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when i look at the stars

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          “Why won’t you just be fucking honest with your feelings?!”

          Saburo lowers his eyes to where Jiro is gripping his wrist so tightly it hurts, and he belatedly realizes he’s been biting the inside of his cheek this entire time because he starts to taste iron in his mouth. The latter, he can easily hide, because thankfully oral checkups aren’t part of the hypnosis mic-wielder routine, but the former, if Jiro doesn’t let go at this rate…

          Even if Saburo can excuse that it’s just another stupid fight gone too far when Ichiro comes home and notices, he’ll still have to explain what this fight was about to begin with, and why it warranted a bruise, why it’s warranting Jiro looking at him with dead-serious eyes and refusing to let him go without an answer.

          Saburo knows he isn’t strong enough to break away, not when Jiro’s like this. So to satisfy whatever reason Jiro has for desperately wanting some response, and to save himself the trouble of justifying an injury, Saburo answers simply: “Because I don’t wanna lose to you.”

          “Lose…?”

          The fingers around his wrist loosen and Saburo gets ready to turn around—an answer is an answer even if neither of them can tell if it’s true or honest or good enough— but then those fingers catch in the collar of his shirt instead and yank.

          “This ain’t a game, Saburo—” Jiro spits, “we’re brothers!”

          Ah, Saburo realizes, Jiro wasn’t satisfied with his answer at all after all. He can feel Jiro trembling through the stretch of the cloth, can hear Jiro’s voice shaking,

          “The world isn’t your enemy.” Jiro pauses, letting go. “And even if it is, I’m not. I’m on your side, Saburo, both me and Niichan are…!”

          Saburo knows he isn’t strong enough to step away, not when Jiro’s voice cracked. But he isn’t strong enough to listen either, take these words in and just stop being cynical lickety-split, “That’s not how it works—”

          “—Then how does it work?!” Jiro interjects, clueless, appalled, “This is the problem with you and I don’t get it…!”

          Ah. At that, wryly and in spite of the ache of his wrist where Jiro held him and his heart where it feels hollow, Saburo smiles. “Well, I don’t expect an idiot like you to get it.” Saburo doesn’t expect anyone to.

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          “Wait right there, Saburo!” Ichiro calls; he’s currently sorting and flipping through volumes and volumes of his shoujo manga collection, though not without insisting that he’s not getting distracted or forgetting what Saburo’s here for.

          Saburo visited Ichiro’s room on a whim—except not really—needing some advice, and, there’s no one in the house more qualified to give any than his amazing, trustworthy big brother. (Technically, he could have asked Jiro, since the guy’s surprisingly experienced with this kind of thing, but, well, in Saburo’s opinion, even the panic over receiving a love letter isn’t worth lowering his pride to his middle brother.)

          It’s been half an hour with Ichiro sat on the floor in front of his aggressively opening books to confession scenes of varying art styles and degrees of cheesiness. When Ichiro slams a huge volume on the ground, Saburo stands up from the couch and to attention, listening intently as Ichiro sets a fist down on the cover with finality and exclaims: “I got it! Just give them a clear answer, no matter what. Respect that they had the courage to tell you they like you, and if you acknowledge them, great! But if you have someone else you like, you can just say that and it’ll be just as chill.”

          Ichiro’s eyes are sparkling, the way that leaves no room for doubt in Saburo’s mind, so without stopping to even think about his reply, Saburo beams: “If it’s about courage, then the one I like most is Ichi-nii…!”

          Ichiro’s on his feet instantly at that and rushing to Saburo, pulling him in for a half-hug and ruffling his hair. “Aww Saburo, I like you an’ Jiro the most, too!”

          “Must you mention Jiro,” Saburo huffs, trying to pull back.

          Ichiro doesn’t let him; hugging Saburo tighter, he laughs, “Me and Jiro read the same stuff, so if you asked him he’d say the same thing, y’know!”

          “Why would I ask that idiot?!” Saburo defends. 

          “It runs in the genes!” Ichiro cackles, smothering Saburo some more.

          Saburo sighs, burying his face in Ichiro’s chest. This is ridiculous, but hey, at least now he knows for sure what to say next time anyone’s insane enough to try to confess to him: his brothers are the only ones he has a heart for. And, it runs in the genes.

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          “Yamada!”

          Saburo tenses purely out of reflex, even though the voice calling out to him is a little more familiar to him than it used to be. It’s kind of like deja vu: the school bell just rang and lunch break’s just started, he’s beelining to the door to escape the dumb bustle of his classroom for the hour, and something is stopping him in his tracks. But different from yesterday, he thinks better of his reaction.

          Thinks about how he should ignore it, at least this time. Keep walking regardless of the stupidity he hears his classmates spewing, because hasn’t he gotten used to this?

          But he couldn’t stand hearing them talk out of their asses. Saburo could laugh it off if he heard them complaining about the preoccupations that kept them from studying properly, but he drew the line at their desecrating his favorite card game and playing by faulty rules. So curry bun in hand and out of reflex, too, he turned to them to interrupt their fun and say “That ain’t it.” 

          By their silence Saburo had already realized he shouldn’t have said anything; if any of them glared at him and told him to piss off for being a know-it-all, he wouldn’t have been surprised. To his surprise though their eyes only softened, and with a humility unfamiliar to Saburo they replied, “Guess we got it wrong... Can you explain that to us?”

          When Saburo had approached yesterday, he swore in his head that it was only reasonable to; even if he’s aware that he’s not obliged to educate every idiot he comes across, he couldn’t just let people mess up games he likes—it was simply such a shame— even if it ate up his entire lunch break. It’s the same reason he doesn’t hesitate today, as they flash him a grin and gesture to an empty chair they’d dragged into a circle with others around their desk and cheer,

          “Tell us more about cool card games, Yamada!”

          He wonders if he really shouldn’t have said anything. But either way, he stops thinking, because he has no excuse for the excitement he feels when he sits down, takes the cards, and grins back: “Fine, but don’t blame me if you all lose!”

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                Saburo jolts awake, his neck stiff, the television screen blank blue. When he checks the time it’s past 4 in the morning. He rises from the couch to stretch, bending down to touch his toes. His fingers brush against something misplaced and he spots a mop of black hair by his feet, making him jolt all over again and fall over.

                Saburo’s eyes widen; he finds his brothers sprawled across the floor, lit by the static screen: Ichiro on his stomach by the table, Jiro on his back by the couch. Saburo has the passing thought that he should kick Jiro’s head.

                But then Jiro would stir and ruin the peace of this scene—even if they look ridiculous like this. Saburo can’t recall whose bright idea it was to binge-watch three seasons of whatever just came out on blu-ray as soon as they let out for summer break officially; the last thing Saburo remembers is the loss of warmth from his brothers migrating from the couch to the floor to watch closer.

                Saburo slowly gets back on his feet and tilts his head, wondering how he’s gonna get his brothers to their beds. Saburo’s not strong enough to even drag them, he’s tempted to leave them here for dead. All he can do is take the remote control of the television and turn it off.

                Past yesterday afternoon’s anime marathon negotiations, Saburo has vivid memories of the first night of every summer vacation; he somehow always ends up just lying in the dark to wait for twilight, a shade of blue just like this now that the lights are out.

                Saburo feels no panic about having to rush to get ready for school, only the urge to find his brothers and sneak in between them while they’re sleeping, like he used to when he was in elementary school.

                Aided by twilight, Saburo paces over to Ichiro’s bed and grabs the blankets. He surmises his brothers will wake up once the sun is up and out, so for now, he’ll be his elementary self: step between Jiro and Ichiro, settle listlessly onto the rug, and throw the blanket onto all of them.

                Despite the sound of Ichiro snoring and Jiro picking a fight with the anime’s antagonist in his dreams, and despite the fact that he’ll definitely wake up later with another stiff neck, Saburo smiles and falls asleep.

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          Saburo likes to spend his lunch breaks in two places: the rooftop of the school’s main building for the fresh air which is a break from the stifling air in his classroom, and the plot behind the school gym for the company of the lower years’ class pets who are easier to deal with than his classmates by miles.

           Except today he caught a couple in the middle of what was obviously a confession when he got to the rooftop, and the rabbit cages behind the gym were being cleaned— there was no reason for him to hang around while either of those things is happening.

           That left Saburo with either back to the classroom with his classmates which is what and whom Saburo’s been trying to avoid to begin with, and  out in the yard past the school gate. Saburo went for the schoolyard.

           At least here even if he weren’t alone, everyone’s busy with their own thing: that group of rowdy boys from another class kicking a ball around, a couple of girls hanging around near the gate to talk with friends from another school, and himself with a curry bun and the latest light novel his brothers had begged him to read.

           To be fair, the book was good. So good that by the time the girls had to scramble to say goodbye to their friends, Saburo still couldn’t let go of it, and he’d decided he’d just have to make it back to the classroom somehow with his eyes glued to the page he was reading—

           “—Watch out!”

           With hesitation Saburo looks up from his book, only to see a ball flying full-speed straight at him from those boys. Unshaken from years of (un)willing practice with Jiro, Saburo lets his reflexes take over, folding his arm behind his back to protect his brothers’ book and jumping up to receive the ball with his chest, swiftly kicking it back across the yard the moment it drops. “You watch it!” he shoots back.

           Saburo jogs into the building, book in hand and eyes down, leaving behind the indistinct, impressed chatter that fills the schoolyard at the outcome of events.

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          “Saburo, Niichan,” Jiro prompts, “Ever feel like you’re lookin’ in a mirror when you look at me?”

          Saburo wants to beg Jiro to please not say anything stupid but stops in favor of letting Ichiro chime in,

          “Now that y’mention it, yeah!”

          Saburo watches his brothers look into each other’s eyes with an intensity that mismatches the way they’re grinning, the way Ichiro chuckles,

          “It’s our green, right?”

          “Mhm! I’m super glad you get me, Niichan!”

          “‘f course!”

          They break away, but because Ichiro’s gone along with Jiro’s hype and ridden it, Saburo’s forced to turn the exchange over in his head. ‘A mirror’ and ‘our green?’ Saburo meets Jiro’s eyes for a split second, realizes what he means: because Jiro’s green eye is opposite where his brothers’ are, looking at him gives rise to the illusion of a reflection. Leave it to Jiro to only realize this when they’re already well into their teenage years—leave it to all of them, actually, but it’s no matter to Saburo; it’s just genetics—

          “It’s why we’re the same!” Ichiro continues, “’m sure even Saburo feels that you two’re the same!”

          Now Saburo speaks up: “With all due respect, Ichi-nii, don’t lump me in with the likes of this idiot—”

          “—But we are the same!” Jiro interrupts.

          Saburo rolls his eyes and challenges, “And just how on earth are we the same?”

          “Well…” Jiro lights up with realization: “You an’ me both love Niichan!”

          “That’s…” Saburo pauses; they can argue about the right way to look up to Ichiro, but Saburo can’t claim Jiro loves him any less, so he finishes: “valid.”

          “Plus,” Ichiro adds belatedly, “I love Jiro an’ Saburo both!”

          Saburo quickly finds his words after gasping with Jiro, though not without a lovestruck “I-Ichi-nii…!” After a beat of embarrassment he clears his throat, snapping at Jiro, “But! Aren’t you ashamed comparing yourself to Ichi-nii?! How are you and Ichi-nii the same?!”

          “Oh that? That’s easy!” Unfazed, Jiro glances at Ichiro. “Right, Niichan?”

          “‘f course!’

          With pride, confidence, and Ichiro’s approval, Jiro sticks it to Saburo good: “Both Niichan an’ me love ya!”

          “—That’s—!” Saburo pauses; the heck?! saying that kind of thing out of nowhere… they can argue just to argue, but Saburo can’t claim that his brothers don’t love him, so he goes along with the hype, rides it, too, finishing again: “…valid.”

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          It’s partly cloudy today, Saburo observes, for no particular reason he swears. He’s simply passing the time; done with his exam an entire half hour early even after reviewing and revising his answers and uninterested in risking getting in trouble lest he meet anyone’s eyes, he’s faced his paper down on his desk and cast his gaze elsewhere. Out the window’s caught his attention, and he’s caught himself daydreaming about the weather.

          Saburo’s sworn off unnecessary, unproductive social interaction for several reasons. He’s cynical, and guarded, and far above such trivialities. He’s realized he’s no fun to chat with anyways: always questioning things, always correcting, always sounding like a smartass, because he saves his breath exclusively for sense that can curb dumbass things the people around him say and rap with his brothers that can light up this town, change this world. That’s all he’s here for, Saburo tells himself, that’s all he is.

          When Saburo finds himself making a special mental note of the observation that the sky is partly cloudy, he clicks his tongue quietly— small talk about the weather is unnecessary and unproductive. Saburo wills himself to forget about it, decide to get up, pass his exam and go, because at this point there’s no point sticking around.

          Even if it’s just about the weather, Saburo tells himself… It’s not like anyone will wanna come talk to him anyways.

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          There’s something Saburo likes about routines. In the morning it’s get up a few minutes before the alarm rings to beat Jiro to the bathroom, hang out there till Jiro panickily bangs on the door and yells at him to get out so he can get ready, too, so they'd still have time for breakfast with their big brother, and then leave for school.

          But this morning somehow even that sounds entirely unappealing. Saburo’s body clock and calendar told him it’s the middle of the week and it’s time to rise and shine, so he’s trudged his way to the bathroom begrudgingly.

          All rise, no shine, the rain overnight had given Saburo dreams (or nightmares) that he can’t remember but still feels haunted by, and in this rain, in this state, he’d kill for a chance to just ruin his routine and go back to bed. Instead, without willing himself to, he sits on the toilet for who knows how long, not moving to fix himself up.

          Right on cue comes Jiro’s knocking, loud and annoying and funny on sunnier days. Saburo gets the idea that he can break at least this part of the routine, open the door without making Jiro beg.

          Jiro’s surprised when Saburo greets him, raising an eyebrow because he’d opened the door quicker than usual. 

          Saburo shrugs.

          Jiro shrugs it off. “Radio said classes are suspended today ‘cause of the storm. Niichan said to have breakfast then we can sleep in some more. You good with that?”

          Perfect. Saburo waits for Jiro to turn around to go to the kitchen before he lets himself smile. More sleep after a hearty meal with his brothers? Despite the storm, Saburo muses that the odds are in his favor today.

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          When they sorted the requests they got this morning, Saburo knew he wouldn’t have to go out. Happily, he retreats to his room upstairs after receiving his info-hunting mission from Ichiro. Currently, his brothers are discussing their own assignments down at the office, splitting those that are more labor-intensive between the two of them. It’s just efficiency— Saburo has the best resources for research, and Ichiro and Jiro have the heart and muscle to be running around Ikebukuro all day— and definitely not because Saburo hates the outdoors or anything… Saburo lives with a lot of things and while going out when he has to is one of them, he just happens to thoroughly enjoy being in his room with his computers all day if he could help it.

          It also saves him the trouble of heat rashes from shirts soaked in sweat on days when the sun is extremely brutal, the icky feeling of socks and shoes soaked in rain on days the sun pretends it doesn’t exist. Like today.

          Earlier, while his brothers were busy singing his previous work praises—“so the harder broker jobs are yours now, ‘kay?”—Saburo glanced out the window and saw through the Yorozuya Yamada decals that the sun was going in hiding again. Sat on his computer chair, Saburo kicks and rolls towards his monitor to open a browser and diligently check today’s forecast.

          Rain in a bit, Saburo reads, but he knows that’s not going to stop his brothersnothing can, not soaked shirts nor soaked socks. Saburo’s a bit of a wimp compared to them in that regard, but they all just do their own thing and it’s completely fine. So before he starts on his own work for good and becomes unbotherable till he’s done, Saburo gets up and out of his room, grabbing Jiro’s and Ichiro’s blue and red umbrellas from where they keep them, setting them by the door for them to pick up on their way out.

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          The realization that he towers over everyone in his class in both brightness and height is quite a dull one on Saburo’s part.

          When test papers for an exceptionally hard exam are given back or when extracurricular academic competitions are announced, his classmates throw glances at him, unshocked and unsurprised, before his name is even called for getting a hundred and ten points out of a hundred, or for a just-asking-for-formality'sake-because-the-year-level-coordinator’s-actually-already-decided-but “Yamada-kun, would you do the honor of representing your class to this season’s math olympics?”

          And when one of the lights in the classroom starts flickering or when his classmates start a ruckus throwing each other’s school supplies around only to land on the top ledge of the blackboard, they turn to him, uncool and uninspired, and before he’s asked for help Saburo is already on his feet to step on a chair then a tabletop to reach up and screw the bulb secure, or on his toes with his arms outstretched to feel for someone’s brand new mechanical pencil among the dust.

          That’s what it means to be outstanding, literally.

          But when he comes home to his brothers wailing about a project that’s just announced its discontinuation and trying to explain to him why the entire thing is heartbreaking, unashamed and unstoppable, Saburo feels absolutely none the wiser, and before this escalates to something that’ll make Saburo lose his mind completely he simply bows and apologizes for his inability to comprehend their ramblings just to pacify them. Then they say it’s okay, patting his head and tackling him with particular ease.

          At the sensation, another realization dawns on Saburo, because he forgets: no matter how much smarter or taller he is than his classmates, his older brothers are still smarter and taller than him— they may always be— and that, that isn’t dull at all; he’s called little brother for a reason after all.

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          Saburo’s very much aware that some things are out of his control. Many of the games of life he plays depend on luck—he’s learned the hard way—and he only has to make the most out of what he’s given.

          The awareness doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to complain though, because at the moment he has no idea how to make anything out of this.

          He and his brothers come home with strange news and things on occasion—Ikebukuro being Ikebukuro and all— but Saburo can’t come up with one good reason to be trudging along the path to Yorozuya Yamada carrying a brand-new microwave oven on a Thursday afternoon.

          Saburo can hardly see where he’s walking over the top of the box, and his arms are straining, his hands are full. But he wasn’t about to hassle the old lady owner of the supermarket by demanding arrangements to have this shipped to their office instead, she had so kindly and so happily told him that his smart shopping had earned the Yamadas’s loyalty card enough points to qualify for a couple of entries in their latest promo raffle; she gushed about how glad she was that Saburo had come by at the perfect time so she could award it to him directly.

          And all this because it just so happened to be Saburo’s turn to do groceries and make dinner tonight. If it were either of his brothers, Saburo wouldn’t be out of breath and dinner would be ready by now... Saburo wonders if his brothers would even be excited about a free microwave oven. He can imagine they’d just laugh at his luck.

          Weariness sinking in, Saburo doesn’t exactly feel like he’d actually won anything. He just feels like he’s been played by life like a game.

          But, well, games are always pretty fun.

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          “High school entrance exams?” Jiro sounds curious when Saburo overhears him, and settling by the doorway he continues to listen in. “No need to worry about that, Niichan.”

          “Can’t help it,” Ichiro says sheepishly, “The whole Division Rap Battle thing’s a pain in the ass, can’t imagine it’s not getting in the way of your guys’s studies.”

          “Saburo’s a genius,” Jiro replies, confidence unmisplaced. “He’s managing! Can’t say the same about me, but… that’s not really DRB’s fault, I’m just an idiot, hehe.”

          “You’re doing well too, y’know? As long as you graduate, it’s all good…” Ichiro pauses for thought before starting with Saburo again, “Anyway, think he wants to go to cram school? Been hearing ‘bout a good private high school in East Ikebukuro, something ‘bout being great for high-performing students or some shit—”

          “Niichan, seriously?” Jiro tuts jokingly exasperatedly, “Cram school for a private high school? That’s a ton of money down the drain—”

          “—I’ll make it work!” Ichiro insists, “If it’s for Saburo—”

          “—Exactly, Niichan, it’s for Saburo,” Jiro corrects, only the slightest hint of cocky when he does because this is Ichiro he’s talking to, and this is Saburo he’s talking about: “That guy can land any high school he wants without cram school, plus he’d be—what’s the word—? high-performing no matter whatever. Trust me on this.”

          “Jiro…”

          “Besides, hate to say it but me an’ that brat are the same,” Jiro whistles, “We both think the closer to home the better, miss us with that East bullshit! We just wanna keep helping you out right here, Niichan!”

          “I…” Ichiro trails off again  before reassuring himself and Jiro (and Saburo), “Alright.”

          “Heh,” Jiro chuckles, and Saburo can picture Ichiro putting a fist to his chest; he takes this, and the fuzzy feeling in his chest from finding out that his brothers believe in him this much, as his cue to leave.

          But before he can, he hears Ichiro tease, “Then Jiro, does that mean it’s fine if Saburo goes to the same school ‘s you?”

          And before he can stop himself, Saburo steps in and joins Jiro in chorus: ““No way!!””

 

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          Saburo’s once mused that he and his brothers must have some homing devices built into them that lets them sense when they get too far from one another when they’re together. So, he shouldn’t be too surprised when his brothers realize that he’s fallen behind and come back for him.

          Should’ve been ready to turn away from the shop window so they didn’t catch him looking in longingly, so they don’t start asking, “Whatcha lookin’ at over there, Saburo?”

          “N-nothing!” Saburo quips, jogging along after them, but they’re already searching for what he was preoccupied with over his shoulder.

          They continue past him, right to the spot where Saburo was standing, and peer into the shop window less than discreetly, comment less than discreetly, “You were lookin’ at that giant penguin plushie, Saburo?”

          “N-N-No!” Saburo defends, excuses, lies, more like it, “I was just— the tag said it’s limited edition, so I was trying to inspect it to see what’s so special about it, that’s all…!”

          Jiro raises an eyebrow, not buying it for a second. “Man, just admit it’s cute, you weirdo—”

          “—Yeah!” Ichiro cheers in agreement, walking to the door of the shop with Jiro right behind him. “Bet it feels as fluffy as it looks, let’s go in and check it out—”

          “Why though?!” Saburo interjects.

          "You don’t wanna?” they ask non-committally, strolling in without waiting for Saburo’s answer.

          Protests continue to pour out of Saburo’s mouth— he’s fourteen, far too old to still actually be enamored by stuffed toys of all things, what of it if he was looking at a giant penguin plushie—?! But, his homing device is beeping and he loses the little fight in him; he jogs into the store after his brothers.

 

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         For the third time this week on Saburo’s way home, he stops by a bush a few blocks from the yorozuya to set his bag down on the sidewalk, crouch down next to it, and bring out his half-eaten lunch. He unwraps the piece of bread, and the crinkling of the packaging is joined by several clicks of his tongue soon after.

         A tuft of fluffy black fur emerges from the leaves, bright yellow eyes blinking at him with familiarity and greeting him. It’s a stray kitten Saburo’s found (and become friends with) earlier this week on a lonely Monday afternoon, and when he reaches out she cuddles up to his hand warmly.

         Saburo pulls his hand back to tear up the bread and set it down on the plastic bag for her, and when she starts eating he puts his elbows to his knees, resting his chin on his palms to observe her. “You know,” he starts after a while, “You should try to be more careful. The world is huge and harsh, and you’re… we’re so little…”

         When she finishes eating and Saburo retrieves the bag to discard of, she cuddles up into his hand again and Saburo sighs,

         “Wanna come home with me?” Saburo puts his bag back on and picks her up. “I mean, the Yorozuya can’t exactly keep you but we’ll definitely find you someplace safer. Ichi-nii’s an expert with that kind of stuff.”  Getting back up, he continues, “Besides, aren’t you lonely being on your own out here?”

         Saburo holds her out in front of him as if waiting for an answer. And he wonders if it’s just his imagination, but with the way she meows and smiles with her baby kitten mouth, she seems to say she isn’t as lonely with Saburo around.

         Saburo cradles her in his arms and starts his way home, whispering to her that it’s mutual.

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          “To be honest, Niichan, I dunno why you bothered asking Saburo where he wanted to go,” Jiro mumbles to Ichiro when Saburo giddily leaves them behind as soon as he got his ticket checked. “Of course he’d wanna go to the aquarium.”

          “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Ichiro chuckles as they walk in. “So Saburo’s always been into this kind of thing, right? Animals and stuff.”

          “Don’t remind me,” Jiro groans, “He used to give me bugs and all sorts of creepy crawly things he found on the ground being like ‘wahhh our planet’s amaaaazing!’” Jiro pauses to cringe at his baby Saburo impression before moving on to diss Saburo, “For someone who turned out to be a whole ass genius you’d think he’d be harder to impress than that, geez.”

          “Well ain’t it because he turned out to be a whole ass genius that he’s impressed by the little things like that?” Ichiro raises.

          “Okay, point. But these days he’s quick to call me stupid if I’m impressed by anything,” Jiro complains, crossing his arms. “The little brat.”

          “I’d usually scold him for that but today’s trip here’s a reward for little bro winning that math competition,” Ichiro reminds him, “so just hang in there for now, Jiro!”

          “Hmmmph,” Jiro non-committally huffs, uncrossing his arms.

          “Ah,” Ichiro looks away from Jiro and glances around. “We lost sight of him… Any idea where he’d go first?”

          “The tank with the sardines.” When Ichiro raises an eyebrow at how quickly and surely he answered, Jiro grins. “‘Cause you’re right, Niichan! Our little bro’s impressed by the little things!”

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          If Saburo could describe the state of him at the end of today, he’d say haggard—he isn’t built for entropy and he hates it. Saburo can, though with reluctance, remember causing trouble for his brothers when he was a toddler, crying at anything for attention or giving them garbage for gifts, and even now he occasionally likes to give in to the childish impulse of mischief when it arises, but he can’t remember ever being as chaotic as the kids in the daycare earlier today.

          The ache in his muscles and in his head makes him recount fresh memories of children climbing up him like a tree and forcing him to play tag and hide and seek and house all at once, and carrying and chasing over-energetic kids around was taxing through and through.

          Saburo takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly in an attempt to curb the frustration by rationalizing; it’s not the kids’ fault that the daycare needed extra hands today because one of the staff got sick, not their fault that he was the only one available when they rung up the yorozuya for help because his brothers are out on other jobs, not their fault their parents can’t be bothered to look after them themselves.

          At least it’s only for a day: that staff’s taken their cold medicine and have been resting it off, this is a one-time job for the yorozuya so if he’s lucky he won’t have to come back, and those children… thankfully all of those children were picked up by their parents eventually. 

          Saburo feels the ache all over again; he really isn’t built for this. But, when his brothers pass by for him after their own jobs so they can all walk home together and they tease him for surviving that mess and praise him for upholding the yorozuya’s service code with a cheeky, “Good work today, Sabu-nii~” Saburo finds that he doesn’t hate it all too much in the end.

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          Up until a few years ago, Saburo was a full-fledged crybaby.

          It wasn’t that he had a particularly low pain tolerance or that crying particularly solved anything; it was just that whenever he did his brothers would come to his rescue immediately and without fail, to fight or kiss his troubles away. 

          Saburo eventually learned that he couldn’t keep doing that, of course, because he can’t be bothering his brothers too much especially now that he’s fourteen. That’s old enough to be solving his problems rationally and getting rid of his troubles by himself— if he still cries at any point doing those things on his own, it’s not in front of his brothers.

          That does’t mean crying doesn’t get him anywhere anymore these days; the same way he knows to hold it in now even when he’s in pain,  Saburo knows how to cry on command, too, even when he isn’t— so that when he feels like he’s losing a wrestling match with Jiro that evolved from bickering which Saburo totally didn't start, he can easily quit resisting when Jiro pushes him and settle with widening his eyes and letting them fill with tears.

          Then he can be sure that Jiro will back off and lose by default, and Ichiro will scold him for being mean to their baby brother, because that hasn’t changed: whenever Saburo cries, his brothers come to his rescue immediately and without fail.

Chapter Text

          The shared Yamada bathroom in the morning on days they all have somewhere to be is best characterized by chaos.

          Saburo, being Saburo though still blinking sleep away, stands back at the doorway to simply watch yet, as his brothers try their best not to poke each other’s eyes out with their toothbrushes or elbow each other in the gut the entire time they’re crammed in there together.

          Saburo has half a mind to go use the sink in the kitchen instead so that he doesn’t add to this chaos, but that would mean squeezing in there regardless to grab his toothbrush and gargling cup and a face towel and a comb and go.

          When he stretches to ready himself for the fight to retrieve his morning necessities, Saburo can’t stop the small sigh-yawn escaping him, and at the teeny-tiny sound he makes the chaos stops entirely.

          At least for long enough for Ichiro to turn around, and Jiro to crane his neck to eye him through the mirror above the sink.

          “Mornin’,” Ichiro greets after spitting into the sink, setting his toothbrush down to take Saburo’s and hand it to him with a fresh, minty smile: “Lil bro~”

          “Good morning,” Saburo returns with a nod-bow of his head and as he receives his toothbrush, “Ichi-nii—”

          “—Saburo,” Jiro mumbles, not caring for pleasantries as much as Ichiro, sticking his toothbrush back into his mouth to free his hands as he steps back and calls their little brother in, “C’mere.”

          Ichiro moves aside to make room for him, too, and just as Saburo steps in to take his towel and leave for the kitchen sink, Jiro’s put a hand on his head, pulling him to the mirror.

          Saburo only notices Jiro’s taken his comb when he takes it to his hair, starting to sort out the mess for him, a few brisk strokes at a time. “Your bedhead’s a disaster,” he mutters.

          Saburo wants to argue for the sake of it, but looking in the mirror he can’t, not really. Through the reflection over his shoulder, he catches Jiro smiling around his blue toothbrush, Ichiro under his red face towel. Catches himself smiling, too, with the yellow comb in his hair. He decides that this is chaos he can happily live with.