A/N: Another chapter for you all. :D And more or less the resolution of the Katsuharu and co. mini-arc.
The Curse of the Cat
Katsuharu returned to awareness with the feeling of someone stroking his hair. He lay quiet, enjoying the movement without really bothering to think of where it came from, or from who. Instead, he let it soothe his rapidly beating heart, glad that someone cared enough to keep the nightmare – for it must have been a nightmare – away.
Then they spoke to him, and he realised exactly who it was. His mother: not busy with the twins by day and working through evenings so they could afford the specialities, but with him, at his bedside.
Why was he in bed anyway?
His brow furrowed slightly and unconsciously, eliciting a tiny gasp of pain. The next moment, the hand had shifted slightly, tenderly fingering a very sore part of his forehead.
Then he remembered. Despite his arms, he had slammed quite hard into the steering wheel. Yanking the wheel in order to avoid hitting a kid on the road. A kid who was wearing that annoyingly oversized hat of Tommy's, reminding him –
'I'd hang out with you if you asked.'
'Oh dear, what sort of nightmare are you having?'
Her voice was soft, not sharp and straight as she had to always address the twins, who otherwise never seemed to hear her.
And her voice only dropped further. 'Are you alone in there?' A pause. 'Because we're not there for you?'
His breath caught; it was a miracle she hadn't realised he was awake yet.
The hand returned to his hair, stroking it back. 'We do try,' she confessed. 'You know how the twins are; someone always needs to be keeping an eye on them. And Seiko's just started her new job, but even between the three of us it seems we're always short on something. And your father and I do regret it – maybe we shouldn't have had so many children, but we wanted each and every one of you…'
He did know, all of it. But at some point, he had gone blind, and now listening to how hard the rest of his family had it, it was a like a wake-up slap long overdue.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. You could have helped instead of hinder everything.
'And you were always getting into trouble; we just didn't know what to do.' A sob was swallowed. 'But I think I understand now.'
'I wish you would talk to us,' Katsuharu's mother continued, not noticing her son being all too stiff in feigning his sleep. 'I now I've asked you so many times if something's bothering you.'
She had, but it was always at the wrong time, and he had ignored her. But he hadn't been busy like her.
'Still, I'm your mother. I should have known what was wrong!' Her voice went higher, and choked up again. 'It didn't need to come to this: hurting others, hurting yourself – where did it all start!'
He felt a sudden weight on his stomach; his mother had put her head gently there.
'I always thought one day – one day – it never comes! But still, I love every one of you, and I wouldn't let you out of my sight if I could.'
Katsuharu finally cracked his heart open, feeling like he had had enough. 'Think of how much more trouble there'd be,' he joked weakly, before coughing as his ribs were squeezed. 'Gah, who's that?!'
The intelligible mumbles told him it was his brothers, and he had never been happier he couldn't understand a word they said. And his younger sister, being unusually quiet.
'And how the hell could you get into a car accident and worry us like that!'
His elder sister's eyes were rimmed with red and black.
'And I believe you're well overdue for a punishment.'
'Taro,' his wife said disapprovingly. 'Can't you give him a break?'
'No, it's alright.' Katsuharu sighed; he long had this one coming. And nothing like a harsh punishment to get stuff into thick brains.
Apologies were not Katsuharu's strong suit, so Teppei found himself quite taken aback when the other suddenly gave him one upfront.
'You – you couldn't have given me a little warning,' he responded weakly.
Teppei relaxed a little; that sounded more like regular Katsuharu.
'Now…you're sorry for?'
The patient sighed. 'Do I have to spell it out?'
'Yep,' the other said cheerfully.
'Fine.' He groaned. 'I was an idiot, going around causing trouble and dragging you with me just because I wanted my family to pay attention to me – and I was just making a bigger mess of things.'
Teppei shook his head. He had almost been expecting something dramatic. 'Finally,' he sighed. 'My mum was about to reach her limit in letting you drag me around.'
Katsuharu stared, then shook his head. 'Are you serious?'
He groaned again. 'Couldn't you have just knocked it in to me?'
'Sorry, your head's too thick. Though the car seemed to do a good job.'
Tommy's heart was thumping as he knocked on the door, chessboard under one arm.
'Can I come in?' he asked, squeaking the last part.
Katsuharu looked away from the TV and stared. 'Tommy?' he said, sounding uncertain. 'Uhh…sure, I guess.'
Knowing that was the best he could hope for, Tommy put the chessboard on the bedside table and sidled out of his jacket before taking a seat.
'Well…' He began. 'I…came to visit you.'
Pretty pathetic, he knew, but he was a little apprehensive. This was the guy after all who'd punched him many a time and ruined one of his brother's precious books. Although he was also the guy who'd given him two of his best friends: Shinya and Koichi (although he felt he still didn't know the other all that well, even if he saw him more often than anyone…other than Zoe).
'So…want to play chess?' Tommy suggested, pointing at the board he brought.
'Uhh…sure.' Katsuharu shrugged; it would surely be more interesting than the comedy he had been watching.
'And no cheating.'
So Katsuharu wound up losing. Quite badly too.
'Were you telling the truth?' Katsuharu asked, looking away once the awkward silence stretched a little.
'You know…back then.' He waved a hand, wincing as pain shot through his forearm.
Luckily, Tommy managed to understand. 'Oh, you mean when I saw you with my brother? Uh…yeah, I did.' He fiddled with his thumbs. 'It seemed like you were lonely, but all you had to do was ask and everyone would have been happier.'
'Yeah, I get that now.' Katsuharu scowled. Real life could be a bitch sometimes, he thought to himself. 'I'm sorry,' he said abruptly, and before the other could say anything in response, he added: 'Don't you dare mention this again.'
Tommy couldn't help it; he cracked up laughing. 'I've already got an older brother,' he pointed out, 'but okay.'
Katsuharu was understandably bewildered. 'Yutaka does that when he admits he was wrong to me,' the other explained to him. 'And Takuya does it to Shinya too; it's almost like it's an older brother thing.'
'I've got two younger brothers, you know,' Katsuharu confessed. 'They're – well, they were born really premature, even more so than normal twins, so they've got some sort of learning disability, and well – why am I telling you this anyway?'
He sounded almost embarrassed , and Tommy decided to change the subject.
'Another chess match?' he asked.
'Can you not beat me in two rounds?' came the reply.
'Umm…I could teach you how to play.'
'I know how.'
'But Yutaka told me not even beginners fall for the two-round checkmate.'
That might have been an insult, but Tommy said it innocently enough that all Katsuharu could do was groan.
'What have I gotten myself into?'