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Karamatsu had just finished his part time job and was walking back home. On his way he stopped by the supermarket closest to their home to buy some groceries. He didn’t know if their mother had already planned today’s dinner but the things he bought could be used later as well so he bought them anyway.

 

It was afternoon so everyone except their father would probably be home. His only older brother, Osomatsu, was also likely somewhere else since he did always come and go as he pleased so there wasn’t really telling for sure. Karamatsu felt a strong need to help their parents as much as he could with whatever he could and it came really naturally from him. He thought it was especially important with such a big family as theirs with six brothers. From the moment he had gotten his first younger brother when he was three, he had always taken his job as an older brother seriously and did whatever he could for his beloved family.

 

Karamatsu slid the front door open and stepped inside the house saying: “I’m home!” as he lowered his shopping bag to the floor and started taking off his shoes. Instantly he heard quick running steps coming closer to him from the house and soon he saw how his second youngest brother, Jyushimatsu who was now seven years old, ran towards him.

 

“Karamatsu-niisan!” the young boy shouted and leaped up crashing to Karamatsu’s chest so that the second oldest stumbled few steps back before he got a hold of Jyushimatsu and managed to steady them. “Welcome home!” Jyushimatsu said loudly with his high voice and radiated happiness in his arms.

 

The second born laughed and ruffled his brother’s hair. “Hello my dear brother! I’m glad to see you too,” he said smiling affectionately. Lifting his eyes Karamatsu could see how their third youngest brother had followed Jyushimatsu to the front door. He walked close to the two of them and stopped to look at them little shyly even if he tried to mask it with the uninterested look.

 

“Hello Ichimatsu dear,” Karamatsu said smiling to the ten years old brother. Ichimatsu turned to look away but a tiny smile was tugging the corner of his mouth upwards. He took a few steps and lifted the shopping bag Karamatsu had left to the floor and with much struggle started to drag it towards the kitchen.

 

“Ah, let me carry that Ichimatsu,” Karamatsu said as he moved Jyushimatsu so that he was holding him with only one arm and hip and with his other hand he reached for the bag.

 

Determined Ichimatsu yanked it further from the second oldest. “I can carry it myself,” he said and continued his mission.

 

Karamatsu withdrew his arm and smiled amusedly. “Oh, I don’t doubt that,” he said and followed after the fourth born to the kitchen.

 

When they arrived to the kitchen, Karamatsu saw how their mother was sitting at the kitchen table reading some papers. She lifted her gaze upon hearing them and smiled kindly. “Welcome home.”

 

“I’m back,” Karamatsu said and put Jyushimatsu to the ground where he dashed to Ichimatsu and the two of them started to put the groceries to their places. Karamatsu smiled at the sight of them. They were so cute and the two of them were inseparable.

 

“Did you went to buy groceries again?” their mother, Matsuyo, asked frowning slightly but had a smile on her face. “You know you shouldn’t. Not all the time.”

 

Karamatsu only waved it off. “Nonsense. This is the least I can do,” he said and went to help the two younger brothers to place a box of nori to the upper cabinet when Jyushimatsu was halfway climbing on top of the counter. “Have you decided what we’ll eat today for dinner?”

 

“I got fish for today,” Matsuyo answered.

 

The second oldest nodded. “I bought ingredients to oyakodon,” he told.

 

“Yay! Oyakodon!” Jyushimatsu cheered which brought smile to everyone’s lips.

 

“Thank you dear. It will be perfect for tomorrow,” their mother thanked.

 

Karamatsu only shook his head as he took the now empty shopping bag and folded it before putting it into one of the cabinets. “Is Todomatsu sleeping?” he asked.

 

“Yes. He played earlier quite a lot with Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu, right?” Matsuyo asked the two and Jyushimatsu nodded viciously while Ichimatsu gave one nod. “He must have gotten tired but I think he’ll wake up soon.”

 

“Okay,” the second born answered. “I’ll go change to something more comfortable,” he informed the others and left the room. He walked up the stairs where they had a children's gate in both ends to prevent the youngest from falling down the stairs and getting hurt if he was running around without anyone looking after his every move. Karamatsu crossed the hallway and opened the door to his shared room with his brothers. It was dark with all the curtains closed and he switched the lights on as he stepped inside. That gained an annoyed groan from under the blankets on the futon where a familiar lump was laying.

 

It wasn’t at all unusual that the eldest was still in the bed when Karamatsu got back home from the work so he didn’t pay much attention to it. He had decided to try his best not to try to give any suggestions to Osomatsu as it always only led to bickering, the oldest getting angry and Karamatsu ending up apologizing. But Karamatsu couldn’t deny that he did get some joy from such small things like switching on lights when the oldest was still trying to sleep in the middle of the day.

 

“Good afternoon brother,” Karamatsu greeted as he went to the closet and started to look for suitable clothes.

 

Osomatsu groaned more. “Did you have to put on the lights without a warning? You know, I have a horrible hangover,” he mumbled from under the blankets.

 

Karamatsu glanced at him. “Again. Osomatsu-niisan that’s not healthy,” he said and started to undress.

 

“Mmmmm. But I had fun,” the oldest said. “Karamatsu could you bring your poor oniichan a glass of water?” he asked.

 

Karamatsu sighed and pulled on his blue hoodie. “Of course brother.” He finished dressing himself, went to the door and left the room.

 

Osomatsu was 22 years old, not studying or working. Karamatsu had heard how his parents and Osomatsu himself called him NEET. From the tone how his parent said the word it sounded kind of bad. Karamatsu himself had been really close as becoming a NEET and seeing how Osomatsu spent his days he dreaded the idea of that. He held taking care of his family and helping them much too important that he could spend days doing nothing and drinking as often as the oldest seemed to do. Karamatsu didn’t have any problem with the fact that the oldest was a NEET, he had seen his ups and downs and high school alone had been rough for him so in a way it was good that Osomatsu took time finding himself and figuring out what he wanted to do for living in the future. But when he didn’t seem to have any attempt on going on with his life, Karamatsu couldn’t help but worry about him. More than that he was worried about the eldest’s unhealthy way of living.

 

Karamatsu came down the stairs and peeked to the living room where he saw the third oldest brother sitting at the table doing his homeworks. “Hello Choromatsu,” Karamatsu greeted and decided to come change a few words with the other. He always wanted to know what was new in his brothers’ lives. Choromatsu lifted his head up and greeted him back:

 

“Hi Karamatsu-niisan,” he said.

 

“What do you got here?” the second oldest asked, sat down next to him and took the book that laid open next to the notebook Choromatsu had been writing into. Karamatsu frowned. “English?” he asked and Choromatsu nodded.

 

“It’s hard,” the third born sighed.

 

Don’t give up my brother! ” Karamatsu said in broken English, giving the book back and giving a one of his cool smiles to his brother.

 

Choromatsu frowned slightly. “I don’t think you actually pronounce the words well,” he said.

 

Karamatsu chuckled. “The most important thing is that you try your best!” he said and stood up. He patted his brother on the shoulder and walked out of the room but not before saying over his shoulder: “Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need.”

 

“Mmmm. Thanks,” he heard Choromatsu to answer.

 

The second oldest went to the kitchen and took a glass from the cabinet. Their mom was still there but the two boys weren’t. “Where did Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu go?” he asked as he started to fill up the glass with water.

 

“I think they went to play to the backyard,” Matsuyo answered focused on to the papers.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan is sleeping upstairs,” Karamatsu told her.

 

Matsuyo lowered a paper she had in her hand and looked at Karamatsu frowning slightly. “I thought, or hoped, that he had went outside since I haven’t seen him at all today,” she said. Then she let out a sigh, shook her head a little and continued reading.

 

“No, he’s home,” Karamatsu said before leaving the kitchen with the glass of water. He made his way to their room where the oldest was still laying under the blankets. “Here,” Karamatsu said as he kneeled down next to the oldest and put the glass down to the floor. Osomatsu groaned, sat up and drank all the water in one go.

 

He looked tired and, well, hung over as he looked at the second oldest. “Thanks. It took a while though,” he said and yawned.

 

Karamatsu raised an eyebrow but knew that Osomatsu said that just to tease him. “I chatted a little on my way,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

 

Osomatsu rubbed his face. “I’ve seen worse.”

 

Karamatsu nodded. “Good. Take aspirin if you need,” he said.

 

“Yeah…” the oldest mumbled before he fell back down, pulling the blankets up.

 

Karamatsu huffed and was about to inform Osomatsu from the days dinner when he heard a whine, at first small and quiet before it increased into a full cry which caused even Osomatsu to raise up his head looking towards the door. Karamatsu got to his feet quickly and left the room. On his way to their parents’ room he shouted to downstairs: “I got him!” Then he slid the cracked door of the bedroom wide open.

 

There on the futon of his parents was his youngest brother Todomatsu who was sitting up crying. Upon seeing Karamatsu the tone of his crying changed a little and he lift up his arms wanting to be hold by the older brother.

 

“Hi Todomatsu,” Karamatsu said with his sunny and kind voice that was a bit higher than how he normally talked. “It’s okay. Kara-niisan is here,” he said and bend over to pick up the crying youngest who was reaching towards him with his tiny arms. Karamatsu picked him up and rocked him in his arms calmingly. Quickly Todomatsu stopped his crying and gripped onto Karamatsu’s blue hoodie.

 

“Yeah? See, it’s fine,” Karamatsu spoke gently and petted other’s soft hair gently and kissed his forehead. Todomatsu placed his other hand on Karamatsu’s cheek, petted it twice and then a bright smile appeared on his face. Without noticing Karamatsu’s own smile brightened as well. There was nothing as sincere and beautiful as child’s smile.

 

“Nii!” Todomatsu said happily.

 

Karamatsu nodded encouragingly. “Yes! Niisan.”

 

“Niitan!” the youngest copied and gave a short laugh.

 

Karamatsu smiled proudly. “You’re so talented dear Totty. Soon I won’t get a say when you’re talking all the time!” he said and started walking back to the downstairs holding his baby brother in his arms, talking the whole time.

 

Todomatsu was few months over one year old and the youngest of their family. Karamatsu had been taking part of his care taking as much as he possibly could and there wasn’t a day he wouldn’t spent time with the toddler. Karamatsu had been really interested on all of his younger brothers and helping in their care taking but now that he was older, understood things better and had time, he had formed a so, so strong bond with him.

 

When Karamatsu had been so involved with everyday of the youngest life, it was almost unbelievable for him to think how fast the other had grown. He was already walking around the house, sometimes in alarming speed and only occasionally falling. Todomatsu understood talking and could say a few words like ‘mom’, ‘dad’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, names of his brothers (even if the pronunciation was all wrong) and few random words. Their mother had also almost two months ago stopped breastfeeding him. Todomatsu was such a big boy already and Karamatsu couldn’t be prouder. I was weird how that small boy could become anything in the future. Karamatsu had faith in all of his brothers but this small, precious baby that he had been nurturing with such devoting was his star of hope.

 

Karamatsu himself was now 19 years old. He had finished high school but was unable to get to the university he had wanted. He would admit that when Todomatsu was born in his senior year, much of his concentration and interest to the school was moved to the new born brother. Luckily Karamatsu had gotten a part time job from nearby shop. However, he hadn’t applied to any school that year because he had been so busy with work and helping at home. He didn’t have any regrets because long university days wouldn’t allow him to spend much time with his brothers. He was happy with how his life was now.

 

Karamatsu stepped to the kitchen with Todomatsu. “Mom!” the youngest said happily when seeing their mother and reached towards her with his small hands.

 

Matsuyo turned to look at them, smiling lovingly. “Hello sweetie!” she said and picket Todomatsu up from the second oldest. “Did you sleep well?” she asked and got a smile for an answer. Their mother looked at Karamatsu: “Thank you!”

 

Karamatsu flipped his bangs. “Heh! Don’t thank me. You know I would do anything.”

 

“I know you would and I can’t thank you enough,” she answered petting Totty’s soft, black hair. “I should start preparing the dinner soon,” she said and offered Todomatsu back to Karamatsu who picked him up gladly.

 

“Then I’ll change Todomatsu’s diaper and feed him,” he said and left the room with his brother.

 

On their way to the utility room to change Totty he saw how the oldest dragged himself down the stairs. “You’re up,” Karamatsu said to him with a smile.

 

“Unfortunately,” Osomatsu answered and walked next to them. “Hello my small man!” he said grinning happily to Todomatsu and ruffled his hair gently. The youngest laughed and grabbed Osomatsu’s nose with his hand.

 

“Oww!” Osomatsu said and pried himself free. “Nice! You’re so strong Totty. I bet you could beat Karamatsu in a fight already,” he said and chuckled rubbing the underside of his nose with his finger. Todomatsu giggled more at his funny older brother.

 

Karamatsu chuckled as well. “I'm sure. Now, we have some business to do, right Todomatsu?” he said and walked the two of them away.

 

---

 

After changing Todomatsu's diaper and feeding him, Karamatsu was sitting in the living room where the three school boys were doing their homeworks. Karamatsu was reading a magazine and helped them if needed. Todomatsu was again energetic and he was running around from the living room to kitchen and in the hallway. Osomatsu was laying on the living room floor a comic book in his hand but he had gotten too tired of reading it. Instead he was just laying doing nothing and he was playing with the youngest. Todomatsu came every few minutes to stand right next to the oldest or he might even poke him. Then Osomatsu would suddenly move and try to catch the youngest who always screamed high-pitchedly and escaped while the oldest said something threatening like 'Now I'll catch you!’ and when he caught him he said ‘This time you won't escape!’ even if he always let him wiggle away from his hold. Todomatsu's laughs were contagious and Karamatsu couldn't help but laugh himself. However, Choromatsu was getting irritated.

 

“Could you stop shouting? I can't focus!” he snapped.

 

“Sorry. This is too much fun without much work. You should go upstairs,” Osomatsu said.

 

Karamatsu smiled apologetically. “I'm sorry Choromatsu,” he said.

 

Choromatsu groaned and leant closer to his books. “Whatever. I'm soon finished,” he mumbled quietly. Choromatsu's first year in high school would soon end and he had a tendency to stress about things and the exams coming closer weren't helping.

 

Then Todomatsu ran again to the room and stopped next to the unmoving oldest who laid his arm laying over his eyes hiding them. The youngest babbled something to get his attention but Osomatsu didn't react. Then Todomatsu poked him to the side and scrambled further away letting out a scream but nothing happened. He looked confused and walked back closer to the oldest poking him again.

 

“Oto-nii,” Totty called and finally climbed on top of Osomatsu's stomach. He waited for some reaction and started to move around wiggling.

 

Then suddenly Osomatsu attacked and wrapped Todomatsu between his arms tightly. “I got you now!” he shouted and Todomatsu in his part gasped before starting screaming. Both of them were smiling brightly.

 

“This time I'll eat you!” Osomatsu told, stood up with the struggling youngest and ran out of the room Totty laughing and screaming. From the hallway they could hear Osomatsu blowing raspberries and Todomatsu giggling wildly. Then Todomatsu ran back to the living room screaming and jumped to Karamatsu's lap. Osomatsu lazily walked back to the room laughing. Todomatsu tried to hide himself better behind Karamatsu arms.

 

“Niitan!” he shouted. Karamatsu hugged him tightly.

 

“Worry not dear brother,” Karamatsu started. “I won't let him eat you.”

 

Then without a warning when Osomatsu had taken few steps further, a yellow flash collided with him making him stumble. “I want to play too!” Jyushimatsu shouted and Osomatsu got a hold of him. Ichimatsu followed curiously from his spot and Choromatsu held his head between his hands trying to focus.

 

“Did you do your homework?” Osomatsu asked.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded smiling brightly. “I did!”

 

“Good job! Then let’s go to the backyard so that Choromatsu can study,” he said and moved Jyushimatsu to his back where the second youngest hang with his arms wrapped around Osomatsu’s neck and feet digging to his sides for support. Osomatsu walked behind the third youngest and grabbed him to his arms where he struggled.

 

“Osomatsu-niisan!” Ichimatsu said annoyedly but his fighting was halfhearted. He most often wanted to be part of games but was too shy and reserved to tell it himself.

 

“It’s fine. Let’s have some fun!” Osomatsu said and carried the two brothers away Jyushimatsu laughing on his back. “Besides, it’s enough that we have one nerd in our family.”

 

Choromatsu gave an annoyed glance to the oldest’s back but didn’t say anything.

 

“Do you wanna go with them?” Karamatsu asked from the youngest who was still seeking safety from his lap. Todomatsu turned his head to meet his eyes but before he got to answer the front door opened.

 

“I’m home!” their father’s voice called.

 

“Dad!” Totty shouted and pried himself free and wobbled to the front door and out of Karamatsu’s eyes but he could hear the happy babble and Matsuzo talking to the toddler.

 

Matsuyo walked out of the kitchen to greet her husband. “Welcome home dear. The food will be soon,” she said.

 

“Thank you dear!” Matsuzo said and he appeared to the doorway to the living room. Totty was walking next to him. “Hello boys!” their father greeted Karamatsu and Choromatsu and both of them said their hellos. Todomatsu babbled something and came back to the living room to sat on Karamatsu’s lap who petted his hair and kissed his head.

 

Matsuyo appeared to the living room carrying glasses that she set on the table. Choromatsu closed his school books and moved them away from the table. “I’ll help you,” he said and went to the kitchen.

 

“Thank you Choromatsu,” their mom thanked and the two of them set the table.

 

The dinner was normal. Their parents always ate across the hallway in the kitchen while the boys had occupied the table of the living room. It depended a day whether Todomatsu would be eating with Karamatsu or their mother. Osomatsu was making funny faces, joking around and playing with the food while Jyushimatsu was laughing loudly and Ichimatsu chuckling and snickering. Karamatsu was trying to shush them and Choromatsu snapped to the oldest from time to time about how he at least should behave. They were so loud that even their mother, who was helping Todomatsu to eat, ordered them to eat and not play with their food which calmed Osomatsu down.

 

After the dinner Ichimatsu and Choromatsu helped with the dishes and the two oldests kept the two youngests happy. Jyushimatsu would have gone to help Ichimatsu for sure but from experience they knew that it was best to keep him away from the dishes.

 

Osomatsu laid on his stomach while Jyushimatsu were stepping on his back. The oldest called it massaging and Jyushimatsu was happy to help. “I think it’s about time to go to the bath house,” Osomatsu said.

 

Karamatsu glanced the clock and nodded. “I’ll go pack their baskets if you’ll take care of them again.”

 

“Sure!” Osomatsu said and rolled to his back causing Jyushimatsu to fell on top of him. Karamatsu smiled, tightened his hold of the youngest in his arms and stood up. He went to their room, decided clean clothes for Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu and packed their small bath house baskets.

 

Karamatsu made his way back to the kitchen where the two brothers had finished washing the dishes. Their mother and father were sitting there talking as Karamatsu appeared there holding the youngest still in his arms. “They’re going to the bath house soon,” he informed. “I can stay here and bathe Totty,” he told.

 

Matsuzo smiled at him but didn’t have time to say anything before Matsuyo said: “No. Go with your brothers for once. You stay behind to bathe him so often,” she said kindly.

 

Karamatsu looked down at the toddler in his arms who sensed the look and looked up to his brother so that their eyes met. Todomatsu looked at him questioningly before a smile appeared on his face. Karamatsu smiled back to him before looking back to their parents. “Fine. I’ll go this time,” he said and gave the youngest to their mom. Then he went to the living room where the rest of his brothers were.

 

“I’m coming with you this time,” he told them.

 

“Alright!” Osomatsu said and gave a thumbs up. Jyushimatsu cheered. The oldest stood up stretching. “Let’s get going then that these two can go to sleep.”

 

---

 

Karamatsu couldn’t deny that the trip to the bath house had been welcome. He had had a chance to relax when Osomatsu had looked after Jyushimatsu even if the second born couldn’t completely leave it to him when the second youngest was running around on the slippery floors and swimming in the bath where it wasn’t allowed. But it was nice when he had gotten an opportunity to talk with Choromatsu and Ichimatsu.

 

The three youngests were about to go to sleep and Karamatsu was brushing Todomatsu’s teeth. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu was brushing theirs next to them.

 

“I’m ready!” Jyushimatsu announced.

 

Karamatsu glanced at him. “Let Ichimatsu check it.”

 

Jyushimatsu turned to the third youngest and opened his mouth wide. Ichimatsu took his toothbrush, eyed his teeth and brushed few times. “It’s good,” he said.

 

“Thank you Ichi-niisan!” Jyushimatsu said, washed his toothbrush and dashed out of the room dragging Ichimatsu with him.

 

Karamatsu chuckled and put away Todomatsu’s toothbrush as well. “Let’s go then Totty,” he said and the youngest waddled after him. They went to their parents’ room where Matsuyo was taking out the futon. “He’s ready to sleep now,” Karamatsu told.

 

“That’s good. Come here Totty so we can go to sleep. Say good night to Karamatsu.”

 

Todomatsu gripped onto the second oldest’s pant leg. “No!” he shrieked.

 

“Come on now,” Matsuyo said and picked the cranky toddler to her arms. “Good night Karamatsu,” she said as an clue to leave them.

 

“No!” Totty shouted again and started screaming as he tried to wiggle himself free from the grasp.

 

“Good night!” Karamatsu said and left the room closing the door after him. He made his way to their shared room where Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu were already laying under the blankets. “Good night!” Karamatsu told them and switched off the light. Both of them answered to him. Karamatsu smiled and walked downstairs and to the living room where Osomatsu and Choromatsu were watching television.

 

He sat himself down to the sofa next to them. “Shouldn’t you be going to sleep soon?” he asked from the third brother.

 

Choromatsu looked at him. “I think you should too,” he answered. “I’ll go when this ends.”

 

Karamatsu smiled lopsidedly. “I suppose I should,” he answered.

 

Once the program ended Choromatsu left the room and Karamatsu rose up to follow after him. However, he turned to look at the oldest who was quick to claim the whole sofa to himself. “Will you join us?” the second oldest asked.

 

“Nah. I can’t sleep in many hours,” the oldest answered with a smirk. “Hey Karamatsu, would you join your niisan and come to play pachinko some day?”

 

Karamatsu smiled. “Of course brother. But I’m not sure when I have time.”

 

Osomatsu gave him a look. “Seriously, you work too much. Especially at home. You should take a day off. Mom can handle things on her own, you know. And you don’t need to be always be with Totty.”

 

The second oldest frowned. “I enjoy nothing more than being with my family. And the younger ones needs us oldests.”

 

“Sure, sure but not all the time.”

 

Karamatsu sighed. “I’d love to join you and I’ll do so when I can,” he said and left the room. Osomatsu made it quite often clear that he thought that Karamatsu was just trying too much and he should try to live more like himself but Karamatsu thought otherwise.

 

The second born brushed his teeth, changed to pajamas and slid the door to their room open. Jyushimatsu was snoring loudly and Ichimatsu breathed calmly next to him. Choromatsu laid next to them but Karamatsu knew he wasn’t asleep yet.

 

Quietly the second oldest slipped to his spot at the other side of Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu and watched his younger brothers smiling fondly before he closed his eyes.