Jyushimatsu was the very first of his brothers to get the name on his wrist. Of his “soul mate” -- the person he was supposed to be with forever. They say that back before the mid-twentieth century, most people’s names came in early, but ever since the fifties, the names that would appear on wrists come anywhere from age fourteen to age twenty.
Jyushimatsu got his at sixteen, during the middle of club practice. He was a benchwarmer for the baseball team -- he really wanted to play, though, so he was always practicing.
He can still remember the way his wrist felt warm all day, and even began to feel prickly as he did his practice swings; he can remember that the coach noticed he was looking a little pale. His sempai -- whose name he cannot remember -- had called him over to the bench and handed him some water.
Jyushimatsu had taken off his glove, and his upperclassmen gasped. It took Jyushimatsu a minute to realize why, after he gestured to the Matsuno’s wrist.
He remembers, clearly, the way his heart started pounding then. Names were precious and special, and definitely weren’t supposed to come up in the middle of baseball practice. As Jyushimatsu raised his hand to eye level, he studied the kanji characters with care.
Jyushimatsu knew that this was the event his teachers would always talk about during health class. Finding your soul mate name -- it was supposed to be a big, important event that changed how you felt in the world. It was supposed to make you feel different, or more mature, or whatever.
To Jyushimatsu, it felt…
Well, it felt like he needed to get back to practice.
So he gulped down his water and shoved his glove back on and ran back off to join his teammates, to the shock of his sempai.
It didn’t really matter to him one way or the other. Soulmate names weren’t really of interest to him, after all! What mattered now was becoming a starter for the baseball team. Soul mates. and finding his true love, or whatever, would have to be put on the back burner.
He only started wearing long sleeves because he would forget about the name and flash them around on accident. It was easiest that way, anyway -- his envy of his brothers was almost palpable, and their jealousy was only really placated when they couldn’t see the name on his wrist.
It would be another full two years before another brother would get a name during their graduation ceremony.
But none of that really matters to Jyushimatsu. He never made it to be a starter on the baseball team, so he just had to keep practicing harder.
“ Hustle hustle! Muscle muscle! ”
He’s practicing the day he meets her.
Of course he is. Jyushimatsu has only taken five sick days since he graduated high school -- two of those were when he and his brothers were down with colds, and three of those days were when he caught the flu and was so dizzy that he couldn’t even sit up without feeling sick. He still hasn’t made any baseball teams -- there isn’t a local one he can look into, he’s checked -- but he can’t stop practicing!!
That’s the day he meets her -- a rainy day in May, and she’s standing above the ocean on a cliff that had legends of the ghosts of maidens waiting for their husbands to return from war haunting the place.
He had seen her right away, of course! He likes to pretend that he isn’t, but Jyushimatsu is very observant. He sees her -- the way she looks -- and something in the back of his mind tells him that he has to stay here. Even if it’s raining so hard that he can’t even see the ocean, he has to stay here.
And he doesn’t question that little feeling, because he knows that the little feeling has saved his and his brothers skins more than once.
He should have been more concerned about himself, though.
One minute, he’s practicing swings, and the next he’s swallowing seawater, thrashing, desperate for air or to stop being sucked into the sea -- preferably both. It’s panic inducing, it’s terrifying, and he’s felt this feeling before, but never as intensely -- he wants to live, he wants to live. He thrashes and kicks but everything turns black.
“ Please wake up! ”
And she’s real and she’s holding him, clammy hands pressing against his chest as she begs him to wake up, and Jyushimatsu is dizzy and cold and he can feel the clamps of sand in his hair, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that he’s spewing water from places in his head he didn’t even know he had. It doesn’t matter that his chest feels like it’s on fire. None of that matters because she’s there , and Jyushimatsu can feel his heart pounding in his chest, he can feel the way that she makes him feel, and it feels wonderful .
His wrist itches and his chest tingles as he sits up, and he looks at her in a sort of haze. She’s looking at him with tears in her eyes, but she’s smiling. He wants to drown in her gaze, and the irony of the fact that he was literally just drowning is not lost on him. He wants to get to know her. To hold her hand and talk to her. He wants to be close to her, because -- well -- he doesn’t know. But it doesn’t matter, right?
He knows what she was up there for. Definitely not a happy reason. And he -- he knows that if he lets her go with just a thank you, then there’s a good chance that she won’t be there anymore. She won’t be anywhere anymore.
And he doesn’t want to dwell on that. So instead of telling her that, or asking her what was wrong, or a million other things that are racing in his head -- he reaches forward and offers his hand.
“I’m Jyushimatsu! What’s your name?”
…no answer. The girl’s expression doesn’t change, but Jyushimatsu can feel just how nervous answering that question would make her. And well, he doesn’t want to dwell on it, and he doesn’t want to press, so he doesn’t do that at all. He just smiles and goes along with it.
“You don’t want to say?”
She nods, and Jyushimatsu hums. He sits up even though it makes him dizzy and makes his wrist burn. He just smiles at her.
“Okay! How about I call you Homura-chan, then? Since I made a homerun today?”
They meet the next day, simply because Jyushimatsu insists that he treat her to a parfait as a thanks for saving him from drowning. And the next day, and the next day. Every day, for as long as he can offer -- and he can offer a lot. He’s a NEET, after all.
(Something is telling him to make sure she makes it to tomorrow.)
So tomorrow and the next day and the next day. He meets with Homura.
That’s the name he gives her.
He knows that “Homura” is a fake name, but she looks so happy when he calls her that. He knows that she’s lying, a little bit, and hiding a lot of things, but Jyushimatsu lies a little and hides a lot, too, so by his reasoning, it’s okay. She’ll come to be honest at her own pace. He knows she will because she’s an honest sort of girl. And if she likes being called Homura, then that’s that.
It’s their fourth meeting -- well, adding the day they met, that’s five meetings -- when he spots the bandages on her wrist.
They’re sitting in the park on a bench -- they had intended to play, but Homura looks especially tired today, and Jyushimatsu doesn’t want her to be uncomfortable or tired, so they can just sit for a while -- when he sees the bandages on her wrist. They’re all wrapped up tight, and not in the way that normal coverings for “names” are.
Jyushimatsu’s heart stops for a second, but then he places his hand over hers.
He asks it quietly, trying not to scare her. But Homura looks a little scared regardless, and more than that -- there’s shame in her eyes. Her cheeks darken as she pulls away, holding her wrist to her chest, and Jyushimatsu can’t help but feel guilty about forcing her to answer.
Homura smiles, but not in the normal way. It’s a smile that she puts on for someone that isn’t herself -- he can tell by the way her brows crinkle up at the top. He’s been picking up on a lot of her mannerisms and expressions these past few days, and he’s sort of glad for it. He flaps his sleeve and shakes his head.
“If you don’t want to say, it’s fine!”
She lets go of a breath and shakes her head. Keeps smiling as she fidgets with the bandages -- and Jyushimatsu kind of wants to kick himself for making her uncomfortable.
“This is,” she says, quiet, “This is, uh. My name.”
And, well, yeah. Jyushimatsu knows that. Her other wrist is blank. And even though that would be a normal answer, it doesn’t deter him -- his sleeve comes up to his mouth as he thinks.
“Aren’t there usually wristbands?” he asks. He holds up his for emphasis -- the 14 there displays boldly. It’s something his sempai made for him because he kept forgetting to buy one himself and it made the rest of the team a little embarrassed. Jyushimatsu doesn’t want to be insensitive, but he knows-- well -- he feels that there might be something more to this than simple embarrassment.
Homura can feel that, because she lowers her wrist and sighs softly. She worries her bottom lip between her teeth, which means she’s thinking, and then she gently, so gently, picks at the bandages and unravels them.
His cheeks redden as the skin starts to show -- really, this sort of intimacy was only meant for lovers -- and --
There’s not a name there.
Well.. there might have been one, once . But there are so many gashes and cuts in her skin, that it would make reading a name that was there illegible. It’s almost like she was trying to erase the name -- the scabs there are still fresh, and pink. It makes Jyushimatsu’s throat grow dry, and he can feel the corners of his mouth drop. Homura flushes, face going a dark red color, and holds out the wrist for Jyushimatsu to touch. His hands quiver as he takes the bottom of her wrist in one hand, his other hovering just above the scars.
There’s no way he can read a name there. There’s nothing left of the name.
He looks up, brows pressed together, mouth agape He wants to ask. He wants to ask why she was so desperate to erase the name on her wrist, but that’s…
Homura opens her mouth as his mind races with a thousand questions, and makes him stop short with her answer.
“I don’t deserve a soulmate.”
He doesn’t ask her again. He doesn’t ask her about the name, or why she was trying to erase it. After seeing the look on her face, he feels like he doesn’t deserve to ask.
It’s forgotten, anyway. It doesn’t matter. Jyushimatsu has fun with Homura, every day, every day, and so it doesn’t matter if she has a name on her wrist or not. It doesn’t matter at all!
That’s what Jyushimatsu thinks, but… well…
He feels a little deflated. And a little defeated. And he’s pretty sure his brothers have noticed, because they’re all looking at Jyushimatsu with expressions that range from confusion to worry to alarmed.
Jyushimatsu curls up against himself, sleeves draped over his knees, and doesn’t care how freaked out his brothers are. He doesn’t care about that at all.
He’s just… worried.
It takes a while, but eventually his brothers draw straws to see who’s gonna talk to him. Jyushimatsu knows this because they’re not subtle about it -- the walls in their house are only so thin -- and he can hear Choromatsu’s protests even all the way from where they’re huddling in the kitchen.
Choromatsu is pushed into the room, and Jyushimatsu feels just a little bad for him. Not enough to get him out of this funk, mind you, but he does feel bad.
Choromatsu, for the record, looks nervous enough for all five of Jyushimatsu’s brothers. Jyushimatsu tries to smile as Choromatsu kneels down next to him. His older brother rubs the back of his head, and Jyushimatsu knows that the other four are staring at them intensely. Choromatsu opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, Jyushimatsu interrupts.
“Choromatsu-niisan, you’re in love with Nyaachan, right?”
Choromatsu’s face goes red -- he’s still a little mad that Osomatsu blabbed about his secret love of idols -- but he reels himself in. Swallows and looks away.
“I… yeah. I like her a lot. I wouldn’t say it’s love, though.”
“But you’d want to date her, right?” Jyushimatsu asks, even quieter. Choromatsu tugs at the collar of his shirt, sweating bullets. “And you’d want to hold hands and have s*x with her?”
Choromatsu squawks in protest, but he doesn’t deny it. His face goes even redder.
“Even though that’s not the name on your wrist?”
Jyushimatsu doesn’t need to look up at Choromatsu to know that his face has gone pale. None of the brothers have ever showed the names on their wrists to each other -- it’s too intimate for anyone to really ask about. Not even their mother knows the names on their wrists. Choromatsu tugs at the green wristband on his wrist and frowns, pensive.
“I… no. But you don’t have to fall in love with your soulmate. There are lots of other ways to fall in love.”
Jyushimatsu hums in acknowledgement. That doesn’t help, though, and he knows that. Choromatsu fiddles with the wristband, pulling and shifting it as he tries to think of something to say.
Neither of them have time to say anything, because that’s when Karamatsu decides to barge in.
“My little Jyushimatsu -- !! Is it perhaps that you’ve fallen in love with someone whose name does not match the one that displays on your wrist?”
Jyushimatsu looks up. Karamatsu is wearing his sunglasses, but Jyushimatsu can tell that expression means that he’s concerned. The other three are still in the hallway, but Karamatsu quickly sits at Jyushimatsu’s other side. He pulls his sunglasses off and offers them to Jyushimatsu, and the youngest of the three accepts them, placing them delicately on his face as he flaps his sleeve.
“I see! How romantic --” Karamatsu coos, leaning forward and petting at the back of Jyushimatsu’s neck. “You know, plenty of people find love in those that aren’t their soulmates!”
Choromatsu shifts, folding his legs together as he reaches out to brush a hand against Jyushimatsu’s cheek, which kind of suddenly washes Jyushimatsu over with the urge to cry. Karamatsu slings an arm around his shoulder, squeezing him close.
His brothers are trying so hard for him. They know that Jyushimatsu responds best to physical touch when he needs comforting. Karamatsu continues to talk, waving his free arm in the air for emphasis.
“Indeed! There are so many people in this world, Jyushimatsu, and most others don’t find their soulmates at all. But there are plenty of types of love! The names are only but a stepping stone, a -- a bonus level, if you will! No -- an extra inning!! You can play all eight innings and still be satisfied, no?”
“Karamatsu-niisan, that doesn’t make any sense --”
“Of course it does! Baseball analogies!”
“Extra innings only happen when the game is tied, moron!”
Jyushimatsu always liked listening to his brothers talking, but he really isn’t in the mood for this right now.
All he can think about is the way Homura’s face looked when she said that she didn’t deserve a soulmate.
The big, big tears fill Jyushimatsu’s eyes before he knows it. He’s just glad that the sunglasses are on his face, but the sniffling and hiccuping are enough of a hint to his brothers that he’s started crying. The two of them immediately sober up, and they’re hugging against him immediately. Jyushimatsu’s hands start to shake as he starts sobbing, and the other three come in from the hallway and pile up around him.
Jyushimatsu cries and cries and cries until nothing is left, until he feels tired and empty and alone, even as his brothers curl around him. He sniffles, the tears running dry, as he sits in the middle of a pile of brothers, of blue and red and green and purple and pink. He rubs his face and hiccups. He doesn’t know how long he was crying or how long his brothers were here, but they’re all quiet.
Jyushimatsu closes his eyes and drifts to sleep.
He goes to meet with Homura the next day. Of course, he has to -- if he doesn’t see him today, there’s no promise for tomorrow. And he feels a little better, today, he feels a little more like himself, and he’s grateful for that, because Homura looks worse for wear.
He hesitates, flapping a sleeve as Homura eats her piece of cake. He pushes hers towards her and smiles.
“You look like you need more sweetness, Homura-chan.”
That makes her smile a little bit, which Jyushimatsu considers a success. Homura accepts his cake with a nod of the head and continues to eat.
They’re quiet, for a while, Jyushimatsu wondering if he should pull that gag again, but before he can grab a glass of water, Homura looks up at him.
“I had a name there,” she admits. Her eyebrows press together, as she tries to come up with the words. “But I -- I had to do bad things. And it made me feel bad.”
A pause, as Homura chooses her words. She fiddles with her wrist. Jyushimatsu waits, watches with keenness that isn’t expected of someone like him.
“I didn’t think that my soulmate would really love me. I -- i didn’t think anyone would.”
Jyushimatsu closes his mouth.
Homura looks up. Her brows raise, and her body tenses up a little bit. Jyushimatsu keeps looking at her, though, big smile on his face.
“I love you. I think that you’re wonderful the way you are,” and once the words are out, Jyushimatsu can’t stop them -- he keeps going. “I love the way you are, no matter what. I really like the way you smile and the way you laugh and I don’t care about who’s on your wrist. I love you. I love you.”
He… isn’t sure how Homura will react to this. He doesn’t know if she’ll cry again. But Jyushimatsu holds up his wrist and tugs off his wristband before pushing it towards her.
“Here! You can keep it,” Jyushimatsu says enthusiastically, smiling wider. “I want you to have it.”
Homura nods her head. She ducks a little as she takes it, and her eyes dart to his newly exposed wrist.
“That… that name. That’s your…?”
Jyushimatsu makes a small noise, and pulls his wrist away. His cheeks dust a little as he smiles.
“A ha ha… yeah. That’s my soulmate name. But!” he continues before Homura can open her mouth. “But I don’t care! I just want -- I want to be with you.”
He looks down at his knees and swallows.
“I want to be with you, that’s all.”
Homura’s cheeks have seemed to gain a bit of color. She smiles and sniffles, tugging on the wristband as Jyushimatsu watches.
It fits her perfectly.
Homura looks down at the table. She’s silent for a long time, and Jyushimatsu doesn’t try to fill the silence like usual. He has the feeling… that he shouldn’t. That this silence means something.
She looks up at him. There’s something serene about the way she looks at him -- and Jyushimatsu can feel his wrist itching again.
“Inoue is my family name.”
That explains… a lot of things. A lot of things. And even if it only makes a little bit of sense, that’s all Jyushimatsu needs. This and that happened, but… well… the stories are a little hard to follow, sometimes, and Homura cries through a lot of them. Things about the bad people she used to work for, and the way she felt ashamed of herself, and the anxiety she feels even now, being with him. She doesn’t want to say everything, and she doesn’t have to. She doesn’t even need to give him the name that her parents bestowed on her -- he doesn’t want or need to know. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she’s here with him, he tells her.
Jyushimatsu holds her hand during all of that, every day.
As the weeks crawl by, he feels that she’s getting happier. She’s getting better. He thinks that he should hold her on some days, and on other days he feels that she needs the space to collect herself. He’s usually right about that, which makes him happy. The little thoughts inside his head have never lead him wrong before.
They lead them to her, after all.