs. “And you know I hate being serious and having to like… think hard about stuff.” He leaned his head back and blew air up at his bangs.
“Mom told me about when we were born. She said they—the doctors—couldn’t induce us because it would probably kill us and her. And they said there was a high chance that only one or two of us would live.” Karamatsu bit his lip and his gaze went from the sky to the ground. “I don’t think I meant it when I said I wanted to be an only child after I learned that. But I did start thinking about if it was just you and me.
“And the same as you, I did some more thinking. About how I don’t like change, about how I… I never want any of you to leave home without me.” He rubbed his index finger rather harshly under his nose. “So I keep you at the bottom with me. Totty is the youngest, he got the chance to… to… pull away. And every day he leaves for work it makes me want to hold tighter to the rest of you.”
Karamatsu shook his head, shifting his hand over to touch the back of Osomatsu’s. “That’s not keeping us at the bottom, Osomatsu. That’s you being a good brother.”
Osomatsu turned his hand over and took Karamatsu’s hand in his. “So what does that say about you?” he asked in return.
The screen door behind them slammed open and they both startled. “Nii-san!” Jyushimatsu latched himself to Karamatsu’s back, arms curled around his neck and his chin on Karamatsu’s shoulder. “We didn’t get to play baseball together!”
Jyushimatsu couldn’t see it from his angle, but Osomatsu watched Karamatsu’s expression fall drastically. “I’m so sorry, little Jyushimatsu,” he murmured and lifted his hands to hold onto his brother’s beneath his sleeves. “I didn’t mean to forget.”
“I know!” Jyushimatsu replied sweetly. “We can just go tomorrow!” He glanced over at Osomatsu. “What were you talking about? Osomatsu-nii-san looks sad.”
Karamatsu turned to look at him as well, squeezing Jyushimatsu’s hands. “Just some big brother things, Jyushimatsu. Nothing for you to worry about.”
Osomatsu nodded emphatically and willed a grin onto his face. “Onii-chan doesn’t want you to worry either.” Karamatsu squeezed his brother’s hands again. “We were done talking, anyways. Do you think you can get in a quick game before dinner?”
Jyushimatsu shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. It’s gonna get dark soon and it’s hard to see the ball.” He squeezed Karamatsu back this time, shuffling forward so his knees were pressed lightly against him.
“I think one of Ichimatsu’s cats got into your notebooks again,” came Todomatsu’s bored sounding voice from inside.
“Oh!” Karamatsu said, turning and smiling up at his youngest brother. “Well, I’m glad the cat liked my writing,” he continued with a wink. Todomatsu rolled his eyes and walked away.
Jyushimatsu wasn’t so flippant. “Didn’t you write one of your new songs for us in there?” he asked, disappointed. “I think I remember all the other ones but we didn’t practice that one yet.”
Karamatsu gently pulled Jyushimatsu’s arms away and shifted to standing. Osomatsu, silent and observant up to this point, followed him back inside and up the stairs to their room.
“Ichimatsu,” Karamatsu said in a stern voice he very rarely used with any of his younger brothers. Ichimatsu didn’t look up at him, still waving a cattail at a calico tabby. “Ichimatsu, listen to me.” The cattail paused for a moment, but soon resumed its bouncing. “Ichimatsu!”
They all looked at Karamatsu, then. Jyushimatsu, who was about to enter their room after his two eldest brothers, stopped in the doorway with wide eyes.
Karamatsu didn’t shout at them. Sometimes he got serious, his voice commanding all of them to listen, and sometimes he would slam his hand on the table to get their attention. But he always said he loved them too much to yell at them.
Ichimatsu looked like Karamatsu had said he hated him right then and there.
“You know I don’t… I don’t get angry when you give your cats my things. I let you have whatever you want of mine because I’m older than you and I have to take care of you.” His voice was low this time. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, feet planted, and an angry downturn to his mouth that none of them could ever remember seeing.
“Please ask your other brothers if they need something of mine before you destroy it. Jyushimatsu worked hard on a song in one of those notebooks and now it’s wasted.” Ichimatsu’s eyes flickered to the doorway, where Jyushimatsu looked ready to protest. “Apologize to him.”
Osomatsu inhaled and exhaled very slowly. Ichimatsu should be apologizing to Karamatsu, if anything, but he never wanted them to do things for him, even as simple as saying sorry.
Ichimatsu actually looked regretful for once, but his eyes kept jumping back to Karamatsu like he was afraid he would get screamed at again. “I’m sorry, Jyushimatsu. I didn’t know….”
“It’s okay, Ichimatsu-nii-san,” Jyushimatsu said, taking a hesitant step into the room. “But I think you should apologize to Karamatsu-nii-san as well.”
“No, Jyushimatsu, I don’t want him to.” Karamatsu’s angry expression disappeared as quickly as it came. “I’m sorry, Ichimatsu, for yelling at you. I should have found another way to get your attention.”
Todomatsu tucked his phone into his back pocket. “Karamatsu-nii-san, that doesn’t make any sense. We yell at you when you do something we don’t like.”
Karamatsu met his eyes evenly. “You’re my younger brothers. I’m supposed to be looking out for you, and if I don’t do it right, that’s my fault.”
Osomatsu cleared his throat. “Karamatsu, what about me? I’m supposed to be looking out for you, right?” He tapped his foot, a nervous tic he developed from Karamatsu years ago. “Why don’t you yell at me when I take all your money for pachinko? Or when I make fun of your awful, awful clothes?”
Osomatsu could see how uncomfortable Karamatsu was getting but he needed an answer. “Osomatsu,” he began slowly. “You, you’re in charge of all of us. And that means you have the most stress. I have to, mm, pick up the slack, so to speak. And if that means—“
“Being a punching bag?” Osomatsu interrupted.
“I don’t want to discuss this with you right now, Osomatsu.” Karamatsu took a step back, as if physically removing himself from the situation. “Jyushimatsu, we can run to the store and get some more notebooks before dinner if you’d like?” He turned around and, before any one of them could ask what was wrong, ran out of the door and down the stairs.
Ichimatsu stood up and, after exchanging glances with Osomatsu, made his way down the stairs as well. Osomatsu figured he had no choice but to follow all of them; he was also worried about where Karamatsu was going in such a rush after how calm he was during the entire situation.
“Jyushimatsu-nii-san, it’ll be okay,” was the first thing they heard in the main room. Todomatsu was kneeling next to his older brother and rubbing his back. Karamatsu was on Jyushimatsu’s other side, murmuring something under his breath that made Jyushimatsu shake his head.
Jyushimatsu’s breath stuttered. “I don’t want you to re-write it, Karamatsu-nii-san,” he whined pathetically, covering his eyes with his sleeves. “I want the pictures we drew back. And the notes you wrote for me!”
Osomatsu pushed his fingers gently into Jyushimatsu’s hair, pressing his cowlick flat. “I’m sure Ichimatsu didn’t mean to do that.” Jyushimatsu lifted a hand to push his away and he blinked in surprise. Karamatsu’s arm slid around Jyushimatsu’s shoulders and the younger wasted to time in leaning against his brother for more comfort.
“I think we should take a walk, my little Jyushimatsu.” Karamatsu pried him away and stood, and then reached down to help both Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu to standing as well. “You can come too, Totty, if you’d like.”
Todomatsu looked confused at the entire situation. “Sure,” he finally said, leading the way out of the main room and into the hall.
That left Osomatsu and Ichimatsu by themselves. Neither of them said anything; if Osomatsu could guess, he would say Ichimatsu was more than upset with himself and listening to that intensely hateful monologue in his head about this. He took out all his anger on Karamatsu whenever he could but when Karamatsu did the same for once he went silent.
Their mother came down from her room with a frown on her face. “Did I hear shouting?” she asked. “And why are there only two NEETs here? Don’t they know dinner is coming soon?” She shook her head disappointedly. “You all love food so much and can’t even get to dinner on time….”
“There was a little bit of a disagreement, Okaa-san,” Osomatsu said dismissively. “They went to talk it out.”
Matsuyo shook her head again. “Well it’s about time some of you grew up.” She did reach out to ruffle the hair on both of their heads before she went into the kitchen.
Ichimatsu’s cat finally came into the front room as well, ambling over and wrapping itself about Ichimatsu’s leg. He sat down carefully and it crawled into his lap. Osomatsu laid himself out on the floor, eyes on the ceiling.
This whole thing was getting to be too much. Osomatsu really hated being serious about things, especially family things, because they always ended up like this. Compounding and spreading until everyone was upset with at least one other person, and when they were younger there was always some physical fighting as well. Osomatsu just wanted a quiet dinner around the people he grudgingly accepted as siblings, and then a nice bath, and then a warm bed, and then a long sleep.
He folded his arms under his head and sighed. The worst case scenario was any one of them leaving. It was looking more and more like the first one would be Karamatsu, and who’s to say what would happen when the brothers lost their favorite whipping boy.
“What even happened?” Todomatsu asked, eyes on his phone but one hand held in Jyushimatsu’s. “Karamatsu-nii-san got mad about his notebooks?” Todomatsu leaned back so he could look at Karamatsu over Jyushimatsu’s shoulder.
Before Karamatsu could answer, Jyushimatsu cut in with, “He did but… he didn’t do it for himself.” Jyushimatsu wanted to stop crying because it made him feel sick and tired but he was really sad. He knew he didn’t pay attention when their brothers treated Karamatsu badly because they were all used to it and Karamatsu bounced back almost instantly. But he forgot how easily Karamatsu defended all of them, even for each other.
“I did do it for myself, little Jyushimatsu,” Karamatsu reassured him. He took Jyushimatsu’s hand on the other side. “I don’t like to see you sad, you know that.”
“But aren’t you sad, nii-san?” he mumbled back. They didn’t get to play baseball or anything that morning, and baseball always cheered him up. Karamatsu seemed to have fun too; he always pitched for Jyushimatsu for hours without getting bored like their other siblings would. And Jyushimatsu didn’t know what he had done all day, only that he went out with Osomatsu. Maybe they got in an argument?
Karamatsu smiled at him. “Not one bit, Jyushimatsu. My heart is filled with nothing but love and happiness for my brother, plagued as he is by self-hate and self-doubt, so that he may—“
“But I don’t understand how that was for Jyushimatsu-nii-san.” Todomatsu tucked his phone into his back pocket and halted their progress so the three of them were standing still on the sidewalk. Jyushimatsu appreciated the fact that neither of them let go of his hands. “He doesn’t keep notebooks, does he?”
“Me and Karamatsu-nii-san wrote a new song in there.” Jyushimatsu sniffled. “But we can write a new one. Karamatsu-nii-san didn’t have to yell so loud.”
Karamatsu clutched Jyushimatsu’s hand in both of his, and then let him go to instead hug him around the waist. Jyushimatsu threw his arms around Karamatsu’s shoulders (almost pulling Todomatsu with him) and probably got all kinds of snot and tears on his hoodie.
“Did I make you nervous when I yelled?” Karamatsu asked into his hair. Todomatsu was rubbing his back again and it made him feel a little better but not much.
Jyushimatsu shook his head against Karamatsu’s mouth but didn’t say anything. What made him nervous is the way Karamatsu let himself be walked over like that, and how Jyushimatsu knew that he could get really mad at all of them but didn’t. He wanted to pay more attention next time, to stand up for his elder brother, even if Karamatsu thought he could do it himself—he never did, anyway, so someone had to.
It was moving from dusk to dark and as much as Jyushimatsu wanted to just stand quietly with his brothers, he knew that eventually they would have to go home for dinner.
Todomatsu must have been thinking the same thing. “Let’s go eat, Karamatsu-nii-san, Jyushimatsu-nii-san,” he said softly. “Do you think we could work it out tomorrow morning?”
“There’s nothing to work out, Totty, but thank you for your concern.” Karamatsu pulled away just enough to look Jyushimatsu in the eye but no further. Jyushimatsu let his brother study him for a little while longer before he scuffed his feet against the ground and sighed.
“Dinner,” he murmured. “Okay.”
They hadn’t really walked all that far from home. Choromatsu was waiting at the door for them with an exasperated frown on his face. Jyushimatsu felt bad for them being late because of him, and they hadn’t even gone to the store so they had nothing to show for it.
Instead of shouting, Choromatsu reached out for him and tugged him inside. “Let’s wash your face, Jyushimatsu,” he said softly. “You look tired already.”
“I’m not tired, Choromatsu-nii-san!” Jyushimatsu said with a wide grin. And it was true, really; he was more sad than tired but he didn’t think that would be any better in Choromatsu’s eyes. He grudgingly let himself be led away with only a glance back at his hesitantly smiling brothers.
Choromatsu didn’t know what the problem was but he knew he didn’t like it. Jyushimatsu’s face was splotchy from crying, eyes rimmed in red, and he was very rarely reduced to tears. He didn’t say anything was wrong up in the bathroom when it was just the two of them but downstairs around the table he could tell it was serious.
Ichimatsu was barely eating and he kept sneaking worried glances over at Karamatsu. At first, Choromatsu thought that maybe Karamatsu had some kind of injury or illness, but he dismissed that thought with a mental gesture. He couldn’t remember the last time Ichimatsu cared that his elder brother was sick.
Osomatsu, from his place beside the second eldest, was looking between the two of them. Occasionally he would bump his shoulder against Karamatsu’s, or playfully steal from his bowl, but he looked like his heart wasn’t really in it.
Of course conversation hadn’t slowed down at all. They couldn’t help but tease and bicker each other, even when some of them were obviously distracted. The only difference was when Todomatsu or Choromatsu himself focused a little too much on Karamatsu, Osomatsu stopped them with a quelling glance. It was almost odd to see him scold them for anything.
And, from what Choromatsu could tell, he was the only one without any information.
“Did something happen today?” he asked pointedly, looking directly at Osomatsu.
“Mm, nothing really,” Osomatsu replied with his mouth full, dropping rice all over the table. “Me and Karamatsu went for a walk.”
Choromatsu narrowed his eyes at them. “Did you really?” he asked lowly. “I can’t see how that would have caused all this.”
Todomatsu stopped trying to look busy with his chopsticks. He pressed his lips together like he wanted anyone else to tell the story, and true to form, Karamatsu picked it up for him.
“In a moment of madness, I demeaned our dear Ichimatsu in front of his brothers, and for that I’m sincerely sorry.” Karamatsu closed his eyes and brought an inappropriately dramatic hand to his forehead. “I made a mistake and I would never expect him to forgive me.”
“I doubt you could do anything against Ichimatsu,” Choromatsu replied, unconvinced.
Osomatsu began to look very suspicious himself. He rested his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand, forcing the careless look he managed perfectly every other day. “He’s over-exaggerating again. It was a misunderstanding.”
Choromatsu didn’t think he could get any less impressed. “Jyushimatsu,” he began, and instantly Todomatsu started talking.
“A cat got into Karamatsu-nii-san’s notebooks again.”
“A cat?” Choromatsu looked over at Ichimatsu, who was hunched up over his food like he was protecting it. “And it destroyed… all of his notebooks?”
“Not all of them.”
Ichimatsu shifted uncomfortably, his eyes still cast downward. “A few,” he replied softly.
“And how did the cat get into the notebooks?” Choromatsu asked the entire table, but Ichimatsu spoke up again, looking more and more uncomfortable.
“I pulled some down. I… I wanted Kusomatsu to get upset about them getting ripped up.” Ichimatsu’s mouth twisted with guilt. “I didn’t really mean it.”
Osomatsu must not have gotten the whole story the first time because he looked quite angry. “When haven’t you meant it, Ichimatsu? We’re all shitty to him, but you mean every word and every action and then some!”
Karamatsu shook his head and touched Osomatsu’s shoulder. “You’re far from ‘shitty’ to me, Osomatsu, and Ichimatsu is allowed to feel what he wants. I only ask that he talk to my brothers before destroying their things.”
“Your things, Karamatsu-nii-san!” Jyushimatsu insisted. “I saw what happened! Even your sketchbook had pages ripped out!”
Karamatsu blinked, surprised. “Which pages?” he asked Jyushimatsu, and then turned to the next eldest brother. “The ones near the front?”
Ichimatsu looked inches from tears but Choromatsu found he didn’t have any sympathy. “The ones with pictures on them,” Ichimatsu admitted. “I didn’t—“
“Was there one with today’s date? With trees?” Osomatsu asked, his dinner all but forgotten in favor of interrogation. “With five of us in it?”
Ichimatsu hesitated before he nodded.
Karamatsu smiled at him, seemingly unaffected. “I can always draw a new one, Ichimatsu, don’t worry. It was only a sketch.”
Osomatsu pushed the rest of his food away. “I’m going to bed,” he said under his breath without so much as a goodnight. Karamatsu sent Choromatsu an apologetic look and went up after him, supposedly to talk.
Ichimatsu didn’t look at anyone else until they all finished their dinner.
It took almost a week for things to get back to normal. Osomatsu had a lucky day at the pachinko parlor and actually used some of his money to buy Karamatsu new notebooks, even nicer than the last. Todomatsu heard him and Jyushimatsu coming up with new songs on the roof pretty often, until one notebook was almost half full. Choromatsu chipped in with a new lockbox that Karamatsu could keep all of his pencils and journals in—he told them he didn’t want to hide his things like they were a secret and left the lock inside with all of the books.
“You’re too nice,” Todomatsu mumbled at him, looking over his shoulder at his newest sketch. Todomatsu was lying back on the couch, phone resting on his stomach waiting for new notifications, while Karamatsu sat on the floor in front of him with his sketchbook propped on his knees.
There was a very neat, detailed sketch of Ichimatsu bobbing a cattail at ESP Kitty, a half-smile on his face that he only really wore around his cats. Karamatsu stilled his hand and looked up, blinking curiously at Todomatsu. “Am I?” he asked. “I think I could do better….” He went back to shading Ichimatsu’s eyes. “That’s why you’re usually so displeased with me, right brother?”
Todomatsu turned onto his side and dropped a hand into Karamatsu’s hair. “I’m never ‘displeased’ with you, Karamatsu-nii-san,” he murmured so low he was sure Ichimatsu couldn’t catch it. “It’s just… a little embarrassing for me when you put on those flashy lines and sparkly clothes.”
Karamatsu leaned into the scritches on the back of his head. “But I like them,” he replied in a relaxed drawl, his pencil falling from his hand to the floor. “They make me really happy.”
“I know, Karamatsu-nii-san.” Todomatsu stilled his hand for a moment. “It’s just, you’ve got all these talents. Acting and music and writing and drawing… and most of us don’t have any. I guess you could say we’re a little jealous.”
Karamatsu set his sketchbook down and lowered his head, prompting Todomatsu to keep petting him. “I don’t think that’s it, Totty,” he said, doubt obvious in his voice. Todomatsu could see his shoulders stiffening and his jaw clenching from the angle he was lying at, so he knew Karamatsu was thinking something self-depreciating.
“I think it is. I think all five of us are Karamatsu Boys, really.” Maybe two weeks ago it would have pained him to say that, but having Karamatsu so quiet and spacy for so long made Todomatsu, if not all of them, have a think about how they treated the second born.
“You don’t mean that.” Karamatsu didn’t pull away, probably from some incorrect idea that Todomatsu would be offended if he did, but his voice was monotone and cool. “Please don’t say something ‘painful’ like that about yourself.”
“S’not painful,” Todomatsu said quietly.
Osomatsu showed up in the doorway and their attention focused on him. “I need to talk to you,” Osomatsu said, focused on his first brother. “Come downstairs for a minute.”
Karamatsu nodded and stood up, leaving his drawing supplies behind. Todomatsu waited until they left the room to close the book and tuck it into Karamatsu’s lockbox, and then shove it back up on the top shelf. He debated checking his Facebook notifications for a moment. He quickly decided that they could wait and walked quietly out of the room and down the stairs to eavesdrop.
Not one part of Todomatsu felt guilty for it. They were always hounding him about keeping secrets, right? It wouldn’t hurt to turn the treatment back on them.
He was lucky the sliding door was left open just a little so he could sit on the other side and listen in.
“Did you draw it over?” Osomatsu was asking loud enough for it to carry. Todomatsu couldn’t see anything but he assumed Karamatsu was nodding because Osomatsu said, “Did you draw it with five again?”
There was no response. Osomatsu sighed. “Why do you think it should be five?” he asked.
“Because the picture looks better that way,” Karamatsu finally replied.
Todomatsu frowned lightly. What could they be talking about that there was only five of? It certainly wasn’t all of them, because they had six.
“Karamatsu, don’t lie to me. Tell me why you didn’t draw it with six.”
Todomatsu reevaluated his position.
“It’s just a drawing, Osomatsu.” There was a thud, most likely someone’s knee hitting the underside of the table. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“A week ago you said you were having a bad day. A bad day. First you tell me about how you feel useless, and then about how you think you’re dragging us down?” Osomatsu sounded genuinely confused at his own question. “And then all that shit happened with your stuff.”
They were both quiet for a little while, and then Osomatsu half-stated half-asked, “What did you lose. Other than the songs and the pictures.”
Todomatsu didn’t know how Karamatsu could answer that, but Karamatsu answered somehow. “I haven’t been sleeping well. I keep thinking about how little I’m helping you all. How all I do is cause problems.”
“How many times a month do you go to therapy?” Osomatsu asked, and at first Todomatsu thought it was a mean joke.
“Once every two months,” Karamatsu said, and Todomatsu could hear the unfettered honesty in his voice. “Just enough to keep up with my prescription.”
Prescription? Todomatsu near shouted. Prescription for what? Why was Karamatsu in therapy? For the little jokes they cracked at him?
“Depression isn’t anything to play around with,” Osomatsu sighed. “I’ve been reading about it, ever since you started therapy. What if you’ve been taking the wrong dose all this time? Or the wrong medication?” The thumping sound came back. “I want to go with you. At least once a month, please, Karamatsu.”
“I can handle it myself, brother.”
“Obviously you can’t, if you’re having those thoughts.”
“I’ve learned to live with them—“
“Karamatsu, I don’t want you to live with them at all!” Osomatsu’s voice rose in frustration. “Doesn’t it hurt, to think you’re the problem? You think you’re less than us for some reason! Don’t you want to stop feeling that way?”
“How can I when it’s true?” Karamatsu replied, still quiet, but his voice was thick and strained.
“It’s not true! It is not fucking true, Karamatsu!” Osomatsu could probably be heard all the way upstairs now. “You are not the problem and I want you to fucking realize that! Stop being so fucking stupid for once in your life!”
Todomatsu couldn’t sit there in silence anymore. He slid the door the rest of the way open and found Osomatsu standing, berating Karamatsu who was kneeling on the floor with his head bowed. Todomatsu went for Osomatsu first, pushing him with both hands on his chest. “You fuck off!” he shouted right back, savoring the look of surprise on Osomatsu’s face.
“Karamatsu-nii-san, are you alright?” he asked much quieter, coming to sit at his side much the same as he did Jyushimatsu. Karamatsu wasn’t crying but his eyes were pink at the corners and Todomatsu could hear his breath hitching. “Nii-san, you’re the best of us, you know. You’re going to make it big someday soon and we’ll be right here to mooch off you.”
Karamatsu didn’t even laugh. He raised his head just enough to glance at Todomatsu, and then he looked somewhere around Osomatsu’s knees. “I’m sorry, aniki,” he said in a choked voice. “I won’t tell you those things anymore.”
Osomatsu took a few deep breaths. “That’s not what I want.” His voice was much lower, as if he were trying to soothe Karamatsu away from tears. “I want you to share your problems with me, to talk to me about them whenever you feel upset. And I want to help you make an appointment for tomorrow morning so you can talk it out with your therapist.”
“Okay,” Karamatsu agreed readily. He did lean into Todomatsu’s side, grateful for the support.
Todomatsu still didn’t know all the details and Karamatsu certainly wasn’t in a place where he could just ask for them, but he resolved to bring it up later and get some answers. It seemed like it was mostly an elder brother conversation for now.
“I can walk you to therapy too, Karamatsu-nii-san,” Todomatsu offered. Karamatsu nodded against his shoulder. When Osomatsu calmed down enough to sit in front of them, Karamatsu allowed himself to be pulled into an apologetic hug and tried his best to relax.
Todomatsu watched them for a few more moments. “I’m going to get snacks,” he murmured, but he didn’t think either of them was really listening, which was actually a good thing.
They set the appointment for a week from the next morning. Osomatsu wanted it to be much earlier but Karamatsu was insistent on a grace period. "I haven't been honest with him in a long time," Karamatsu admitted under his breath at the bathhouse; he and Osomatsu managed to sit away from the rest of their brothers for just a few moments. "I just need to think about some things."
Osomatsu had frowned at him, completely unconvinced, but ultimately Karamatsu knew himself better than any of them could. The appointment time didn't change and every time Osomatsu passed the calendar on the refrigerator, he got that much more frustrated.
After breakfast, Karamatsu invited him to go out and watch him draw again. Osomatsu jumped at the opportunity. It made him uncomfortable with himself that he knew about Karamatsu's mental illness for years and he hadn't done anything differently.
At least he could have treated him better than an object to be ignored. They had all become different after grade school, finding their own niches and interests, but somehow Karamatsu got singled out for his changes and their bullying never stopped.
Going with Karamatsu to draw a couple times a week wouldn't make up for anything major but Osomatsu found that it was pretty relaxing for both of them. The last time they spent so much time together they were all beating up Chibita for much the same reason as Karamatsu--because he was an easy target.
It was hot enough that day that Karamatsu only wore a tank top (black, and thankfully without his own face on it… in the daylight, at least) and his improbably short shorts, and Osomatsu wore his pine t-shirt and jumpsuit, the arms tied around his waist. Osomatsu teased him good naturedly about his shorts, and when Karamatsu nervously explained that he cut them himself out of an old pair of jeans, Osomatsu was genuinely interested.
"I didn't know you could do stuff like that," he said, easily keeping up with his brother's long strides as they made their way to the train station. "Do you think you could fix my grey hoodie?" Osomatsu made a face, sticking his tongue out. "It has a huge hole in it."
Karamatsu smiled at him, adjusting his backpack more comfortably over his shoulders. "Already fixed. I couldn't find thread the exact same color, try as I might with my artist's eye--"
"No, Karamatsu, that's great!" Osomatsu rubbed his finger under his nose and grinned. "You didn't have to, I didn't even ask."
Karamatsu shrugged lightly. He swiped his card twice to let both of them through the turnstiles and onto the train platform, which was crowded with commuters on their way to their jobs. "I saw it when I was helping Okaa-san with the laundry."
That gave Osomatsu pause. Karamatsu turned to look at him curiously. "You help her with laundry?" he asked.
"Of course. She and Otou-san pay for my meds and my appointments, so I figure I should do at least one thing for them." He adjusted his bag again, and then took Osomatsu by the arm and pulled him closer to the wall to wait for the train that came after the commuters'. "I can't move out like you all will eventually. I'm too stupid to hold a job." Osomatsu was shocked silent by that statement, even though he had called Karamatsu stupid a little over a week before. "I've been thinking about stopping all that so they can save their money for something more important."
"Absolutely not, Karamatsu." Osomatsu took a deep breath, torn between the urge to shake some sense into his younger brother or hug him to death, or at least until he squeezed all those bad thoughts out. "I'm definitely going to be the last one left at home."
But this wasn't about his problems, so he continued, "And if you were somehow the last left, do you really think one of us wouldn't take you in? You could live with me, free of charge, no questions asked." Osomatsu searched his brother's eyes because he couldn't read ever-emotive Karamatsu's expression. "You do understand that, right?"
Karamatsu's mouth wobbled like he was going to cry but when he spoke, his voice was even. "I don't think so, no. I've been under your feet for years, Osomatsu, you haven't thought this through. You can't--"
"Um, who's the older brother here? I can do what I want, and I want you to stop thinking that you're going to be forgotten about when one of us gets his fucking life together." The first train whooshed by and it was hard to hear himself speak so Osomatsu just stood next to his brother with his arms crossed.
The platform emptied out quickly and left them and a few couples and groups of friends to wait for the next train. Karamatsu looked like he wanted to shove his hands into his hoodie's pocket and was regretting not wearing it, even in the near-sweltering heat.
"You won't remember this," Karamatsu said, as if he were trying to convince Osomatsu, but Osomatsu knew he was really trying to convince himself. "When it really happens, probably in just a few years, you… you won't." He shook his head and blinked furiously. "You won't."
Osomatsu really didn't know what to say. He was used to overconfident Karamatsu, loud and sparkly and shiny Karamatsu who wasn't afraid to be rejected or rebuffed. Maybe….
"Karamatsu." Osomatsu took his brother's hand in his, getting his full attention. "When's the last time you took your meds?"
Karamatsu looked at the ground and Osomatsu made a disapproving sound, using his other hand to lift Karamatsu's chin. He looked nervous, beyond nervous, and that only confirmed Osomatsu's suspicions.
"Where is the money going?"
"I…." Karamatsu's voice finally shook but he didn't try to pull away. "I made a… an account. Um." He bit his lip and closed his eyes tightly. "It's attached to my will. It's supposed to be split between all five of you."
Osomatsu felt like he'd been punched in the chest. "You have a will?" he near shouted, drawing more than a few eyes.
"I haven't thought about it in a long time, Osomatsu," Karamatsu said much more quietly. "Please don't be angry."
"Why didn't you tell me when it got that bad?" Osomatsu wasn't angry in the slightest, but he felt completely helpless and he didn’t like it.
The train pulled up to their platform and Karamatsu took his chance to pass his brother, taking purposeful strides up the stairs and toward the back of the car where no one was seated. Osomatsu followed him more slowly. This situation was starting to spiral out of control and he wasn't used to having to fix real things like this.
They sat closely together, Karamatsu looking out the window and Osomatsu watching him. After a few minutes Karamatsu lifted the edge of his tank top and wiped his eyes, and that was the last straw.
"C'mere," Osomatsu murmured, draping his arm over Karamatsu's shoulders. Karamatsu immediately leaned into his side and his tears leaked into the shoulder of Osomatsu's shirt. When his breath started to hitch Osomatsu leaned his head against the top of his brother's.
Karamatsu rested his arm across Osomatsu's waist, gripping his shirt on his opposite side. "I'm sorry," he whimpered. "I didn't want you to know. I-I just wanted to go away quietly, and leave you all some--" Karamatsu couldn’t help a strained whine from escaping his throat, cutting off his words, and Osomatsu gently scratched the back of his head with the pads of his fingers. "Some m-money, because I feel like I should apologize for… for being born because--"
Osomatsu wanted to hear everything Karamatsu had to say but he couldn't let him cry himself to pieces like this. He shushed his brother softly and Karamatsu closed his mouth, sniffling and teary-eyed still. The gentle rocking of the train and Osomatsu's hand in his hair eventually calmed him down.
"I haven't been a very good brother, Karamatsu," Osomatsu murmured against his brother's forehead. "If you ever thought you could leave me quietly, I failed you more than I already thought."
"No," Karamatsu tried to reply, but Osomatsu shushed him again.
"Yes, little brother. You're the best of all of us and yet you think you have to apologize. I've never seen you do anything wrong, and I've made you feel like you have." Osomatsu stared at the trees flying by outside the train's window, still holding Karamatsu as tightly as he could. "Tell me what to do differently and I will. Anything, Karamatsu."
More sniffles at first. Then the tears started up again and he coughed wetly, burying his face further in Osomatsu's side. "Just this," he admitted in a whisper, like he was ashamed of it, and Osomatsu wanted to cry too. Karamatsu shouldn't have to ask to feel loved and taken care of.
They sat in silence for almost half an hour until the train came to their stop. Osomatsu didn't really want to get up but Karamatsu leaned away and picked up his bag. He reluctantly followed his younger brother out of the train, up the stairs out of the station, and into the fresh air.
Osomatsu was more familiar with this area than Karamatsu was, and he suggested it to be one of Karamatsu's new subjects. His brother was still red eyed and a little disheveled but he seemed very interested in their surroundings.
There weren't a lot of buildings in this town--if it could be called a town. It was mostly populated by short trees and bright, colorful flowers that Karamatsu studied especially close. Osomatsu let him lead the way onto the nearest stone path; they wandered until Karamatsu found an open field to sit down in.
Satisfied as well, Osomatsu pulled out the blanket he had secretly folded into Karamatsu's bag and spread it on the grass. Karamatsu smiled just barely and sat down. He patted the spot on his left and Osomatsu settled comfortably next to him.
"Thanks for bringing me here," Karamatsu said, flipping his sketchbook to a new page. His hand paused at what little was left of the drawing he worked on, ripped carelessly from the rest of the book by Ichimatsu. Osomatsu wanted to be angry at him for Karamatsu's sake but he just felt tired.
"No problem." Osomatsu leaned in close to watch Karamatsu's hand move across the textured paper. "What are you going to draw today?"
Karamatsu wiped his eyes with the back of his free hand. "Not sure yet," he replied softly. The landscape in front of them was taking form quickly, skillfully, and Osomatsu felt a burst of pride for his brother. Karamatsu would definitely be the first of them to become successful. He would probably be a billionaire.
"Have you ever considered selling some paintings?"
Karamatsu's dark eyes lifted from the paper to Osomatsu's. "No." He turned pink and fiddled with his pencil. "Why? Do you think people would buy them?"
"Of course. They're amazing." Osomatsu grinned at him and then laid back on the blanket, hands behind his head. "You can give me the money for pachi, and I'll make you double."
Osomatsu knew Karamatsu was rolling his eyes, even if he couldn't see it. "We'll see, brother."
It was quiet and warm enough that Osomatsu couldn't help but doze a bit. The sound of pencil on paper and the familiar presence of his brother kept him half-asleep for a little while, until he was waking up to Karamatsu shaking his shoulder.
"We should be getting back." Karamatsu had a genuine smile on his face now, no trace of his earlier tears, and Osomatsu was immensely relieved. "Our brothers are most likely pining for you, having been deprived of your carefree attitude and sunny disposi--"
Osomatsu gasped and held his ribs, turning onto his side and panting, "Ah, it hurts, it hurts!"
Karamatsu pushed him in the back so he fell on his face.
When they got home, around the same time they had last week, Todomatsu was taking a nap on the couch after his shift at Subata. Osomatsu looked ready to slam pots and pans to wake him up but Karamatsu frowned disapprovingly at him. Todomatsu had saved him enough times from being startled awake by their other siblings.
"Please don't, Osomatsu," he murmured, sliding his sketchbook onto the top shelf. "He's working hard."
Osomatsu rubbed his finger under his nose and winked at him. Then he went down the stairs (as loud as he could) and Karamatsu was left to put his sketching pencils away.
"Karamatsu-nii-san?" Todomatsu asked, blinking his eyes open under a displeased frown.
"Sorry, Totty." Karamatsu smiled back at his youngest brother and took a step back. "I didn't mean to disturb you." He was ready to leave and maybe play his guitar on the roof but Todomatsu sat up and shook his head.
"No, I wanted to talk to you." Karamatsu paused, a hundred thoughts running through his head at the same time about what he could want. He didn't feel well enough to take criticisms today, no matter how valid they were, and he really didn't want to cry in front of Todomatsu twice. "Come on, I won't bite."
Karamatsu twisted his lips into what could have been a smile on a different day and sat next to Todomatsu without complaint. "Are you alright, Todomatsu? Is there anything I can do for you?"
Todomatsu tilted his head. "Yes, actually." Karamatsu was ready to take mental notes and try his best to do whatever Todomatsu wanted as thoroughly as he could. Todomatsu took his hand in much the same way Osomatsu had that morning and looked Karamatsu in the eye. "If you're ever having a bad day, I want you to tell me and let me help."
"Sorry?" Karamatsu replied instinctively.
"I-I want to help. If I can."
Karamatsu could feel his cool exterior abruptly fall and he gripped Todomatsu's hand tighter. "Thank you, brother, but I wouldn't want to burden you with things like that."
When Karamatsu looked up, unnerved by his brother's silence, Todomatsu was smiling sadly. "It wouldn't be a burden." He tucked his sleep-warm blanket around Karamatsu's shoulders. "Are you tired? You've been out all day with Osomatsu-nii-san."
"No, Totty, you're the one who was at work--"
"I've slept enough." Todomatsu's smile was more genuine as he stretched his legs and patted Karamatsu on the knee. "Remember when you used to sing to me when I was young and having nightmares? That's the reason we always slept next to each other."
If he could do anything for Todomatsu, he would, but he worried about the explanation. "Are you having nightmares again?" Karamatsu asked with a deep frown.
Todomatsu shrugged one shoulder. "I think I had one last night." He sounded flippant but Karamatsu could see how his mouth thinned. "I can't really remember it."
Karamatsu leaned his elbows on his knees. "I'm so sorry, Todomatsu, I didn't notice at all."
"Because I didn't tell you. Karamatsu-nii-san, not everything that goes wrong is your fault." But this was, and Karamatsu knew it. He shouldn't have told Osomatsu anything, he should have kept it to himself like he was doing for years, but he always ruined everything with his big fat mouth. He knew there was no reason for him to feel tired and empty except for his inability to make his brothers happy.
When they laughed at him, or joined together to ridicule him, the five of them were finally cooperating and getting along with each other. Maybe that was the reason Karamatsu hadn't followed through yet. Eventually someone would see that he wasn't there and he would be interfering with their lives again. Or, hopefully, no one would remember him.
Karamatsu thought about what he had to do very often. Throw away all of his clothes, burn his notebooks and magazines, shatter his sunglasses. The thought of losing the material things in his life made him feel a bit sick but if that’s what it took to support his brothers, he would do it in a heartbeat. He wondered how much his guitar would be worth if he pawned it.
"…i-san? Karamatsu-nii-san?" Todomatsu was touching his face and he pulled back, confused. "Where did you go, Karamatsu-nii-san? You're crying."
Karamatsu reached up and found his face wet under Todomatsu's hands. "Sorry, I didn't know," he said a bit nonsensically, trying desperately to wipe his tears away with his fingers. "I'm not sad, I just." He cut himself off because he didn't know what to say.
"I think you're tired." Todomatsu stood up and lifted the pillow up away from the end of the couch. He sat right where the pillow was before and instead rested it on his lap, smoothing out invisible wrinkles. "I'll wake you up before dinner, promise."
"Ah, Totty," Karamatsu said slowly. "You shouldn't--"
"You're keeping me from my Twitter followers, Karamatsu-nii-san," Todomatsu interrupted with a pout. "Just take a nap here so Shikomatsu can't make me get up and pretend to try and get a job for him."
Reluctantly, Karamatsu laid down on the couch, head in Todomatsu's lap. He felt awful, like he was taking advantage of Todomatsu's kindness. He stared resolutely at the bookshelf on the other side of the room instead of closing his eyes just in case his brother wanted to push him away.
When Todomatsu began to type, the muted clicking of each character gave a sort of white-noise background to the room. Todomatsu's other hand brushed his hair away from his forehead and soft fingers rubbed circles at his temple until Karamatsu was as relaxed as he could get without sleeping.
Choromatsu walked into the room only a minute later as per Todomatsu's predictions. "Totty, would you--?" he tried to ask, but Todomatsu made a disapproving noise in the back of his throat.
"Nope, Karamatsu-nii-san needs his rest," he said, patting Karamatsu lightly on his head. "Can't do it."
Choromatsu looked frustrated for all of ten seconds but then he sighed heavily and crossed his arms over his chest. "Just as well. I wanted to ask you something, Karamatsu-nii-san."
Todomatsu covered Karamatsu's ear without looking up from his phone. "He's napping, Shikomatsu, don't disturb him."
"Totty, it's alright." Karamatsu tried to sit up but Todomatsu pressed his forearm down on his shoulder so he couldn't. "Todomatsu…."
"If he wants to talk to you then you can stay like this, right here," Todomatsu said, leaving no room for argument. It felt nice, to have his brother insisting he stay instead of insisting he leave as usual. He sent Choromatsu a sideways "what-can-you-do?" look and Choromatsu rolled his eyes.
"Fine." He sat a few feet in front of them, crossed his legs, and rested his hands on his knees. He didn't look so frustrated anymore. Karamatsu started to get nervous. "Karamatsu, tell me what you and Osomatsu were arguing about."
Todomatsu clicked his tongue. "Wasn't an argument," he and Karamatsu said at the same time, but Todomatsu continued, "Osomatsu was just screaming at him" and Karamatsu said, "I was in the wrong and I know it."
Choromatsu frowned, looking between them. "I didn't hear your voice, Karamatsu-nii-san. I heard Osomatsu calling you stupid, though."
Karamatsu pulled his blanket up to his chin. Two brothers already knew what was wrong with them, and he didn't want to raise it to three. He wanted to hide but Choromatsu wasn't the type to let something go once he had any piece of information.
"I, um." Karamatsu bit his lip uncomfortably. He wouldn't lie to Choromatsu, even if he was scared of the outcome to telling the truth. He deserved an honest answer. "I have depression."
"You?" Choromatsu asked without thinking, and Todomatsu must have sent an absolutely murderous look at him because he backtracked immediately. "I mean, if anyone would, I'd have thought Ichimatsu," and then he abruptly veered away from that territory, asking, "Why would Osomatsu be angry with you?"
At first, Karamatsu didn't understand the question. Wouldn't anyone hate their least capable brother? Especially when he was like Karamatsu, stupid and oblivious and a waste of space? None of them could ever really love him, or like him, but he knew he was easy to hate.
Todomatsu started to stroke his hair again and he realized he hadn't answered. "He's a bit spacy today," Todomatsu was saying, running his thumb over the ridge of Karamatsu's brow.
"Sorry," Karamatsu said. He curled tighter into himself. "I'm not trying to ignore you."
Choromatsu nodded. "I didn't think you were. But I can see that you are very tired, so I'll leave the two of you alone."
"You don't have to go because of me." Karamatsu was starting to feel sick. "I can go downstairs. I'm not… tired, I'm just…."
Jyushimatsu came running up the stairs and into their room. "Nii-san! Time for singing!"
Karamatsu tried to accept the invitation but Todomatsu was back to holding him down. "Jyushimatsu-nii-san, he's not feeling very well today. Maybe Osomatsu-nii-san will want to play baseball with you?"
"Osomatsu-nii-san wasn't here when I came in." He started to look worried and Karamatsu finally pushed Todomatsu's arm away to sit up.
Todomatsu grabbed his elbow before he could stand. "No, wait. You're not going downstairs and you're not going to the roof just because you think other people want you to." Karamatsu didn't think they wanted that, he knew they wanted that, but Todomatsu already asked him to stay first.
"You look really sick, Karamatsu-nii-san," Jyushimatsu said quietly. "Were you sleeping?"
There were too many things going on at once. Karamatsu ran shaky hands through his hair, tightening his fingers and pulling. "I wasn't sleeping, little Jyushimatsu," he replied. "I don't think I can sing today, though. I promise we will tomorrow, okay?"
Choromatsu stood up. "We can play that baseball board game you have for a while. I'm pretty sure I saw mom putting out dango for our snacks."
"Okay, Choromatsu-nii-san." Jyushimatsu pulled one of his sleeves further over his hand, his brow still furrowed. "I'll try to come up with a new song," he offered.
Karamatsu dropped his hands from his head and glanced up. "I'm looking forward to it," he said through a half smile. "Take any one of the notebooks, okay? Write as much as you want." Jyushimatsu wasn’t the youngest of them but he was the most earnest and adorable. Karamatsu didn't think any of them could be genuinely mad at him if they tried.
Choromatsu still looked unconvinced and Karamatsu knew their conversation wasn't completely over.
When the room was empty except for him and Todomatsu, Karamatsu dropped his head back to the pillow. "I guess I am tired," he muttered.
Todomatsu pulled the blanket up over his side again. "I figured. Just go to sleep, nii-san." He went silent except for the clicking of his keyboard and Karamatsu tried to silence his racing thoughts as well.
Ichimatsu found it hard to sleep. All he could think about was how Karamatsu looked so tired during dinner. Karamatsu shyly showed them a drawing of him and Osomatsu sitting and laughing in the grass, and while everyone else praised it, Ichimatsu insulted him. Karamatsu didn't brush it off like normal--he actually looked hurt. Ichimatsu couldn't take it back, partly because he was embarrassed to have said anything.
Karamatsu went to bed early instead of going to the bathhouse with them and the rest of his brothers seemed more than a little preoccupied with their own thoughts. Not that he would ever tell them how he was feeling, anyway. It wasn't deathly silent because it never was around them but for the first time in a long time, it seemed like everyone was noticing Karamatsu's absence.
Ichimatsu sighed. He considered going outside for a walk in the dark but Karamatsu was fussing in his sleep as well, like he had when they were children. He wasn't the most sickly of them by a long shot but even as a kid he had intense periods of tiredness and crying spells that he thought he hid but not well enough. Ichimatsu knew he was thinking too highly of himself to imagine that Karamatsu was having a restless night because of anything he said. It was obviously part of a bigger problem.
Even if it wasn’t, there was no way Ichimatsu would apologize. And there was no way Karamatsu would, rightfully, tell him to fuck off. So Ichimatsu would have to go a different route.
Eventually he got to sleep, but what seemed like minutes later, someone around him was awake enough to make as much noise as possible. He groaned and turned over, ready to berate whoever it was knocking and banging at such an early hour. When he opened his eyes, he held his tongue.
Beside him, still deeply asleep--and it was Osomatsu, of course, slamming his stuff around like he was the only man in existence--were Karamatsu and Todomatsu. Karamatsu was usually one of the earlier risers out of all of them, something about the sun and the moon and really, Ichimatsu didn’t listen to the rest of that spiel.
Todomatsu wasn’t the type to cling but he was practically suffocating Karamatsu while they slept. They were on their sides; usually Todomatsu was the only one to curl up on his side to sleep, trying to look cute most likely. This morning he had his arms around Karamatsu’s shoulders and Karamatsu’s head was tucked under his chin, hair sticking up in all directions. Karamatsu didn’t seem to mind it anyway. He was squeezing Todomatsu around the waist and murmuring something in his sleep.
“Cute, huh?” Osomatsu asked. “Never thought I’d seriously say that about Totty.” Ichimatsu looked up and saw him rubbing his index finger beneath his nose, the corners of his mouth barely turned up. He looked more tired than usual that morning.
“I heard you yelling at him that night,” Ichimatsu replied. Osomatsu’s non-smile fell. “I was upstairs with Choromatsu. You think he’s stupid for being depressed.”
Osomatsu clenched his fists at his sides in frustration, but it wasn't enough for Ichimatsu. It seemed like it would take a while to really provoke him. “That’s not what I said and you know it,” Osomatsu whispered, eyes flickering down to make sure his two younger brothers were still sleeping.
Ichimatsu usually said things like this to fuck with his elder brothers, Karamatsu especially, but this time he actually meant it. Or at least, he tried to mean it, just enough that Osomatsu got angry. “You want him to kill himself, don’t you? That’s what he wants.”
Osomatsu took a few deep breaths. Then he stepped around Karamatsu and Todomatsu, reached down, and hauled Ichimatsu to standing with a hand in his collar. Ichimatsu reached up and held his wrists but didn’t try to pull away. Maybe Osomatsu would hit him and it would make both of them feel better, since there was no way Karamatsu would do anything to him.
“Outside, now,” he hissed and pushed Ichimatsu backward, gesturing to the bedroom door. “Go.”
Ichimatsu just stood and glared at him for a moment. Then he went downstairs, past the main room, and slid the door open to the balcony. He could hear Jyushimatsu shouting already, and Choromatsu replying without scolding for once. Osomatsu said something to both of them that Ichimatsu couldn’t make out, and then he slid the main screen door closed behind himself.
Osomatsu dropped to sitting and patted the wood in front of him. Ichimatsu sat down as well, so that they were looking at each other face to face. It wasn’t quite nine am, so the sun was a bit low in the east, sending rays through the trees and into the grass of their small yard. There were two strays lying in one of them and Ichimatsu watched them instead of his eldest brother.
There was a soft click and when Ichimatsu glanced over, Osomatsu was concentrating on lighting his cigarette. Ichimatsu didn’t want one, partly because he didn’t smoke but mostly because this absolutely wasn’t going to turn into a heart-to-heart. Not if he could help it.
They sat in silence for a long time, long enough that the cats found another, warmer place to rest.
“I’m scared, Ichimatsu.” Ichimatsu's eyes snapped over to him. That was far from what Ichimatsu thought Osomatsu was going to say to him. The tip of the cigarette flared an angry red when Osomatsu inhaled and he spewed smoke with his next words. “I didn’t know…. When he started his medication I thought everything was under control. He wasn’t trying to run away anymore, or… I didn’t see him try to hurt himself. I didn’t see him.”
Osomatsu’s voice was wavering on the last words but Ichimatsu refused to let himself be moved by anything his brother said. “I bet he does hurt himself. He’s so shitty and stupid, maybe he’ll screw up and die next time.” Osomatsu was supposed to get angry, he was supposed to punch Ichimatsu or burn him with the cigarette so he could stop feeling so fucking guilty about his stupid, shitty, awful older brother.
It didn’t work. Osomatsu nearly dropped his cigarette in surprise and exhaled what could have been a sob. Ichimatsu wasn’t prepared at all for tears but they were certainly prepared for him.
“You really don’t care, do you?” Osomatsu asked, wetness gathering at the outside corners of his eyes but, thankfully, no tears fell. “He feels like he doesn’t matter at all. His medication isn’t working and he’s been taking it for years, barely seeing a psychologist, living with these thoughts that it would be better if he wasn’t here.” He stopped himself to take another drag and wipe at his face. “He thinks we’re angry at him, all the time. He’s afraid of us.”
Ichimatsu found an opening. “I am angry at him. I hate him. Everything would be better if he would just kill himself.”
He heard that stupid “heh” before he realized the main room's door was open. Their other three brothers were talking amongst themselves at the table but Karamatsu, still in his pajamas, was smiling sadly at the two of them. “See, Osomatsu,” he murmured, folding his arms and leaning against the doorframe. “Ichimatsu was always the most rational of us.”
Was Ichimatsu worth so little that nothing could go to plan? Karamatsu wasn’t supposed to be here, he wasn’t supposed to hear any of it because he was an idiot who would never fight back and where would that leave them?
“Please, Karamatsu, listen to me,” Osomatsu was saying, stubbing the butt of his cigarette out on the ashtray that was always sitting close to the screen door. He stood up with his hands out like he was trying to calm Karamatsu down when obviously he was the one panicking. “We talked yesterday but we didn't finish. How about we go somewhere new after breakfast, and you can bring your sketchbook."
Karamatsu was still smiling. “Thank you for the invitation, brother. I would be honored to accompany you to another location of your choosing. Perhaps I will impress a Karamatsu Girl on the way there.” Osomatsu started to clutch his ribs, wiping his eyes again with his other hand, and Karamatsu laughed.
“Kus-Karamatsu, I didn’t—“
His second eldest brother shook his head before Ichimatsu could finish. “You don’t have to apologize, brother. Trust me, I know how you feel.”
Ichimatsu felt like he was choking on his guilt. He liked thinking bad things about himself, and thinking about how worthless he was, but he had never felt the urge to just… kill himself. There was something viscerally pleasurable in what he did to himself. But Karamatsu had pills for his thoughts, went to therapy for his thoughts, shaped his life around his thoughts.
Ichimatsu, still sitting on the floor, ducked his head and stared at his feet. "After breakfast, I'll wait for you," Osomatsu said in an earnest voice.
"I promise, I'll come with you," Karamatsu replied seriously, without any of his "cool" inflection. "And we'll talk."
One of them went back inside and the other walked toward him; again, Ichimatsu hoped against hope that it was Osomatsu coming to give him a black eye.
“I’m sorry for being a horrible brother,” Karamatsu murmured, touching the top of Ichimatsu’s head. “But you’re right.”
“Karamatsu-nii-san, please don’t.” Ichimatsu lowered his head further and away from Karamatsu’s hand. “I didn’t mean anything I said. I-I’m sorry for destroying your things and I, I won’t do it again.” It took a few moments, and then Karamatsu did one of his stupid “heh”s again and brushed his hand over Ichimatsu’s shoulder instead.
“Yes, you will. And don’t apologize.” Karamatsu walked all the way to the door, but then he turned back. “Come inside and eat breakfast with us.” Ichimatsu didn’t move. “Ichimatsu, brother, please. Don’t put this on yourself. It’s me, alright? Only me.”
Ichimatsu could hear the rest of their brothers starting to bicker and argue in the main room but he still didn’t get up. “I don’t deserve—“
“Of course you do. Come on, Ichimatsu.” Karamatsu left him alone, expecting him to follow. Ichimatsu did stand up, finally, but he went upstairs to get dressed and feed the city’s cats for the morning.
Karamatsu didn’t remember therapy ever being so stressful. They started with simple questions about his coping mechanisms and eating habits, but somewhere down the line Karamatsu cracked like a fish tank and started spilling secrets he barely knew he had.
He even, without his own permission, talked about his previous ideations. His psychiatrist suggested hospitalization but he refused, already worrying about the cost.
Eventually they agreed that if it were to get bad again, he could try outpatient. Karamatsu wasn't sure what his family would think about it, and said so, and the doctor gave him a long, sympathetic look. "I understand your worries, but it's more important for you to be healthy," he said, and Karamatsu tried to believe him.
When the appointment was over, Karamatsu just stood in the hallway for a long while. He didn’t know what to say when he went home. He didn’t really want to go home. But his sketchbook was there and he wasn't feeling up to a silent walk.
He wondered if Osomatsu still had it. He was starting to look through Karamatsu's drawings more than his comics, commenting on each of them and asking for more. Karamatsu was flattered to be complimented so much--he didn't really believe most of them but that was beside the point.
Karamatsu startled a little at the sight of his own face out of the corner of his eye. “Nii-san?” Todomatsu asked, coming forward to touch Karamatsu’s arm and look at him questioningly. “Are you alright? Ready to come home?”
“How long was I here?” Karamatsu asked nervously. It wasn’t uncommon for him to lose huge chunks of time and he didn’t want his brothers to have to wait for him for hours. Todomatsu had already been on the other end of his episodes a few times so Karamatsu wasn't as humiliated, but he would rather it didn't happen at all.
“Not long.” Todomatsu’s expression softened. “There’s all kinds of pamphlets downstairs. I read one about dissociation.” He moved forward to gently pat Karamatsu’s cheek. “Is that why you stare into space so much?”
Karamatsu huffed a laugh. “Yeah. I just found out the name today. I don’t know if there’s a way to stop it.”
“I’m not asking you to stop it. We’re not,” he amended. “We just want you to be comfortable in your own house.”
“I don’t know if you’re thinking that all of your teasing made this happen, but that wasn’t it at all.” Karamatsu smiled when Todomatsu dropped his hand and looked immensely guilty. “Don’t think like that. None of you made me… like this.”
Todomatsu took his arm again and pulled him forward toward the elevators. “I don’t think there’s a ‘like this’, Karamatsu-nii-san. I think there’s just you. And how we do care about you. A lot.” His lips tipped upward in a sly grin. “Remember what I said about Karamatsu Boys?”
Karamatsu pulled his sunglasses out of his back pocket and slid them on with a flourish. “All over the world, Karamatsu Girls and Boys hope one day for a glimpse at me… I can’t imagine how you must feel, in my presence at all times.”
Todomatsu rolled his eyes. “Sure thing,” he replied, pushing the button for the ground floor. “Do we need to stop by the pharmacy?”
“No. He said we need a few more appointments before we consider a medication change.” Todomatsu nodded understandingly. Karamatsu felt a little uncomfortable again, for all of this positive attention. He loved it, of course, because he loved his brothers. But the same “something” that made him feel cold and tired all the time also told him that they would show him just enough attention so that he didn’t… well. But behind that would be disappointment.
When the elevator stopped and they stepped out, Karamatsu paused for a moment. He wasn't expecting anyone, so Todomatsu was already a surprise, but Jyushimatsu was also waiting (if swinging a bat wildly counted as “waiting”). “Karamatsu-nii-san!” he shouted when he saw them.
“Jyushimatsu, I don’t think you should be so loud in here,” Karamatsu murmured, not getting too close in case Jyushimatsu got any wilder with his baseball bat. Jyushimatsu lowered it, thankfully, and Karamatsu took another step toward him. “I’m sorry, sweet Jyushimatsu, but I don’t think I can play baseball today. We can sing if you'd like?”
Todomatsu shook his head before Jyushimatsu could reply. “I called the house. He’s gonna carry you home.”
Karamatsu couldn’t help but smile. “No, it’s alright, I can walk. I’m not that tired.”
“You look tired, Karamatsu-nii-san." Jyushimatsu started to tap the end of his bat against the marble floor. "You slept for a long time last week. Sometimes when I sleep too much, I feel extra tired."
"I know," Karamatsu said with a smirk. "I've seen how upset you get when you're too tired for baseball."
Todomatsu smiled as well, looking between the two of them. "Rough days in the Matsuno household."
"So you did sleep too much!" Jyushimatsu confirmed.
Karamatsu's smile didn't fade but he knew he was flagging. "I just have a lot on my mind. We should get home so we can sing before dinner." He stuck his hands in his hoodie pocket, prepared to for his brothers to lead the way home, and hopefully they would make conversation so he could think.
“Todomatsu, can you hold my bat?” Karamatsu tensed, ready to be thrown over his younger brother’s shoulder, but Jyushimatsu kneeled in front of him and pulled Karamatsu onto his back.
Karamatsu leaned forward and draped his arms over his younger brother's shoulders, resigning himself to his fate. Hopefully he wouldn't fall asleep--Jyushimatsu was strong enough that he wouldn't complain about Karamatsu's dead weight.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, after the fact. He wasn’t sure if he could be heard over Jyushimatsu’s “Muscle muscle! Hustle hustle!”s but he hoped they knew what he meant.
It would look like an intervention from the outside, similar to the dressing-down Todomatsu got for keeping secrets from them except with no snacks.
"No snacks?" Osomatsu asked, eyes wide.
Choromatsu pushed him in the side so he could sit at the table as well. "You can get your own damn snacks," he said with a glare. Karamatsu smiled at them both, cleaning his sunglasses with the edge of his shirt.
He had his sketchbook and soft pencil beside him because they had all interrupted him in the middle of a drawing. He didn't mind it, not at all, but he wanted to give them his full attention so he folded his drawings away.
Jyushimatsu looked as if he was having trouble sitting still, even with Ichimatsu rubbing his shoulder blades in calming circles. "Karamatsu-nii-san wants snacks!" he yelled, and Osomatsu clapped, as if that settled things.
"The man wants snacks, he'll get snacks!" he said, and then turned to Choromatsu again. "I nominate Shikomatsu to collect the snacks."
Karamatsu's smile widened. "Choromatsu, you don't have to get me snacks, I'm fine--"
"I want chocolate," Todomatsu said, lying on his back on the floor with his phone only a few inches from his face. "Specifically from your stash."
Choromatsu sputtered. "I don't have a stash--"
"Oh, I already ate those," Ichimatsu said with a dismissive hand wave.
Despite his earlier objections, Choromatsu looked shocked and then pissed. "You did what?"
"I want pears!" Jyushimatsu said. "Don't you want pears, Karamatsu-nii-san?"
Karamatsu folded his sunglasses and slid them into his sweater pocket. "No, thank you, Jyu--"
"I want pears," Osomatsu whined. He practically sprawled in Karamatsu's lap, making the most pathetic sounds he could. "Karamatsu, ask Choromatsu for pears so he gets them."
"Choromatsu, you don't have to get me anything, really," Karamatsu murmured to his younger brother.
Ichimatsu and Todomatsu began to say something at the same time, and when Jyushimatsu added himself to the mix, it became completely unintelligible. Osomatsu tried to climb Karamatsu for some reason instead of just standing like a normal person, sending both of them into gasping laughter.
"Everyone just shut up!" Choromatsu yelled, and they all quieted. "We're here for a reason, not for you all to fuck around!"
All eyes turned to Karamatsu and he put a hand to his forehead, smirking. "Ah yes, a gathering of brothers, here to--"
"I don't want to do this anymore," Ichimatsu said petulantly.
Karamatsu's hand dropped into his lap. "That's alright, Ichimatsu," he said kindly. "We don't have to talk about this. It's not really important."
If it were anyone else, they would think he was being sarcastic. But Karamatsu was so earnest that he couldn't be saying anything but the truth.
"It is important," Osomatsu said brightly, sitting properly with his hands in his lap. "Let's get everything out in the open."
"Why don't you go first," Todomatsu deadpanned.
"Okay! Yesterday, I jacked off to--"
Todomatsu planted his foot against Osomatsu's back and pushed him forward into the table. "Stop, nii-san, or I'll break your spine."
Choromatsu sighed, head in his hands. "Karamatsu-nii-san, can you just explain it from the beginning?"
"Hm." Karamatsu frowned as if he was thinking hard. "There isn't really a beginning. I'm not sure what you want to hear?"
Jyushimatsu, who seemed like he was very quickly losing interest, rolled across the floor toward Todomatsu. "How can we make you feel better, Karamatsu-nii-san? Will lots of hugs help?"
"I guess so. There isn't really a way for you to make me… feel better. I feel fine." Karamatsu paused when everyone looked at him skeptically. "I'm a little tired sometimes. And I cry too much, but that doesn't mean I'm feeling bad."
"You don't cry too much, Kusomatsu." Ichimatsu had an incredibly uncomfortable look on his face but he didn't back down, staring at Karamatsu across the table. "I think you hold too much in." He hesitated. "Why aren't you ever mad at me? Even when I tell you I hate you?"
Choromatsu raised one brow. "You hate him? I find that hard to believe."
"Ichimatsu-nii-san doesn't hate Karamatsu-nii-san. I think he loves him the most," Jyushimatsu said in a loud whisper. Ichimatsu looked as if his skin was crawling just from that statement.
Osomatsu gasped. "No, that's not true! Onii-chan loves all of you the most!"
"Yeah, okay. So as a sign of your love, you steal all of our money and lose it playing pachinko?" Todomatsu asked derisively.
"Well…," Osomatsu began, and then he squirmed into Karamatsu's lap again. "You believe me, right, Karamatsu-kun? Onii-chan loves you most!"
Karamatsu flushed a deep red and tried to push his elder brother away. "I think you're going stir crazy, nii-san. You can take my wallet and--"
"No!" Choromatsu grabbed Osomatsu by the back of his hoodie and dragged him back to the table. "You sit down." He turned to Karamatsu with a sympathetic look. "If you don't want to talk about it right now, or if you don't know what to say, we can just get snacks after all and talk about nothing."
"Argue about nothing," Todomatsu said under his breath. Jyushimatsu rolled over on top of him and he let out a little "oof" but didn't push him off.
They all gave him a chance to think. He played with his sunglasses inside of his pocket, and then said, "I don't really want to talk anymore. Is that alright?"
Choromatsu smiled at him. "Of course that's alright. Osomatsu, you're on snack duty."
Their eldest brother protested loudly and ardently until Todomatsu went and got them just to shut him the hell up. Karamatsu smiled and reopened his sketchbook. It wasn't like he couldn't use his own face as a reference for theirs, but they had such specific expressions that it was more realistic to see them all together.
Osomatsu leaned over to look at Karamatsu's sketch. "Where are you?" he asked curiously.
Karamatsu tapped the end of his pencil on the left edge of the paper. In the drawing, a little ways away from the rest of his brothers playing mahjong, Jyushimatsu had his fingers inexpertly splayed on the frets of Karamatsu's guitar. Karamatsu was sitting in front of him, positioning his fingers a bit better with a soft, patient smile on his face.
"I like it. All six of us," Osomatsu murmured. "Can I have this one when you're finished?"
"Sure." Karamatsu glanced at him quickly, and then looked back at the sketch. "I might color this one. Are you okay waiting for it?"
Osomatsu's lazy grin widened. "You have all the time in the world, right?"
Karamatsu blinked. "I guess I do," he agreed.
Their bonding moment was somewhat diminished when Todomatsu threw a cracker at Osomatsu's head.