Please please please read the author's note!! This fic requires a lot of explanation, and I really don't want to confuse or accidentally offend anyone!
And… please enjoy, ahaha.
title:くさ夫くん物語 (Kusao-kun Monogatari; The Tale of Kusao-kun)
pairings: Kusao/Shigeko, Koyama/Yabuko, Hikaru→Inoo (please read the author's note!!)
warnings: talk of pregnancy; mentions of a couple with an age difference. Hikaru's character is presented in sort-of a negative light here, so if that might bother you please read with caution.
word count: 13,360
author's note: This is an AU based on the November 11, 2003 episode of Ya-ya-yah, which is the "Law Quiz" episode. If you haven't seen it, it basically is a series of quiz questions asked by Koyama to the teams (Yabu and Hikaru; Shoon + Taiyo + Matsumoto Kohei; Shige and Kusano; Tegomass + Inoo) about whether average pranks and practical jokes are actually against the law. The quiz questions are presented in the form of scenarios featuring "Kusao-kun," who seems to be your basic socially awkward high school asshole, and his true love, "Shigeko-chan." Also featured are Kusao's friend Koyama and his crush, Yabuko, and his other friend Hikaru. Basically, it's like a weird high school drama with characters based on the people who appeared in the episode. This is a story about those characters. More than an AU of real life (where Shige and Yabu are gender-swapped), I sort of see them as separate characters. This is set 12 years after the events in that episode, after they're all grown up and out of school. It's also divided into two parts because LJ sucks, but I just divided it at about the halfway point; it's meant to be read at once as one fic. Sorry for the inconvenience!
summary: Kusao doesn't have a lot to give besides his love, but if he can support Shigeko and earn her love in return, then for him, that's more than enough.
Kusano Kusao's life is pretty good. Well, okay, sure, he didn't get into college, and that band that he tried to start up hadn't gotten past the planning stages, and now he's spent the past ten years working at Seven Eleven despite the fact that at first, he'd really only intended for it to be part time, and people tell him he's ugly all the time, and he doesn't have that many friends… but, he thinks, life is what you make it, and at the end of the day, he doesn't have too much to complain about. After all, after a somewhat rocky high school courtship, he'd managed to woo and eventually marry the girl of his dreams, Kato Shigeko, and after she'd finished her law degree three years ago, she'd managed to land a lucrative job with a well-known firm, luckily making up for Kusao's total lack of career. They live together in a nice little 2LDK near Akabane, and even though Shigeko's work schedule makes getting dinner out or seeing a movie together difficult to manage more than once every few months, Kusao is happy, and that, he thinks, is what matters.
After all, who cares if his wife is the one who brings home the bacon? His coworkers at Seven Eleven seem to think that he ought to be concerned, or at least, that his manly ego ought to be bruised, but Kusao couldn't care less that Shigeko was the one supporting them. It's a little sad, true, that he ends up eating conbini bentos and instant ramen alone for dinner most nights while Shigeko puts in overtime at the office, but that's the life of being married to a careerperson, Kusao thinks, and besides, he's hardly lonely. After all, his best friend from high school, Koyama, lives next door along with his wife Yabuko, so when Shigeko is busy, Kusao can go crash with them if he doesn't feel like watching late-night variety shows or reruns of bad daytime dramas. Sure, Yabuko is kind of a flake, and Kusao doesn't really understand why Koyama had had such a desperate crush on a junior high school kid when Koyama himself had been older than most third-year high school students, having failed to graduate the year before, back when they were younger. But honestly, he's mostly grateful that Koyama had forgiven him for that time he had broadcast Koyama's crush to the whole school in the school newspaper (which wasn't very nice, he has to admit, but it was pretty damn funny also, and he still can't help but chuckle when he remembers it…), and so he doesn't question Yabuko's bad cooking or the fact that she and Koyama have somehow managed to have three kids since they were married eight years ago and are showing no signs of stopping, if Koyama's recent giddy emails proclaiming proudly that they were expecting another is anything to go by. Even if he pokes fun sometimes (and earns glares from Koyama, since more often than not, Yabuko is too dense to figure out what Kusao is even talking about), he figures that, if Koyama can respect his choice to have a poorly-paying retail job while his wife is a high-powered attorney, he can respect Koyama's life choices, too.
And so life goes on in a pretty decent fashion despite its ups and downs. Kusao tries hard not to be the total ass that he (grudgingly admits that he) was in high school, and occasionally, he even remembers to make instant ramen or bring home conbini bentos for Shigeko, too, for after she gets home from work. He doesn't really know what goes into being a lawyer, but it seems stressful, and he tries to give her space when she seems particularly tired-- Koyama has told him time and time again that his best attempts at humor are embarrassing at best and offensive at worst, and he's not sure how else one would cheer up one's wife at the end of the day besides letting her do her own thing without bothering her. Sure, he's not a perfect husband, not a perfect person, but nothing in life is perfect, he thinks, and he loves Shigeko more than anyone else in the world, so that has to count for something. Or really, for everything… because Kusao doesn't have a lot to give besides his love, but if he can support Shigeko and earn her love in return, then for him, that's more than enough.
Kusano Shigeko isn't sure where her life is going. It's not that she's unhappy-- at least, she really shouldn't be. After all, she has a good job, she's married to a man that she loves, they live together in a nice little apartment, and they have pretty much anything they could possibly want… except for free time together… or any sort of idea about expanding their family… but well, that was just the nature of being a working woman, right? And if if were the other way around (the normal way, she tries not to tell herself), then Kusao would be the one working all the time, and they still wouldn't be able to spend any time together, and then Shigeko would be feeling helpless and unable to really support him, as well, and that, she tells herself, would be infinitely worse. Still, as the months go by in a blur of paperwork and cases with the occasional evening together sprinkled few and far between, she can't help but think that she must be doing something wrong, because everything should be perfect, and yet it isn't.
Things had seemed so promising back when she graduated from law school, a newlywed with a new career all lined up, love in her heart and stars in her eyes. Despite having been married two years earlier, they'd waited to do their honeymoon until after Shigeko was done school; for all that Kusao sometimes failed to see past the end of his own nose, he was totally unfazed by doing things untraditionally, and never objected to anything Shigeko wanted or needed, no matter how odd or outside the norm, and sometimes, even without prompting, he was so beautifully earnest and without expectations of her that she felt like she was falling in love with him all over again every time. When he'd asked her to marry him, he'd said "whenever is convenient for you," with the most sincere expression she'd ever seen, but even if school wasn't going to wait, Shigeko hadn't wanted to, either. And so they'd filed the paperwork and then were married in a modest little ceremony the following spring, in the few weeks between the end of Shigeko's finals and the beginning of the next school year, and when Shigeko had apologized for the rush, apologized for the simplicity of it all, apologized for not having any idea when she'd be able to take a break and go on a trip together, Kusao had just grinned that lopsided grin at her and said, "I have the smartest, most beautiful wife in the world, why the hell would I complain?" and in that moment Shigeko had known that no matter what happened, they'd be all right as long as they were together.
But then law school had finally come to a close and they'd gone to Hawaii and come back again, and the sparkle of their new lives together had eventually begun to be rubbed off by the wear and tear of daily life. Every morning, she wakes up at five thirty and slips out of bed so as to avoid waking Kusao; while both of them start work at eight, Kusao can roll out of bed and throw on a pair of jeans before eating breakfast and heading the few blocks away to the local Seven Eleven where he works and changing into his uniform upon arrival. Shigeko, on the other hand, carefully picks out a suit and matching jewelry, puts on makeup, and then gears up for her hour-long commute to the office, and so she's already long gone before Kusao wakes up. She doesn't begrudge him even in the slightest, but it's a little sad to look back at his sleeping form and whisper "I'm off," day after day without ever even expecting a response.
And then the work day is long; she's officially done at five pm, but of course, there's more work to be done after hours, and then drinking invitations to dodge or sometimes, in some cases with important clients involved, be forced into before she can finally make the hour commute home. Kusao works eight to five, as well, but unlike Shigeko, when he's off the clock, he's done, and then he spends several hours at home without her. She knows he misses her; he texts her almost every day with various anecdotes of his life and work, and it breaks her heart to know she's keeping him waiting. Every time her one female coworker talks about going the extra mile to make bentos or dinner for her family, Shigeko's heart feels like it's going to fall straight out of her chest, because while Kusao has never complained, Shigeko has just never been able to work in doing those little things that she would otherwise be expected to do if it weren't for her job, and she wonders how much he suffers for it.
But even more than the cooking, or the cleaning (which is painfully neglected and has led to an unfortunate level of clutter in their apartment), or the other elements of homemaking, Shigeko hates how little time she has for Kusao himself. They rarely have time to have a real conversation at the end of the day, much less to go out together, and Shigeko can't help but think that this isn't what Kusao had in mind when he'd tirelessly pursued her so many years ago. She misses him desperately even when they're in the same room, and though Kusao has never said anything outright, she thinks he must be at least a little resentful of her job, which keeps her away so much of the time.
And on top of it all, she's far too busy to even have deeper conversations than how was your day, so there's no way she can possibly even consider broaching heavier topics, but day in and day out, more and more with each passing day, she can't help but look at the parents around her with growing envy. She knows that they've only been married for five years, two of which she was in school, and they're both still young, and they have lots of time to figure things out for themselves, but at the same time, as irrational as it may be, every day, it feels as if time is ticking down, slipping through her fingers while she can't even figure out what her feelings are. She wants children; that much, she knows, but it's not nearly that simple--there are seemingly a thousand factors blocking the path between the way things are now and the way she want things to be-- and how can she possibly expect to make Kusao understand when she doesn't even really know what she's thinking, herself?
It's a terrible burden, seemingly making it harder and harder to get up and face yet another long day at work every morning, but she's too busy and too exhausted at the end of the evening and too driven crazy with her own worries to be able to think through it all clearly, and so she trudges on with no end in sight, because at the very least, Kusao is depending on her, and she can't let him down.
It's been twelve years since Yaotome Hikaru's life was totally and completely destroyed. Or at least, it's been twelve years since it all started with his crushing defeat at his high school first year marathon tournament, but that was really the beginning of the end. After all, that had been when he realized that that asshole Kusao, who he'd thought was his friend, was actually a liar and a cheater, and when their friendship had ended, leaving Hikaru solitary and without friends for the rest of his high school career, and after that, the rest of his life, too. But how could Hikaru forgive him? After agreeing to run alongside Hikaru, who had always been the slowest in the grade level, Kusao had sped up to impress girls and come in first place instead, leaving Hikaru in the dust, which was not only humiliating, but had completely ruined Hikaru's own chances with anyone of the female persuasion-- in particular, the girl of Hikaru's dreams Inoo Keiko, or, as everyone had affectionately called her in high school, Inocchi. Hikaru had overheard (or maybe eavesdropped… but who could blame him for listening in to his true love's conversations??) Inocchi tell her friends that she would date the boy who came in second-to-last place, which Hikaru knew meant, as long as he could get Kusao to cross the finish line slightly after him, that he would at long last be able to call Inocchi his own. But then Kusao had gone and ruined all of Hikaru's plans, and that idiot Matsumoto Kohei, who was shorter than Hikaru but somehow more popular, came in second-to-last instead, leaving Hikaru to watch bitterly as he first dated, and then married Inocchi in the middle of their third year. To make matters worse, all of Hikaru's plans to destroy their marriage were dashed when Inocchi gave birth to Kohei's child only a few months post graduation (which seemed awfully fast to Hikaru, but how was he supposed to know how long it took to make a baby?), placing them firmly in the realm of "happy family," and distinctly outside of Hikaru's ability to reclaim Inocchi for himself.
And so he'd bitterly gone to college without making any friends (how could he trust again, after Kusao's betrayal?) or finding a new object for his affections (because no one could compare to Inocchi), and had graduated to a lonely life of freelance music writing and the occasional remixing or digital editing for starving musicians who couldn't afford someone more experienced, which suited him well, seeing as he rarely had to go outside his own apartment and face the world which had treated him so cruelly. He goes through the days alternating work and surfing the internet at all hours, but his heart isn't really in it when every fiber of his existence is still filled with bitterness over what he could have had if it hadn't been for Kusao's interference.
He'd held off for many years out of unwillingness to face reality, but a few months after graduating college, after a few beers, he'd ended up searching Kusao on Facebook, hoping to find that his life had at least turned out just as miserably as Hikaru's had. But instead, he was appalled to discover that somehow, that bumbling idiot had managed to somehow convince Kato Shigeko, one of the prettiest and most sought-after girls in their year, to marry him. Hikaru remembered Kusao's obsession with Shigeko in their high school years, and the knowledge that Kusao had gotten exactly what he wanted while simultaneously robbing Hikaru of the same happiness had made Hikaru's blood boil. In that moment, he knew he had to do something to rectify things-- if Hikaru didn't have happiness, Kusao didn't deserve happiness, either. And so Hikaru set out to make Kusao just as miserable as he was.
It was easier said than done, though, and as much as Hikaru knew he was much brighter than Kusao, he had no idea where he lived, or what he did with his life, beyond that he worked at Seven-Eleven (something Hikaru had also discovered on Facebook). It was difficult to ruin the life of someone whose location and daily comings and goings he didn't know, and as much as he searched unsavory forums and watched media about revenge in his free time, after five or so years, it felt like all his work had amounted to was a bunch of unfinished plans and growing sense of anger at the unfairness of the whole thing.
But that just meant that he had to work harder, and so he redoubled his Facebook stalking efforts (and luckily for him, Kusao was an idiot who didn't lock down much of his page) and broadened his internet searches and began to try to look into those around Kusao, as well. Unfortunately, Shigeko and Kusao's only friend that Hikaru can remember, that older kid named Koyama, were both intellectual leagues above Kusao, and as a result, had locked Facebook pages, and Hikaru didn't know enough about their lives to have much to go on. It was frustrating, but he couldn't give up-- if nothing else, getting revenge on Kusao gave some meaning to his pathetic life, and after years of planning, it consumed him.
But then by some stroke of luck, on a completely unrelated internet search, he hits one day on a forum aimed at working women, with topics about raising kids while working, managing both work and home responsibilities, and so on. At first, Hikaru's eyes skip straight over it on the list of Yahoo results, but then something jumps out at him, and he goes back, sure he must be seeing things. But no, there it is, clear as day: a post by a user with the screen name Shigeko.
At first, he thinks it must be coincidence, but clicking on the forum leads to the user talking about home life with a husband who works at Seven-Eleven, and Hikaru knows it couldn't possibly be coincidence. And what's more, as he reads her various queries and posts on various topics, it seems, her marriage is in trouble, and her husband is totally clueless. Hikaru reads through every post she's made with fervor, a smirk growing on his face, and by the time he's done, around three in the morning, he has a feeling that finally, his life is turning around.
While Shigeko doesn't have a whole lot of (or really, any…) free time, she does have the hour or so she spends on a train every day on the way to work. She commutes the same way back home, but in the evening, Kusao is usually back from work and free to message her, which at least sort of feels like they're having a little bit of time together. In the mornings, however, Kusao is usually still in bed, and then in a rush to get to work on time after inevitably oversleeping, which leaves Shigeko with a little free time on her own. She used to simply listen to music, or go over what she needed to get done for the day, but after a while, the former began to feel like a waste of time when she really had so few chances to breathe in her schedule, and the latter became too exhausting once the cycle of endless work had begun to take its toll. After that, she'd tried reading the news online, but it was usually too depressing or else too uninteresting, and so after that she started checking women's sites, which wasn't really particularly fulfilling either, but maybe slightly more relevant to her life. However, she was about to give up in search of something more engaging when, a few months back, she'd stumbled onto a link on the women's site to a forum for married women, set up specifically to allow married women to exchange advice and ask about their problems in an anonymous space safe from the prying and judgmental eyes of men.
She wasn't sure what she was looking for when she clicked on the link, but when she found amazed her. Women from all over Japan were writing about and responding to topics that ranged from cooking tips and anniversary present ideas to struggles in childrearing and divorce, and not only that; Shigeko was amazed to find that not only normal housewives, but also working women, and women with disabilities, and divorced and remarried women, and all sorts of women were present, giving and asking for advice just the same. It was the first time she could remember not feeling distinctly alone in a long time, and before her commute was over that day, she had made an account and commented on three different threads.
Part of her was expecting no one to respond, or worse, to be mocked-- she knows how cruel people can be in the real world, both from her experiences in high school and from working as a lawyer-- but to her honest surprise and delight, other users on the site engaged with her politely and compassionately, both agreeing that it was hard to be a working woman, and sympathizing that it was lonely to have very little time with her husband. It was more heartening than she could have imagined, to know that she wasn't alone, and over the course of a few months, she began to open up more about her situation and her life. Everyone on the forum was supportive; several working moms came forward to tell her that having kid while working was difficult but definitely not impossible, and some people even gave her recommendations of affordable pre-schools in the Tokyo area with extended daycare hours. She was touched by how many people genuinely seemed to want to help, and in the end she finally admitted the issue that she had been keeping to herself this whole time, the one definitive factor that made it impossible for her to have children: the fact that her own body was simply incapable of it.
It's something she's known practically all her life; though it meant very little when she was a child, it's become a constant worry since then. She knows it could be worse-- as medical conditions go, it's not life threatening, it doesn't affect her daily life at all, it doesn't inhibit her thinking or moving or doing anything, really… yet to her, perhaps selfishly, it feels like a huge wall blocking her from a happy life, a happy marriage. Being infertile means that she'll never be able to fulfill the one sort of normal aspect of being a wife left after her job and her complete lack of free time to cook or clean or do anything else, and more than that, it means she'll never be able to fulfill her own dream to have have a family together with Kusao. It's crushing to even think about, but at the same time, she can never fully get it off her mind, and more than anything else, it weighs her down day after day.
And to make matters worse, she's so ashamed of it, so afraid of what his reaction might be that she hasn't told Kusao yet. She knows that it's wrong and dishonest, but it had seemed presumptuous and embarrassing to bring up when they were dating as teenagers, and then by the time they'd agreed to get married, the fear of rejection was far too strong to allow her to even think about it. Kusao has never been anything but loving and supportive of her in every aspect-- in fact, he's the only person she's ever had who has accepted her for who she is, unconditionally-- but yet, there's a first time for everything, and just the thought of disappointing him, of watching his face fall at the knowledge of her imperfection, is more than she can bear. And so she had kept it to herself, knowing that it was only a matter of time until it came out, but not being able to face the prospect of telling and possibly losing whatever time she had left with Kusao still thinking of her as perfect, before inevitably being forced to ruin it all.
People on the forum try to convince her that her husband won't mind, that he'll forgive her, that he'll understand her fears, but while Shigeko is grateful for their kindness, she isn't so sure. Kusao is loving and earnest and certainly wouldn't call her names or hit her or anything, but he's also an open book, and she's absolutely certain the crushing disappointment will be obvious on his face, and in his actions from then on. She knows that everyone on the forum is trying to help, but they don't know her husband, her relationship, the situation she's gotten herself into, and so while she thanks them, she doesn't really feel much more secure about the whole issue than before she posted about it.
But then, a few days after she posted the original topic, she gets a private message from another member of the forum entitled "about your recent post. " She recognizes the username from a few comments on threads she'd started or participated in, someone who, like everyone else, had always been kind and helpful and pleasant to her, although some of the comments had been a little strange. But Shigeko is used to all sorts of people, and after five years of marriage to and even more than that of dating Kusao, she's certainly used to a lack of social awareness, and so she's never paid it any mind. It strikes her as odd that this person would message her rather than just commenting on the thread, but she thinks nothing of it and opens the message without a second thought.
Nothing could have prepared her for the contents of the message. She wasn't really expecting anything in particular, but once she reads the first few lines of the mail, she knows this was not what she would ever have predicted. I've been reading your posts for a while now, the message begins, and I'm sorry to have to say this, but I wanted to help you if I could: your marriage is in trouble.
She reads the line once, then again, and then finishes the message before reading it over a third time. The mail goes on to explain about various friends the other user has had whose husbands had been upset about things such as Shigeko's medical condition and cheated on them, or else been jealous of their career success and divorced them. It attributes Shigeko and her husband's lack of communication to his ceasing to care about their relationship anymore, and advises her to get out as soon as possible. But honestly, Shigeko can barely process it over the ringing in her ears and her heart beating out of her chest, because as much as she wants to ignore it, to disregard it, to write it off as the well-meaning but off-the-mark advice of a concerned stranger, she knows deep down that it's not wrong. It's putting into words what Shigeko has been trying desperately to deny for the past few months (if not more), and having it finally printed out as plain as day in front of her is almost more than she can bear.
She spends the entire day miserable; there's no way she can recover enough to even really pull herself together before work, much less figure out how to respond to the message, and so she goes through her work tasks trying desperately to focus and, for the time being, block the horrible truth from her mind. It doesn't really work, but she has no other choice, and by the end of the day, she's both mentally and emotionally exhausted just from trying to keep herself in check. She almost can't bring herself to check her phone once she's on the train, can't bring herself to face whatever message from Kusao waits for her there; while, until now, she'd taken it as an assurance that he still loved her despite her horrible work schedule and inability to be a good wife, now, it only feels like a reminder of everything she's losing, or perhaps has already lost.
But when she finally works up the courage to at least check the lock screen for notifications, she's surprised to see another private message from the forum app, and slides it open as a method of procrastinating the messages that are certainly waiting for her in LINE. She's surprised by the contents again; this time, the same user has left a much shorter, easier message: "If it's okay, tell me what part of Tokyo you live in, and we can meet up sometime to talk about it. I'm sorry; I want to help."
And while she knows that in most cases it's probably not best to give out personal information over the internet, some combination of the crushing sensation of heartbreak that seems to go on forever without relief and the sense of safety among the forum members who seem to truly understand her leads her to send a message back a few days later saying that she lives in Akabane and would love to meet for coffee sometime. Because while facing up to the fact that her marriage is crumbling through her fingers by meeting with this forum user is terrifying, she knows lying in bed next to Kusao, wide awake despite his familiar warmth and the sound of his breathing, and feeling thousands of miles away feels worse. Confronting the truth is scary, but the prospect of letting things fall apart more and more is even scarier, and perhaps it's too optimistic to think that maybe, after talking to this anonymous friend, she can scrape things back together… but, she thinks, there's nothing she can do but try and find out.
Part two can be found here!