Ichiro could tell by the time he woke up that something was… off.
It wasn’t that he felt weird or anything. Everything just seemed to feel a bit further away than it usually was. Not physically, more like everything was in a haze and hard to see. He wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and sleep some more but one look at the clock told him that if he didn’t get up immediately he would be late for work.
Whatever, he thought as he sat up even when the world blurred for a moment. It’s not like something like this will get in the way.
“Where is everyone?” Jiro asked when he walked into the living room, his head still a mess from just having woken up. Saburo looked up from the book he was reading and rolled his eyes.
“Papa said the flu is going around and he’s taking everyone to the doctor. He said we should watch the house since we got our shots a while ago.”
“Seriously? And I wanted to go out today too...” Jiro grumbled but didn’t complain otherwise. Well, a lazy day at home didn’t sound too bad either but now he was at a loss what he should do until the others came back. Now that he thought about it… “What about Nii-san? Did he go with them, too?”
Saburo shrugged but a frown formed on his face. “He was already gone before the director woke up.”
“Typical,” Jiro snarled. “I don’t know what I expected. He’s never here anyway, why would he--”
The brothers jumped when loud banging came from the front door. They threw each other confused looks before jumping when the noise started up again. With a gulp Jiro slowly moved to look, Saburo right behind him.
“Hey! Someone’s gotta be there! I can’t hold this brat for much longer!” a deep voice yelled, startling them again.
Did one of the other kids get in trouble? Jiro moved to open the door only for Saburo to pull him back, hissing, “Are you stupid? This is an orphanage, it could be a lie to make us let him in!”
“R-Right.” With a gulp Jiro moved away from the door. A moment passed when the man continued to bang on the door before there was a sigh. There was the sound of something being set against the door, some incoherent mumbling before they heard someone walk away.
The brothers let out a shared sigh of relief. When they were sure the footsteps had faded completely, Jiro hesitantly opened the door.
“What the hell?!” he yelled when something fell inside. “What the-- Is that Nii-san?”
Sure enough, sprawled on the ground in the door way was their disgrace of a brother. But instead of yelling or otherwise causing trouble like he usually did Ichiro seemed barely conscious, simply lying on the floor with only his breathing showing that he was alive.
“Why the hell was he with that man?” Saburo asked out loud. Sure, their brother wasn’t the most honorable person around but he didn’t think he would get involved with anything dangerous.
Saburo took a few steps closer to poke Ichiro in the face, trying to wake him up. He let out a hiss when the skin he was touching was burning. “I think he has a fever!”
“Is it the flu? But how, didn’t we already--” Then he remembered. The day he and Saburo got their shots Ichiro had been mysteriously absent again. So of course now that the flu was actually going around their older brother just had to go and get infected.
“Shit,” Jiro cursed as he leaned down to grab their brothers shoulders and dragged him further into the house. “Saburo, take his legs! We need to get him into a bed.”
“What a pain,” the youngest complained but still did as he was told. Considering that Ichiro was bigger than them it was a bit difficult getting him to his room but after a lot of cursing and almost dropping his head a few times the two of them managed to get their brother tucked back into his bed.
“Alright, so now we just need to take care of him until Papa comes back,” Jiro said with a satisfied smile on his face.
“And how do we do that?” Saburo’s eyes didn’t move away from Ichiro whose breathing was starting to get a bit ragged. A moment of silence passed before Jiro coughed and puffed out his chest.
“W-Well, we gotta cool him down! Then we gotta give him medicine and make him eat rice porridge!” At least that’s what Papa did when any of the kids were sick. “You get the towels and cold water to cool him down, I will make the food and get the medicine.”
“Do you even know how to make rice porridge?” Jiro froze again and pointedly avoided the suspicious look Saburo was giving him. “Honestly, you’re hopeless! I will make it instead!”
“As if you know how to make it!” Their staring match was interrupted by loud coughing, their heads immediately turning to see Ichiro curling up on the bed. When he opened his eyes they seemed hazy, as if he was barely seeing anything.
“Saburo…? Jiro…? Why...” He scanned the room for a moment before sitting up only for his dizziness to come back with vengeance. He let out a groan at the pain and barely managed to struggle when he felt hands pushing him back onto the bed.
“Just rest, you’re gonna hurt yourself if you move too much like this,” Saburo chided, pulling the blanket back up so that it covered Ichiro completely again but he was still struggling.
“No… I have to get back to work...” Work? Was that where he had been? Jiro pressed him down on the bed again. Their brother struggled some more, mumbling something about work again before tiring himself and passing out again. They waited for a few more moments to make sure that he would actually stay down before letting out sighs of relief.
“Alright, you stay here and watch him while I get food and towels in case he tries to get up again.” Saburo nodded and dutifully dragged a chair over to sit next to the bed. Jiro left soon after, his footsteps and the clattering as he prepared things fading into the background.
With nothing to do, Saburo took to just watching Ichiro’s face and noted how pale and sweaty he was. He pulled out a few tissues from his pockets and lightly dabbed his brother’s forehead as thoughts were swirling in his head.
Sure, Ichiro wasn’t the best person around – or around at all for that matter – but usually when Saburo saw him he was… loud, lively, usually drawing attention to himself. It’s not like he was worried about him, Ichiro never did anything to deserve that, but seeing him so weak and helpless right now to the point that even breathing seemed to take effort was just… it was off putting, that’s all.
“Oh good, you’re already on it. I forgot to say we should probably do something about the sweat,” Jiro said as he came in and set a basin with water on the nightstand. He handed the towels in his arm to Saburo. “Here, use these. Just make sure he doesn’t overheat on us.”
“Got it.” Dunking the towel in the basin he wasted no time to cool Ichiro down, the teen letting out soft sighs of relief at the cold. For some reason something in Saburo’s chest unfurled and he let out a breath himself as he was the one that just got something to cool himself off.
Seeing that his little brother had it under control, Jiro made his way to the kitchen. Now that he was there though he was faced with the same problem they had noticed before: he had no idea how to make rice porridge.
Jiro shook his head. No, it couldn’t be that difficult, right? It was just porridge, even a child can do it! ...Right?
He started with the things he definitely needed, rice and water. He had watched Papa cook rice before, rice porridge couldn’t be that different! So after rinsing the grains a few times he filled the pot with a lot of water and placed it onto the stove. With a giddy smile on his face he waited. And waited. And waited.
...Is it supposed to take this long? Jiro lifted the lid and saw the water was only steaming a little. He turned up the heat some more. After a few minutes the pot began to boil and he let out a satisfied huff.
Since that things seemed to be going smoothly, he leaned back against the counter as he waited for the rice to cook. Now that he had time to think though, he was reminded that he was cooking the porridge for his older brother who almost looked like a corpse when they found him. He was probably fine since Saburo wasn’t the kind of kid to mess up something as simple as cooling someone with a fever down but he couldn’t stop that lump of worry settling in his stomach.
He thought back to what Ichiro had been mumbling about when he was awake. Work… Did Ichiro actually have a job? Now that he thought about it, Jiro had no idea where their brother went whenever he ran out of the house, he had always assumed he was fooling around. Why would he need to work though? Papa provided them with everything they needed and even gave them pocket money when he should barely have enough to feed them with the war still going on.
Maybe there was something he wanted and he couldn’t wait to save for it? But even Jiro knew going to work when you are sick is bad. Maybe they should tell him he tell Papa what he wanted so he wouldn’t do something this dumb again.
Jiro jumped when his pondering was interrupted by loud hissing. He could only watch in horror as the pot boiled over, liquid and half-cooked rice spilling over the edge and onto the hot stove, causing thick clouds of smoke to rise to the ceiling. After a few moments the fire alarm started to blare, making Jiro finally snap out of his shock and rush to turn off the stove.
Saburo burst through the door a moment later, thick smoke hitting him right in the face. “Are you trying to burn the house down?!” he yelled over the fire alarm.
Jiro hastily shoved the pot off the stove, yelling, “Shut up and help me!”
After throwing the windows open, scraping burnt rice from the stove top and hitting the fire alarm with a broom until it stopped screaming, they finally managed to get the situation under control. Leaning against the counter Saburo let out a long sigh. “I leave you alone for five minutes and you almost kill us all. Great job, Jiro.”
“Hey! How was I supposed to know that this would happen?!” he yelled, throwing his hands up in frustration. Bad enough that he messed up but now Saburo was railing on him, too!
“It’s common sense! You need to watch the things you cook, are you stupid?!”
“Who’s stupid, you little brat?!”
“Boys, is something wrong?”
Their heads snapped to the door where the director stood, a worried expression on his face. He took a look around the kitchen and noticed the pot in the sink, half-cooked rice hanging off its side. “Were you trying to cook? I was sure I left some snacks in case you were hungry.”
“Y-Yes! I mean, no!” Jiro said, his brain too shocked by his arrival to form a coherent thought. Seeing that, Saburo stepped up to explain.
“We were trying to make rice porridge because Nii-san is sick!” The director’s eyes widened but the boy continued. “A man from work brought him back with a fever a little while ago. Since you weren’t home we thought we should take care of him but...”
After a few moments of silence the director chuckled and gently petted Saburo’s head and moved to do the same to Jiro. “What good boys, taking care of your big brother! But you are still a bit too young for the kitchen, so why don’t I take over?” When the boys gave him dejected looks he smiled gently at them. “While I take care of Ichiro, why don’t you go and play with the other kids? They just got their shots so I’m sure they could use a distraction.”
“Will do, Papa!” they chorused with bright smiles and left the room. The director shook his head at his boys. Looking at the pot again, it seemed like he will have to use a different one to make the porridge for Ichiro. But first…
Ichiro groaned when he finally woke up again. Now that he had rested for a bit his head felt a bit clearer but that didn’t stop the heat or all his muscles from aching like crazy. He looked around. Looks like his coworker had actually followed through with his threat of dragging Ichiro home if he refused to go himself.
“Ah, Ichiro. Thank goodness, I was afraid I had to wake you up.”
He didn’t hold back his glare when he saw the director sit down next to his bed. The man just smiled at him and handed him a cup of water and a few pills and if he wasn’t in so much pain Ichiro would have knocked them out of his hands. As things were he obediently took the medicine, the water to wash them down a welcome relief for his parched throat.
“So Jiro and Saburo told me you went to work with a flu today.” Ichiro couldn’t help the small flinch at the gentle but accusing tone. He fixed his eyes on some dirt on the blanket.
“…What’s it to you?”
The director sighed. “I know you want to be independent and take care of your brothers as soon as possible, but working yourself sick won’t bring you any closer to that.” When Ichiro remained silent again, he continued, “Listen, you need to take care of yourself. Go to school, do things you enjoy. You and your brothers are welcome to stay here for as long as you need so there is no rush. You won’t be any use to them when you’re dead, right?”
Ichiro flinched again at those last words. Even if he hated to admit it the director was right. So with a sigh he turned his head to look at his guardian only to notice a basin sitting on his nightstand.
The director followed his gaze and smiled. “Oh, your brothers brought that here. Looks like they tried to take care of you while I was gone. They even tried to make porridge for you but that didn’t end so well.” Noticing Ichiro’s eyes light up a little, he laughed. “I took some pictures of the mess, do you want me to send them to you after you ate?”