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Karamatsu hasn't been home in three days.

Nobody else has noticed – they never do when Karamatsu goes off without warning for hours, maybe a day, at a time. But a day is the longest it has ever been before. It's the third night since Karamatsu left the house and the gap in the futon between himself and Todomatsu is becoming more and more uncomfortable for Ichimatsu to acknowledge. Nobody has said anything about it (they never did before, why would they now – they're assholes, of course they don't care what Karamatsu gets up to in his own time), so Ichimatsu won't say anything either.

He rolls over to face the empty space, mouth downturned. He doesn't miss Karamatsu – he's just like the other assholes, he doesn't care what happens to the second born brother. Karamatsu is an adult, he can do whatever he wants, he can leave and never come back for all Ichimatsu gives a shit. Good riddance.

Fingertips graze the soft fabric of an abandoned pillow, cold to the touch. He presses his palm into the centre of it, fingers outstretched, and rests it there.

Ichimatsu doesn't care if Karamatsu never comes home. It's no secret that Ichimatsu hates Karamatsu more than any of the other brothers hate him. Hates his smug, over-confident face. Hates him. Unquestionably hates him.

Curling fingers dig deep into the plush innards of the pillow, squeezing tight before dragging it close to his chest. He loosens his grip, winding both of his arms around the soft object now in his possession. Buries his face in the top, breathes deep.

Maybe hate is too harsh. And over-confident is inaccurate, Ichimatsu knows that. Karamatsu hates himself more than anybody else could ever hate him, just like Ichimatsu hates himself. It's one of the things they have in common.

 

 

"Hey, even if you hate yourself, I love you enough for both of us. It makes up for it!"

Sat on a roof with the tiles digging into his thighs, an acoustic guitar resting untouched to the side. The sun's light casts the sky in an ombre of warm hues as it begins to set.

Bright eyes hidden behind sunglasses, shadowed by bags caused by irregular sleep. A smile, constant but forced, crooked and unsteady at the edges. Karamatsu's sleeves are always rolled up to his elbow, but in the bright sunlight, Ichimatsu can see the white lines against tanned skin – ghosts of scars, faded now. Likely replicated, fresh and new under blue band-aids, somewhere else on his brother's body.

Ichimatsu stares this moron down. He complains about Karamatsu acting like he's better than everyone else, but he knows Karamatsu values himself the least of all, would rather die than think himself worth more than his beloved brothers. So it's not that he thinks he's better, no, Karamatsu just is better than the rest of them: more kind, more loving, more accepting, more supportive, ready to cheer anyone on at a moment’s notice, ready to love one of his shitty, awful, disgusting brothers because the idiot can't do something as simple as love himself.

But neither can he. So Ichimatsu tilts his head to the side, knocking it against Karamatsu's shoulder and leaving it to rest there.

"I'll love you too then, I guess. If I'm not going to love myself, might as well love you instead."

Karamatsu goes silent for a long time. They stare at the horizon together, watch as the sun sinks lower and lower in the burning sky. Karamatsu tilts his head so his face is pressing into Ichimatsu's hair and stays like that, still, for a moment, body trembling so slightly that Ichimatsu almost doesn't notice it.

"Yeah," Karamatsu finally says. His voice crackles with an emotion Ichimatsu can't place, but he's never been very good at identifying emotions. "Yeah, I'd like that a lot, Ichi."

 

 

He sucks in a deeper breath, lets it out slowly. Squeezes his eyes shut and presses his face and chest as close to the pillow as they can get.

They were supposed to be there for each other.

Now the asshole is gone, off somewhere. And it's not that Ichimatsu wants Karamatsu to be there for him (God knows he doesn't deserve that kindness, not for all the grief he's given Karamatsu throughout their lives), but Ichimatsu wants to be there for Karamatsu. The support was supposed to go both ways, though maybe Karamatsu never really understood that. Nobody treated Karamatsu with kindness, especially not Ichimatsu – why would that so suddenly change?

The pillow smells like Karamatsu, which both comforts Ichimatsu and discomforts him, makes him feel an emotion that sits somewhere between longing, loneliness, worry, and anger. He'll bring it up tomorrow, he decides. At breakfast, he'll mention Karamatsu's absence. He'll do something about it.

He closes his eyes and breathes; deep, steady.

 

----

 

"Hey, Ichi."

Ichimatsu looks up from his spot on the floor. He's not doing much, idly petting one of the stray cats that have a habit of wandering in, but all the same, he'd rather not have been disturbed. A certain blue idiot stares down at him, sunglasses perched on his face even indoors and on a dreary day like this. His smile is wavering slightly.

"What is it, shithead?" he mumbles, sitting up so Karamatsu knows that he has his attention.

"Oh, 'shithead' instead of 'Shittymatsu', a new direction. Interesting take, my darling brother, mixing it up, I..."

Ichimatsu stares Karamatsu down until the second born trails off, his own uneasiness causing his words to taper into oblivion.

"What do you want, Karamatsu?" Ichimatsu tries again, making an effort to pitch his tone towards something he can only assume is successful in being less hostile based on the way Karamatsu minutely relaxes.

Karamatsu takes a moment, sits himself down on the sofa next to where Ichimatsu is sat on the floor in front of it. Ichimatsu turns so he can still see Karamatsu – a reassurance that he's listening. "I was um... I was wondering if we could--" a pause, a shaky breath, then a nervous laugh. "Could we switch clothes again?"

"What."

Panic, hands raised up in a motion intended to calm him down, like Karamatsu expects to be attacked. "N-not for a long time! Just for a little bit. I just..."

The pause stretches so Ichimatsu tilts his head, turns a face Karamatsu may think is judging him away, and rests his head against his brother's outer thigh. A moment later, a hesitant hand gently pats his messy hair.

"You just?" he prompts, voice neutral.

"I just," Karamatsu's hand stills in his hair, "don't want to be myself right now."

A long stretch of silence, before Ichimatsu replies, "Okay."

"Okay?" Karamatsu sounds shocked, in disbelief.

"Yeah," Ichimatsu tilts his head back into the touch of Karamatsu's careful hand, and it returns to running through knotted strands. "'Til the end of today. We can change before lunch and change back when we go to sleep."

Karamatsu breathes a deep sigh, laced with something too close to relief. Like he was tired of being himself. Who is Ichimatsu to judge – if anything, he can understand.

"Thank you, Ichimatsu."

"Mm, whatever, I owe you anyway. For last time, when it was me stealing your clothes. Guess this is just the reverse."

Karamatsu chuckles, gives Ichimatsu's hair a ruffle filled with rejuvenated energy, a smile that seems more genuine than any he's plastered on his face in a long time. "I guess you're right, brother."

"Yeah, whatever," Ichimatsu shrugs, shoving Karamatsu's ruffling hand away and standing up. "Just shocked I can fit into those stupid skinny jeans."

"Stupid!" Karamatsu rests a hand over his heart, feigns insult. "But my darling Karamatsu boy, you cannot hide from me your love for my incredible fashion!"

Feeling his lips pulling into an involuntary smirk of amusement, Ichimatsu hides it by bumping into Karamatsu's shoulder as he walks past him.

"Whatever, let's just get this over with."

 

----

I am my brothers and my brothers are me!

----

 

"Karamatsu's been gone for four days now."

It's the first thing Ichimatsu says as the last person to wake up and get downstairs for breakfast. Everyone pauses eating for a moment. Todomatsu is the first to shrug and resume chewing his food, while the others continue to stare at him as if waiting for an explanation. Ichimatsu feels anger starting to heat under his skin. Clenches his fists at his sides as his eyes dart accusingly between brothers.

"Don't tell me none of you assholes have noticed he's missing."

Osomatsu is the first to answer, grinning and rubbing his finger under his nose as he waves his chopsticks towards Ichimatsu. "Haa, I did notice it was quieter around here, guess that's why!"

Choromatsu looks uncomfortable. "Osomatsu, if it's been four days then this could be serious."

"Psshh, whatever," Osomatsu waves him off, not taking it seriously. "It's only a couple days, he'll turn up eventually."

"Turn up?" Ichimatsu growls. Teeth clenched, anger building.

"Yeah, he'll wander back in like he always does," Osomatsu grins. He's probably trying to diffuse the worry and anxiety associated with a situation like this but his nonchalant approach to it does nothing more than crank the temperature of Ichimatsu's blood up even further, bringing him dangerously close to boiling point. 

"He's never been gone for more than a day before," Ichimatsu spits out.

"You have to admit, four days is a little concerning," Choromatsu agrees.

"Like Osomatsu-niisan said, he'll come back eventually," Todomatsu says, not looking up from his phone in one hand, placing food in his mouth with the other.

"Yeah, probably go on about some adventure he's been on," Osomatsu beams, raises a hand so it's posed dramatically over his face in a clearly mocking imitation of the second born brother. "Heh! My darling brothers! I have returned from my quest to burden yet more people with my obnoxious presence!"

Ichimatsu kicks Osomatsu in the stomach. It's harder than he means it to be, but he can't bring himself to give a shit. He's furious, he can't remember ever being this genuinely angry over something. The asshole has a whole entire complex about his brothers leaving him, but he doesn't give a fuck that Karamatsu has been missing for four days? What absolute bullshit.

It's Choromatsu and Jyushimatsu holding him back, their arms wrapped around one of his each. He growls, bares his teeth and pulls against them – Osomatsu deserves worse than just one kick in the stomach. For one, he knows he can kick harder. Make it really hurt.

"Come on Ichimatsu, you know he's not worth it," Choromatsu sighs.

Jyushimatsu nods in agreement, wraps his arms around Ichimatsu's waist and starts leading him over to the opposite side of the table. Ichimatsu refuses to sit down. It's been four fucking days, he's sat down and eaten at a breakfast table with an empty space three times in a row already. He's not just going to keep ignoring the Karamatsu shaped gap by making it a fourth.

"God, since when do you even care about Karamatsu?" Osomatsu groans. One of his hands is rubbing the impact point under his hoodie. Must hurt. Good. "You treat him worst out of all of us. I'm shocked you're not celebrating."

Ichimatsu grits his teeth. He's not wrong. Up until recently, Ichimatsu had been an asshole to Karamatsu because of his own insecurities. It was messy. He and Karamatsu were working through it, he was fixing it. They've grown closer now. They're helping each other.

"Fuck you," is what he says though. "Fuck you, Osomatsu. You don't know a fucking thing."

Osomatsu raises his eyebrows. "Jeez, hostile much? I'm just stating a fact."

"He isn't wrong," Todomatsu pipes up, and Ichimatsu really wishes he wouldn't have.

A hand wraps around his and when Ichimatsu looks down he sees it's Jyushimatsu's. The fifth son looks concerned, which is a worrying expression to see on the usually happy and energetic younger brother's face. Ichimatsu wishes he could comfort him in some way but he's not good at that, it's never been his kind of thing (Karamatsu is the comforting and supportive brother).

"I'm going to go look for him," he says instead, forcing all emotion out of his voice. A blank slate. "Someone's got to."

"I'll come with you!" Jyushimatsu grins up at him. "Two is always better than one!"

"I'll come too," Choromatsu sighs as he stands up. A small, hesitant smile as he says, "Three is better than two."

Ichimatsu grunts and nods in response before leaving the room. Even if it's not all his brothers helping, at least it's two more pairs of eyes looking out. He understands now, even more than before, what Karamatsu meant when he spoke about their brothers not taking him seriously, not paying attention to him, brushing him off.

He just hopes Karamatsu hasn't gone and done something really stupid.

 

----

 

It's strangely comforting to be wearing Karamatsu's clothes instead of his own. He can see why Karamatsu gravitates towards them – even if they're not the kind of comfortable and soft he usually prefers, they lend him a level of confidence in himself (something that he doesn't have very often, if ever). The jeans are a little tight, but that's to be expected. Even if they're identical, Karamatsu actually exercises so his waist is smaller than Ichimatsu's, more toned. He doesn't particularly hate his body more than he hates any other part of himself, but he's not above privately admitting to himself that he's a little jealous of Karamatsu's. Guy's got abs, for fuck's sake.

He clasps the tacky skull belt and pulls a little of the white shirt out of the jeans so it's baggier, not as flush with his stomach. It's surprisingly good at covering up his muffin top. He slips the jacket on and can't help admiring himself in the full-length mirror of their bedroom.

"Suits you."

He jumps, feeling like he's been caught red-handed even if he knows it's just Karamatsu. There's something in him that feels like he should pay the compliment back, but it's forgotten when he actually sees Karamatsu.

They'd deemed it too obvious to just switch hoodies, so they went for full outfit swaps. Ichimatsu wearing Karamatsu's usual "cool-guy" get up, and Karamatsu wearing a sweatshirt with "Dat" printed on the front that's looking more than a little bit rumpled. It's comfortable though, worn to that perfect level of softness. It's a little oversized on Karamatsu, but Ichi prefers his clothes baggy anyway so it's to be expected. The sweatshirt is joined by a pair of sweatpants that Ichimatsu is sure he owns upwards of five pairs of, purely because he liked them more than any others. And in Karamatsu's manicured hand, he is holding a pair of sunglasses.

Ichimatsu takes them. Hesitant to put them on just yet, he slips an arm under the collar of his shirt and lets them rest there.

"Do you have nail polish remover?" he asks, and Karamatsu seems surprised to be asked. "I don't wear nail polish."

"Ah!" Karamatsu becomes aware of his painted nails, a sparkling royal blue. "That you don't, I'll take it off."

The second brother rummages around in a drawer before pulling out nail polish remover and cotton pads. He begins to remove the nail polish and Ichimatsu frowns slightly, looking down at his own bitten nails. Bad habit. "It'll be difficult to paint mine, they're short."

"It's okay," Karamatsu says, and Ichimatsu expects a smile of optimism, like Karamatsu has some kind of workaround for the problem, but it's not there. Instead, his voice is a little flat as he focuses on removing the nail polish. "They won't notice."

Ichimatsu frowns deeper but decides not to press, instead sitting down in front of where Karamatsu has settled on the floor. "You'll have to help me with the makeup, they'll notice if your eyes aren't--" his lips twitch and he lets them curve into a smirk, trying to imitate the look Karamatsu always gives as he meets eyes with his brother "--as radiant as a thousand lonely moons."

Karamatsu snorts when he laughs, knocks their knees together. "God, what does that even mean?"

Ichimatsu smiles, glad he could do something at least to lighten the mood. "I dunno, you tell me. What does any of what you usually say mean?"

Karamatsu pauses in the scrubbing of his last nail, eyebrows furrowing as he actually thinks about it. He seems torn, but he finally settles on sheepishly smiling up at Ichimatsu and answering, "Probably something along the lines of 'I'm horrifyingly lonely, my self-hate is eating me from the inside out, please god, give me any amount of positive attention and affection'. I mean, if I had to take a wild guess."

And what does Ichimatsu even say to that? It's good, a good sign, as much as it seems like the opposite; Karamatsu is actually admitting that there's something wrong instead of trying to cover it up with a lie and pretend he's fine. But at the same time, even if Ichimatsu tries his best, he's never been good at comforting people, never been a natural at it like Karamatsu and Jyushimatsu seem to be.

So instead he leans forward and reaches out a hand, ruffles Karamatsu's hair up so it looks more like his own. "Who needs attention from five assholes? You've always been the best of the six, every fucker else just hates to admit it to themselves."

Karamatsu is silent for a little while, picking stray flecks of glitter off his now bare hands. "Four assholes, maybe three," he says finally, "You and Jyushimatsu aren't so bad."

"Jyushimatsu is a psychopath and I'm actual human garbage," Ichimatsu counters.

Karamatsu gasps with mock dramatic flair. "How could you ever say something so horrible about our wonderful baby brother?"

Ichimatsu grins back at him. "Jyushimatsu is terrifying and you know it. Refreshing though."

Karamatsu chuckles. "He is a little scary, sometimes."

There's a calm moment of silence before Karamatsu pushes himself up so he's standing. He turns back to the drawer and pulls out a small blue bag, surprisingly not sparkly. "C'mon, let's head to the bathroom so I can wash the acetone off my hands and help fill in your brows."

"What about my--" Ichimatsu deliberately pitches his voice to Karamatsu's frequency "--radiant eyes?"

Karamatsu huffs a breath out. "Colour contacts are in the bag, so is the rest of the makeup. When I clean my face off, I think I'll look more like you."

"More like me?" Ichimatsu asks as he stands, following Karamatsu out the bedroom and down the hallway.

"Hmm, not to be rude but more tired. I use concealer to hide the eye bags."

Ichimatsu nods with understanding. "Not rude, just truthful."

Karamatsu hums, opening the bathroom door and holding it open for Ichimatsu to follow him inside. "Truth can still be rude though, depending on how you phrase it."

He's probably right. Despite seeming blissfully unaware of social situations, Karamatsu is probably the most emphatically well-adjusted of them all. Always thinking about other people's feelings, never about his own. Karamatsu washes his hands under the sink with soap and Ichimatsu takes a seat on the closed lid of the toilet. The older brother rummages in his bag for a moment before tutting.

"I forgot, I'm out of disposable coloured lenses and it wouldn't be safe to share my normal ones," Karamatsu frowns, before pulling a hand out holding concealer. "It's okay though, they won't notice."

There it is again. "You keep saying that," Ichimatsu says as Karamatsu dots concealer on his face. It's colder than he expected it to be.

"Saying what?" Karamatsu asks. He's gentle, careful as he blends the product to match Ichimatsu's skin.

"That they won't notice," Ichimatsu answers. Karamatsu caps the concealer again and returns to rummaging in the bag. "Why do you think they won't?"

"Ah," Karamatsu hesitates. "It's just because they usually don't notice things, not when it comes to me."

Ichimatsu frowns at that, but not because he thinks it isn't true. He knows it probably is, that their brothers have a tendency to brush Karamatsu off, to push him to the back of their minds.

The silence stretches until Karamatsu comes out victorious, holding an eyebrow pencil in his hand with a self-satisfied smile.

"Okay, let’s get these poor boys filled in," he says, approaching Ichimatsu.

He laughs in return, short and sudden. "Poor boys?"

"They're rather sad," Karamatsu makes an overexaggerated sad expression down at him. "So sparse. So thin. A tragedy."

"Shut up, you probably swallowed my eyebrows in the womb," Ichimatsu returns, and Karamatsu lets out a shocked laugh.

"I must have, huh?" He lays a hand on Ichimatsu cheek, steadying the other hand holding the eyebrow pencil with his little finger against Ichimatsu's forehead. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"If you weren't drawing on my face right now, I would punch you."

Karamatsu hums, smiling as he works. It's nice, Ichimatsu thinks, to see him looking so naturally content. It's rare that anybody ever sees Karamatsu without his carefully crafted façade firmly in place. It's good to know these easy moments, this kind of calmness, this is real, these emotions and this way of expressing them is the real Karamatsu. And the real Karamatsu can't help humming softly as he works, transferring his mask onto his brother's face.

 

----

 

They search together for a while, Choromatsu spouting logical reasons why Karamatsu is probably fine, like he thinks that's going to cheer Ichimatsu up and like he knows anything about Karamatsu in the first place. That's both a fair and an unfair thought because nobody but Ichimatsu really knows what Karamatsu has been going through because they have the same problems, they just deal with them in the opposite ways. Everyone else thinks that Karamatsu is as airheaded, self-confident, and optimistic as he's always appeared to be. Except maybe Jyushimatsu, who is smarter than he looks and mostly unpredictable. The fifth brother always knows more than he lets on.

And right now, the fifth brother is interspersing shouts of "Karamatsu-niisan!!" alongside one-sided conversation with Ichimatsu, likely in an attempt to calm him. It's not really working because Ichimatsu will be worried until they finally find Karamatsu, and then he'll be worried for other reasons and about other things, but it's nice to have someone with him, two people with him in fact.

And that's the thing isn't it, his brothers care about him. They wouldn't be doing the same if it were Karamatsu – although if any other brother had gone missing more of a fuss would have been kicked up, and a lot sooner too.

It's hard to think of places to check. They try the bridges that Karamatsu hangs out at (some send a sinking feeling to Ichimatsu's stomach because what if?), a couple parks close by because Karamatsu likes to take walks through them, and then they start going through the places they all in general seem to gravitate to. The pachinko parlour, the fishing hole, the oden cart--

Ah, there's no oden cart.

"That's weird, isn't this where Chibita usually sets up the stand?" Choromatsu asks, looking around as if it's going to make the oden stall appear out of thin air.

"He's in the busier areas for lunch hours!" Jyushimatsu supplies. But the sun is beginning to set, and it's far past lunch hours. It's pushing close to 8pm so Chibita should be here.

"It's a little past lunch hours, Jyushimatsu," Choromatsu frowns. "Something must have come up."

Ichimatsu can take a guess, but he doesn't want to place his bets on it.

"It's getting late, you two should head back," Ichimatsu says.

"Without you?" Choromatsu asks.

"Mm."

"You're going to look for Karamatsu-niisan without us?" Jyushimatsu questions.

He'd be lying if he said he wasn't, but he lies a lot anyway. "Kind of, just figured I'd pick up cat treats and feed the strays while I'm close to the store."

Jyushimatsu levels him with a look that tells him he knows that he's lying but he's deciding whether Ichimatsu needs time alone or not.

"Okay, nii-san! Make sure to come home soon!" The fifth brother rules in his favour, wide grin firmly in place on his face as he waves Ichimatsu off.

"Don't be back too late, we can keep looking for Karamatsu tomorrow," Choromatsu tries for a reassuring smile but it comes off as being forced. It's the thought that counts.

Ichimatsu just nods, turns and walks away from them.

He's not going to the store. Maybe on his way back, once he's confirmed or denied the suspicion that he has.

It doesn't take long before he finds himself on Chibita's doorstep. The oden cart sits outside the apartment building, a tarp thrown over it. There's nothing about the ground around it that suggests it's been moved recently, but then again Ichimatsu isn't exactly a detective or anything.

It takes a while to find Chibita's name on the apartment list but he does eventually, shoving his finger into the button for a few seconds and waiting for it to go through. When, after a few minutes, there's no answer, Ichimatsu holds down the button until he gets one.

"God damn it! What the hell d'ya want, idjit?" The voice is grainy and crackles over the poor quality sound system but it's easily recognisable as Chibita.

"Is Karamatsu here?" he asks. Might as well get straight to the point.

There's sputtering for a moment, then a harsh series of whispers that he can't quite make out. Chibita sucks in a breath like he's preparing for something.

"No."

Ichimatsu pauses. "You sure?"

"O-of course I'm sure, ya moron! It's my apartment, how would I not know about someone being in my apartment?"

Yeah. Definitely lying.

"Well then," Ichimatsu tugs at his dust mask, anything to fidget with. "If you see him, tell him we're worried about him. I'm worried about him. I just want to know that he's... safe. Okay?"

Another pause, then a soft sigh. "Yeah, I'll be sure to tell him. If, if I see him that is! I'll um, I'll give your house phone a ring if I run into him at all."

"Thanks," Ichimatsu mutters.

The line clicks off and Ichimatsu pulls his dust mask over his mouth and nose. He turns on heel and heads to the store – it's close by and he feels easier now that he's pretty sure he knows Karamatsu is at Chibita's. He's still worried, but now the emotion can be directed somehow. It's just easier to process, he guesses. Emotions are difficult to figure out.

He returns to the alley by the house with a bag of cat biscuits. It's calming, creating little piles some ways apart from one another so the cats don't fight over the food, watching the strays appear and eat, patting some of them before he becomes acutely aware of how dark it's become and what time it probably is. Stands from his crouched position, wipes his hands on his sweatpants, and heads home with the remainder of the cat biscuits tucked under his arm.

The rest of his brothers are setting up the futon when he gets in. Jyushimatsu greets him with an enthusiastic shout, and Choromatsu looks somewhat sympathetic. Osomatsu and Todomatsu are watching videos on Todomatsu's phone, but Osomatsu looks up with a grin directed at Ichimatsu.

"How'd the solo Karamatsu hunt go? Jyushi and Choro said you couldn't find him," he doesn't sound too concerned, but he never really does.

"What's the point in asking if you can see how well it went? He's not here, so I didn't find him," Ichimatsu directs a glare at him. "Don't ask questions you know the answer to, moron."

Osomatsu opens his mouth like he's about to answer, but Choromatsu cuts him off, gently grasping Ichimatsu's arm to direct the fourth born's attention to him and away from the eldest. "I've been thinking, w... would it be worth filing a missing persons report? He's been gone for what? Five days tomorrow morning? There are no signs he prepared to leave – his wallet, his phone, his keys, and all his clothes seem to still be here. They'd hopefully take it seriously."

Ichimatsu considers this for a while. If he's wrong and Karamatsu really isn't at Chibita's then it would be worth it just to have peace of mind that the police were dealing with it too, even if they are notoriously unhelpful when it comes to finding missing people. "Yeah, yeah that sounds good."

Choromatsu seems to brighten a bit, either at the approval or at finally having a sort of plan. "Okay! We can head to the station together tomorrow morning and file a report."

"Jeez, don't you think a report is a bit much?" Osomatsu asks.

"Yeah, five days isn't too long for an adult man to be away from home," Todomatsu adds.

"It's a long time for Karamatsu-niisan though!" Jyushimatsu speaks up.

"Mm, true," Todomatsu shrugs. "Still seems a little too serious."

"It is serious," Choromatsu frowns. "He hasn't come home, he didn't even take anything with him! I don't think any of us even saw him leave, he certainly didn't say anything to us when he went."

Osomatsu shrugs and lays back into his pillow, arms tucked lazily behind his head. "Eh, like I said before, he'll turn up."

He's too drained to get angry at this shit anymore. So instead of wasting his anger on emotions, Ichimatsu changes out of his hoodie into a relatively clean sweater and then heads downstairs. He's going to wait there until Karamatsu comes home or until the day comes and he can keep looking for him.

 

----

 

It doesn't come as a surprise when none of the other brothers notice they've switched places. Ichimatsu is impressed at his own quite frankly admirable performance as Karamatsu, even if nobody seems to pay attention. And that's most of the performance really, saying something painful at the right moment to make people want to ignore his existence. But he's enjoying it, saying what's on his mind in a Karamatsu-like manner, wearing these awful tight pants that make him actually like how his legs look, forcing his body to move in wide flourishes – it's freeing, in a way. Karamatsu seems to blend into his own role perfectly; he's grouchy, unpleasant, distant. He wonders if this is as freeing for Karamatsu as it is for him. Karamatsu was the one to suggest it after all. He didn't want to be himself.

And it goes on like that, until the end of the day. Ichimatsu notices their brothers try talking to him less as Karamatsu, which both worries him and is kind of a relief – he doesn't like talking to people, mostly. Conversations are unpredictable and hard to grasp, sitting in silence in someone else's company is far easier to deal with.

"Hey, Ichimatsu, you feeling okay? You've been acting kind of weird this afternoon," Osomatsu asks over dinner, pointing at Ichimatsu from across the table with his chopsticks. "You know you can tell your Onii-chan anything, right?"

Karamatsu stares blankly back at Osomatsu. "There's nothing wrong with me and I don't need the help of my useless shitty older brother."

Osomatsu grips his heart. "Ichiiii, you wound me!"

"Cut it out, he clearly doesn't want to deal with your crap," Choromatsu grunts as he elbows Osomatsu in the ribs. He smooths his demeanour out again, directing what little of an older brother persona he has to who he believes is Ichimatsu. "A-although if you do want to talk about it, with someone competent--"

"Tch."

"Ha! Competent?" Osomatsu returns the elbow to Choromatsu. "As if, Fappymatsu."

Ichimatsu decides now is around the time Karamatsu would probably make a move to claim himself the best of the trio of elder brothers.

He carefully touches Karamatsu's arm, making the other brother jolt. They share a moment of eye contact before Ichimatsu remembers he has a role to play. And although Karamatsu is playing his, there's something genuine behind it all. He's been off since the start of the day, he wouldn't have asked for this from Ichimatsu if he hadn't been.

"I'm here even if you don't want to talk," Ichimatsu says, calm, because it's something he'd like to hear sometimes; no pressure to talk things out, just someone to be there.

Karamatsu blinks, some unknown emotion flitting across his face before he looks away. He places his hand over Ichimatsu's, squeezes once, then stands. Leaves the room.

"Aw, look what you did, Shittymatsu," Osomatsu frowns at him. "You scared him off."

"Fuck off, you waste of space," Ichimatsu bites back, baring his teeth.

Well, he was bound to slip up. Honestly, he doesn't know how Karamatsu can keep his composure sometimes with five other fuckwits around.

Four identical faces gape back at him. Ichimatsu decides now is a good time to take his leave. He stands, looms over Osomatsu and Choromatsu for a moment, shuts the sliding door a little too forcefully on the way out.

He finds Karamatsu on the front doorstep, sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms, tracing the more prominent marks on his skin. He sits down next to his brother, resting his chin on his knees as he stares out across the street. It's a little cold in just a tank top – cool as Karamatsu's jacket looks, it doesn't offer much in terms of warmth. At least he knows Karamatsu is probably warm in his sweatshirt, even with the sleeves rolled up.

"Sorry we treat you like shit sometimes," Ichimatsu says. It's a broad apology, but one that should probably be given at some point.

"They only noticed because I was you," Karamatsu mumbles. "If I'd just... acted like this normally they probably wouldn't have said a thing. I could probably have been 'not myself' without trying to mould it into your personality, kind of. Not to be insulting about it."

"Confrontational, quiet, depressive. No, I get you," Ichimatsu leans their shoulders together. "Again, not insulting if it's true. I just don't try to cover up the bad emotions. It must be exhausting trying to ignore them all the time. I just take them out on other people, which is probably unhealthy."

Karamatsu laughs but it's flat. "They're both unhealthy. Bottle them up and you end up just kind of--" he stares blankly at the scars on his wrists "--take it out on yourself instead of other people."

Ichimatsu knows. If there's not someone to blow up at, he'll blow up at himself instead. To direct every little thing internally to avoid hurting other people? God, that just sounds tiring.

"I meant what I said, if you just need to be around someone," he says.

Karamatsu smiles without it reaching his eyes. Maybe that's why he wears the sunglasses, to disguise the fake smiles when they don't spread to the rest of his face.

"Thanks, Ichi."

"You'd do the same," he says, and he knows it's true. Whatever he asked of Karamatsu, the older brother would give until he couldn't give anymore.

 

----

 

It's 4:29am when Ichimatsu wakes up under the kotatsu in the living room. He's uncertain what exactly woke him up until he hears a door being closed, so slowly that it's obvious whoever is closing it is trying to be quiet. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve and stands, groggily making his way to check.

There's a figure sat on the genkan, unzipping his boots and placing them on the rack alongside the others. There's only one empty space. Karamatsu stands, takes a deep breath, then turns around. As soon as he sees Ichimatsu watching him he freezes: a deer caught in headlights. Holds eye contact as guilt seeps into his expression.

"Ah," Karamatsu says very simply.