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He's here.

Blood runs cold through Jyushimatsu's veins as he fails to pretend there's no one around.

Strong shivers tap his spine the moment a ghostly hand is placed on his shoulder.

“Good morning, Jyushimatsu-niisan.”

Ignore that, his mind screeches, It's only a figment of your imagination. Ignore it, Jyushimatsu. That guy is dead, he's not talking to you, it's just your brain doing weird things again.

He swallows thickly, palms coated in sweat as they grab for the baseball bat and ropes to start his morning routine. He repeatedly tells himself to find Ichimatsu and go for the usual training, shoving every other thought aside. He feels relief when there's no longer a weight pushing his shoulder down as if attempting to swallow him into the abyss. He makes a hurried exit out of the house once he finds his immediate older brother and drags him off to his favourite training place, without stopping by the TV room to have Osomatsu tie Ichimatsu to the bat using his mysterious expertise with bondage as usual. He's going to have to do that himself, and it's going to be a pain, but at least he's momentarily free from that voice speaking to him, so gently, so damn creepily.

The fresh air of morning enters his lungs, and he can breathe easily again.


***


Jyushimatsu wipes the sweat dripping down his forehead with the sleeve of his baseball gear, smiling to himself as Ichimatsu lays unconscious in the grass, eyes blank and mouth foaming as it usually happens after some intense training. Swinging to his heart's content helps Jyushimatsu empty his mind and heart from any useless feelings without fail. His muscles ache so much, but it's a good kind of aching he'd go through over and over if it means he's going to forget what happened this morning and move onto the rest of the day cheerfully as he always does.

Reaching the goal of twenty thousand swings was easier than he thought— he was so stressed the numbers just piled up and up until he could no longer feel his arms. Wracked with fatigue but happy, the fifth born lays in the grass and occupies his time counting the clouds in the sky, questioning their shapes and chuckling when he guesses something dirty. When Ichimatsu wakes up, they're going to return home and hopefully find their mom's delicious lunch awaiting them.

Happily looking forward for his stomach to be filled, he sighs contently and closes his eyes.

When he registers cold, cold fingers brush his cheek, he stiffens on his spot, smile faltering altogether.

“I found you, Jyushimatsu-niisan! Working hard as always, aren't you?”

The sing-song tone does very little to comfort the fifth born, who abruptly sits up and wildly rubs his cheek to get rid of the coldness, choking up a sob because the horrible sensation won't go away even as his palm burns and his cheek is turning deep red. It's suddenly too cold. Summer is ending, but it still shouldn't be this chilly at this time of the year. He refuses to accept it, refuses to turn around and see his worst fears come true. It's too bad that he's not deaf enough to not hear the words of concern from the creature kneeling behind him, bright golden eyes bearing holes into the back of his head. Jyushimatsu shudders horribly.

“Ah... you look a little stiff,” the white clad monster told him softly. “Are you alright? Do you need a massage?”

“No!” Jyushimatsu yelped in spite of himself and shook his head wildly, the muscles of his neck stinging in pain at the quick motions. He's pretty tense indeed, a massage might help, but he'd rather gulp a million needles down his throat than have this... thing touch him anywhere. His stomach twists in punishment because he wasn't supposed to acknowledge that presence, let alone talk to it as if it really is there, interacting with him. Stupid Jyushimatsu! Stupid!

“Is that so?” the monster asks, and Jyushimatsu hates how he can practically sense the smile painting that creepy face as he says that. “Feel free to seek my help if you need any.” Nothing is touching him, but it feels as if there's a hand patting his scalp and he wants to scream— go away go away go away— “It's getting late, Jyushimatsu-niisan. Lunch should be ready anytime now. Why don't we start making our way back home? Unfortunately, as you know, our brothers are the impatient types who wouldn't wait for us if we showed up late.”

The fifth born doesn't wait for the creature to finish speaking. He's back on his feet in a flash, and grabbing the still passed out Ichimatsu, he hoists him on his shoulder and makes a run for it, runs so fast his legs are all but a blur and dust flies in his wake. He runs and runs, towards that old house that's no longer his safe space, towards his family who'd call him crazy and disregard his claims if he told them everything that is going on. Because, as he always believed as well, that threat should have been erased a long time ago, but now it seems to no longer be the case. It's back. He's back.

... Or is he? What if none of it is real after all? Has the allegedly mad fifth son gone finally mad?

Jyushimatsu chokes up and then breaks into desperate sobs. Ichimatsu's weight feels heavier than usual on his shoulder. His heart beats with the same intensity of a drummer angrily batting his drumsticks on it.

He's not hungry anymore.


***


What he's aware of, for certain, is that nobody sees the same things he sees. Therefore, no one notices the monster sitting in the TV room amongst them. Jyushimatsu tries to ignore it as he's draped over his yellow toy ball, dealing with stomach pains after forcing himself to eat lunch even though he felt too sick to. His motivation to rush off to the bathroom and throw up so he can feel a little better is soon struck down by the realization that if he leaves now, the creature will follow him out of fake concern and stay next to him the whole time. That idea alone clubs his insides to the point they completely shut down, and he struggles to force the sickness out of his body.

He writhes on top of the ball, clenching his fists from inside his sleeves. Even if he stays here, not much will change. The monster will watch every move, every expression he makes, it knows the smile he's displaying is actually not there and behind the mask lies a truly terrified individual who's alone against his nightmare. Even though his brothers are here, even though he knows they're going to protect him and kill the threat, they're not lifting a finger at this moment. It'd be hard to make them shake off the idea that their most hated seventh brother has returned and now is here to stay, but for some reason Jyushimatsu is the only one able to sense his presence.

The more he wraps his mind around the issue, the more he wants to run away. Perfect Matsuno Style: just avoid all your problems by fleeing and waiting for them to disappear. Jyushimatsu wishes that, for once, such lame and rushed up solution would work this time. After all he's going through, wouldn't it be nice if he received some great deux ex machina like back when the personification of their darkness squashed that monster like a bug? He wouldn't mind sitting back for an encore of that moment.

How foolish.

This is not good. He's seriously going mad, thinking and thinking and thinking about possibilities that will probably never appear there to save his ass. Jyushimatsu smiles at the floor, staring into a stain left in it, focusing all of himself on that single stain to take his mind off his weary mental trip. He tries to determine where and when that stain got there in the first place, and why it wasn't cleaned up when it's clearly there and could be easily wiped off with a little effort.

Why won't that stain go away? Why is it still there, soiling the surface they're all walking on? How come does that thing still exist in their world? Wouldn't it be better if it disappeared? Leave already, you piece of shit stain! Nobody wants you here! No one needs you! NO ONE—

Jyushimatsu wheezes. His body slides backwards from the ball and hits the floor with a loud thump.

Everyone, including the monster, turn their gazes towards their brother who has just fallen off.

“Huh? What's wrong, Jyushimatsu-niisan?”

He knows that question comes from Todomatsu, but in a horrible twist of his brain, for a moment he thought he heard that thing speak to him instead. Wide, terrified eyes move towards the figure sitting a distance away from him. That creature who looks just like the rest of them, wearing a white hoodie, smiling in a quizzical and creepy way, and now looking at him with those bright, golden, empty eyes—

Without thinking, he bounces out of the room in a rush, ignoring those who shout his name from inside. He at least manages to slide the shoji open instead of bursting through it before fleeing towards the stairway that leads to everyone's shared bedroom.


***


It's a rarity to hear Jyushimatsu swear, but the hissed out “Fuck” he lets out is an evident indicator of how distressed he is right now. Too bad nobody can hear him from the narrow space inside the house's attic where he's tucked himself into— the dark and dusty place he sometimes hangs out in when he feels like his shitty emotions are getting the best of him, and where he also stores his porn magazines. He's definitely not in the mood to dig them out, as the reason why he's here is that he needs to breathe, at last, take deep breaths and look at the situation more rationally. How could he work himself up by just looking at a single stain on the floor? He usually fares with stress better than this.

Finding the comfortable corner he uses to shield himself from reality, he draws his knees up to his chest and hugs his legs tightly, burying his face within the self-imposed embrace. A hand pokes out of his sleeve and goes to his hair, fisting and pulling at it over and over, slowly grounding himself. He repeats the same motions until he feels himself calm down, the thunderous pounding of his heart reduced to a slower rhythm— although he can still hear it pulse in his ears.

It's okay... it's okay... he doesn't exist anymore, you're just hallucinating, you must have eaten something really bad the past days and it's all returned to bite you in the ass. Silly Jyushimatsu, not paying attention to whatever junk you eat! Learn your lesson and take that thing off your mind...

His own carefree voice hammers his mind, trying to instil a motivational speech on him. He imagines a whole army of tiny little Jyushimatsus cheering him on, saying that he's strong and they believe him. All self-indulging crap he usually makes up on the spot to overcome his problems, or at least to sidestep them and bury them alive to the ground, hoping they never come up again. Matsuno Style isn't lost on him.

Jyushimatsu likes being loud, because silence makes him uncomfortable except when he knows there's one brother nearby whose presence makes him feel safe. Their seventh brother is no such thing. It never was, and it never will be. When that guy died by their hand, Jyushimatsu felt nothing but relieved that such threat was gone for good. A slight feeling of emptiness crossed his chest for a while, but it was easy to ignore it when something new keeps happening everyday.

After all, it's not like he missed that guy. Those long homeruns he scored with the least effort, his inclination to praise Jyushimatsu for anything he did, the company he offered when Jyushimatsu had no one around and didn't want to be alone. They... meant nothing to him, did they? In the end, that bastard showed his true colors, and they had to eliminate him. It felt good, right? That little part of Jyushimatsu that was ripped off him was insignificant, had no relevance whatsoever. He was free.

Inside that dark and dusty attic room, Jyushimatsu weeps.

Maybe... he misses him. A little. Just a little.

“Niisan.”

A hand is placed on the one grabbing at his own hair, then slowly pulls it off, leaving his head unprotected. Jyushimatsu gives a startle, but makes no effort to push the owner of that hand away. Icy lips kiss the man's fingers then, bringing shivers down his spine.

“It's not good if you do this to yourself,” it says, slowly sliding its fingers between Jyushimatsu's, entangling them to prevent another escape. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” Jyushimatsu sobbed. “I don't wanna.”

“I see,” it murmurs against his hand, planting more cold kisses over the warm surface. “You're so kind, Jyushimatsu-niisan. Never burdening your brothers with your problems, always smiling at them to show that there is no reason to worry. Such a shining, beautiful smile would make anyone's day better.”

Jyushimatsu listens, unable to ignore that gentle voice anymore when its breath is inches away from him.

“You'll make it so far in life with that smile of yours.” Those lips are now brushing his bangs, finding more skin to lay kisses onto. “Your kindness is a weapon with which you can defeat any adversity. People won't help falling in love with you. As did I, too.”

He knows raising his head is a mistake, but he does, once again taking a seat into the spider web that monster has so graciously laid out for him. Those eyes of a blinding gold stare into his tearful pools, the creature showing a smile that is way too warm for its freezing appearance. Jyushimatsu fell for that smile. He actually cried the day he killed his second younger brother. The memory he struggled so hard to suppress has resurfaced once again to torment him, materializing his desires into whatever thing that is now kneeling in front of him, kissing his face all over, stopping by the corner of his mouth and pressing that creepy, cruel smile against it.

“I love your kindness. As long as you keep showing that kindness, I will stay by your side. We'll always be together, Jyushimatsu-niisan. Nothing can break us apart. Remember this.”

How weird. He should be scared, but a small smile curves his quivering lips instead.

Inside his head, he's laughing. This time for certain, Jyushimatsu Matsuno has gone mad.

The monster sees it as a chance to pounce, and so it does, selfishly claiming that smile and kindness for itself as a standard Matsuno family member would without hesitation or care.