word count: 1,500
author's note: Another Kusao!verse fic. Somehow, I was more inspired to write something for Kusao's birthday than for Valentine's day. No, I'm not sure what's wrong with my head, either. This is set in 2009!
summary: What Kusao knows for sure is that having friends is the best present of all.
Valentine's day has come and past, Kusao thinks contentedly albeit a bit wistfully as he walks home from his shift at Seven-Eleven in the crisp chill of the February evening. He can't help but grin to himself when he thinks back to yesterday, how he'd met Shigeko at the train station in the morning and then they'd gone to coffee, and then karaoke, and then had dinner together at Kusao's tiny little studio apartment, because neither of them-- Kusao with his minimum wage job and Shigeko a starving college student-- had enough money to throw around on fancy nights out, but frankly, Kusao doesn't think anything could top an evening of takeout Chinese and bad movies and Shigeko's gifts of chocolate, anyway. She'd even spent the night, and despite the fact that it meant getting up at 4:30 to see her off to the first train, having a whole day together from beginning to end was so, so worth it.
But still, it makes today a bit rough, because he'd been looking forward to their Valentine's day plans for so long that it feels a bit like everyday life falls flat now. Sure, he'd had the excitement of his coworkers asking about how his date with his girlfriend had gone when he got into work this morning, and same as ever, he'd messaged with Shigeko during his lunch break and was planning to call her once he got home, but when he thinks back to what he was doing at this time yesterday, how he still had hours with Shigeko to look forward to and a whole night with her by his side to relish, he feels bitter towards his past self, because it's going to be a long, long time before he can enjoy anything like that again.
He knows that's life-- Shigeko's schoolwork and preparations for law school are so absorbing that she has time for little else, and for the most part, more than time for dates or anything like that, Kusao worries that she doesn't have enough time for eating and sleeping. But he has faith in her; Shigeko is the strongest, smartest, most driven person that he knows, and now that she's gotten through her exams, he's comforted by the fact that, at the very least, the school year is probably finally winding down. Still, when they see one another so infrequently, it's a little hard not to be rueful that yesterday is already long gone, and that the next time that they'll be able to really spend any quality time together won't be until mid-March… if they're lucky. But Shigeko is the one doing the work, Shigeko is the one who really has it tough, and if she can push through all the work and the pressure and the exams and the competition, Kusao thinks, he can stay strong and support her. He can't do much else to help, much to his frustration, but he'll be damned if he doesn't do everything he can for her, even if that means waiting out the rough, lonely times.
And so, his resolve reaffirmed, he hums to himself as he hikes up the three flights of stairs to his apartment, blowing a few times on his hands to warm them up before fumbling with his key. The only thing standing between him and his nightly call with Shigeko is the time it will take to kick off his shoes, turn on the little kerosene heater in the kitchen area, and boil some water for his instant ramen, and as unexciting as that all sounds, he's happily in anticipation as he pulls open the front door and flips on the genkan light.
There are a few variations on this mundane daily event that could occur, he knows-- often, it takes a few minutes for the antiquated ceiling fixture to flicker on, like something out of a horror movie, and on a few occasions, a small earthquake during the time he was at work has caused his disarray of sweatshirts and coats to fall off their rack into the genkan, so it's not exactly like he's expecting everything to be exactly like he left it when he opens the door, but there are a few things he's distinctly not expecting, and hearing a loud yell of "Surprise!!!" from inside his apartment is definitely one of them. Always cool and collected, Kusao lets out a blood-curdling scream and trips over his own feet, banging his elbow on the doorknob as he stumbles backwards and very nearly tumbling right back out of his apartment before regaining balance by ever-so-gracefully clutching at the doorframe as if his life depended on it.
"Oh god, are you okay?" comes a singular voice from inside, and then the kitchen light clicks on to reveal Shigeko running towards the genkan with a look of concern on her face. But she's not alone-- past her, standing together in the kitchen are Koyama and Yabuko as well, and more than injured (though after smacking his elbow that way, he still can't really feel his pinky finger on one side…) Kusao is utterly baffled.
"What are you guys doing here??" he blabs before really thinking, but he's at least gotten better at realizing that he never thinks before he speaks since high school, and he quickly slaps his not-partly-numb hand over his mouth, waving frantically with the other one. "I mean-- it's great to see you guys…!!! But… what's the occasion…??"
Shigeko, for her part, still seems a little concerned that he's managed to seriously injure himself in his shock, but she's smiling, too, and puts a gentle hand on his shoulder, pulling him inside and letting the door fall closed behind him. "Happy birthday," she says, pressing a tender kiss to his lips, and extremely belatedly, he realizes, sure enough, he's turning 21 today.
But his brain has never been particularly good at processing information and reacting quickly, so he gapes first at Shigeko and then at Koyama and Yabuko with wide eyes. "My… you guys did this for my birthday…??" he finally manages, a stupid grin growing on his face as he looks back to Shigeko again. "But you said you were busy…??"
"We wanted it to be a surprise, silly," Shigeko replies affectionately, linking her hand with his and tugging him further into the apartment. "Now come on, before the candles on your cake burn out!"
And sure enough, there's a cake waiting for him on his little table, and three presents wrapped up in festive, colorful paper sitting beside it, and no matter how many years go by, Kusao can never quite get used to the way everything seems so much brighter with friends who really and truly care about him. Because he'd never really felt like things were particularly bad, all those years in the orphanage without anyone to remember his birthday, but for the past five years or so, ever since Koyama and Yabuko and Shigeko came into his life, it feels as if his world has gone from black and white to full, brilliant color, and things he never knew could happen were making his life better and better every day.
And so he blows out the candles, and accepts the piece of cake that Koyama cuts for him, and pokes fun at the way Yabuko chews with her mouth open, and squabbles with her for the biggest strawberry off the top which results in Koyama scolding both of them and Shigeko laughing at him in that way that sounds more like music to Kusao than anything he's ever heard on the radio. And then after that, he opens his presents one by one, a nice set of gloves from Koyama and a ten-pack of instant ramen from Yabuko and a watch from Shigeko with a message engraved on the back, every moment I spend with you is a gift, and he wouldn't have known how to put it into words before, but just reading it, suddenly his face is hot and his eyes are clouding and he can't hold his feelings in anymore.
"A-are you okay…?" Shigeko asks when he doesn't respond after opening the box, "If you don't like it, I can--"
But despite the fact that he sucks at feelings and sucks even more at expressing them, he knows that he can't let her worry, and so he shakes his head as the tears start to roll down his cheeks and he can't even bring himself to care. "I like it!" he practically shouts, but even after all these years, he's still not quite sure how to express how strong his emotions are besides by yelling them. "It's perfect… and all you guys' gifts are perfect… and you guys are perfect…" and he doesn't even know where he's going with this, but when Yabuko abruptly hugs him, and then Koyama follows suit, and then Shigeko joins in, what he knows for sure is that having friends is the best present of all.