"Because you're my brother, and I love you," Kusanagi hears despite the ringing in his ears, and it's in that moment, with Yuuya wrapped tight in his arms in the dirty, dingy little kitchen, that he feels as if his heart is breaking.
It's not that he hasn't felt the pain before, some of it, in different ways, in different places. Ever since their parents left them, first their terminally ill father before Yuuya was even two years old, and then their mother, years later, in an act of selfishness and stupidity, Kusanagi has done everything in his power to protect the only person he has left, the little brother for whose care the responsibility has fallen on him. It's not because he feels like he has to, though, not as if he's just going through the motions; somehow, in the absence of any other family member, Yuuya has become his everything, the only thing that matters. Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming, honestly, having gone from a generally average junior high school student to teenager who doesn't care at all for sports or clubs or friends, only for the source of all his strength, the thing he'd do anything to protect, the person he loves more than anything else in all the world, but if there's one thing that Kusanagi knows, it's that he wouldn't have it any other way.
Of course, it doesn't come easy, especially not at first, especially when he has to sneak around and find an establishment sketchy enough that they'll give a job to a thirteen year old, but somehow, more than sad, in the wake of his mother's death, Kusanagi is determined, determined to make things right for Yuuya, even if they can't be for himself. He doesn't take much pleasure in washing dishes and wiping down tables for a host club, but it's work, and he'll take what he can get. Besides, things get easier with time; he grows bigger and is given better tasks, lifting heavy objects and carrying stock from the storeroom to the kitchen and then eventually, he's promoted to bouncer with a nice raise in pay. It's not great, but it's not awful, either, and even if he comes home exhausted late at night, even if he has to wake early in the morning or stay up far past midnight to get his school work done, when he's able to buy Yuuya the foods he likes, when he's able to afford new clothes for Yuuya every time he has another growth spurt, when he's able to surprise Yuuya now and again with a little something special, a piece of candy or a secondhand toy or a book to read him as he falls asleep at night. For all that he's been hardened by his parents' deaths, for all that he's become stoic and silent at school and at work, it's the little things that he does with Yuuya that remind him what it feels like to smile, taking him to the park on a rare weekend off or listening to him talk about his day as they eat dinner together, or tucking him in at night. Maybe it isn't normal, but it feels right, every aspect of it feels right, and as he sits beside the futon and finishes up his studying late into the night, watching Yuuya sleep peacefully next to him is enough to keep him going.
And so, he thinks, they can go on this way, go on into the end of time for all he cares, because even if he's never really been good with feelings, he knows he's happy, and, as far as he can tell, Yuuya is, too. He does well in school and is always smiling and is growing bigger and stronger every day, and Kusanagi feels a swell of pride in his chest every time Yuuya accomplishes something new. Yuuya is sweet and affectionate, as well, and so Kusanagi thinks he could keep on going for days on end without anything, without food or rest, so long as he knew he was taking care of his little brother, so long as he always had Yuuya's smile and warm greeting and tight embrace to come home to.
But then one day in his third year of junior high school, he comes home and Yuuya's not there. At first, he thinks Yuuya must be napping or tied up studying or just not expecting him-- he's home straight after school on a rare day when he doesn't have a work shift-- but when he checks their tiny kitchen and dining area and bedroom and bathroom and finds no sign of his little brother, it feels as if a ton of bricks has suddenly been dropped into the pit of his stomach and his heart is beating out of his chest and he doesn't know what to do, because what could have become of Yuuya? He's never left without letting Kusanagi know before, and before he can even comprehend the situation, before he can think it through, he's fumbling with his cell phone with trembling hands and calling Yuuya in the desperate hope that maybe he had to stay late at school or… or something.
But Yuuya doesn't answer, and so after tearing the apartment apart in an attempt to find any sign of what might have happened, Kusanagi grabs his coat and steps into his shoes, not sure where he's going but knowing he has to go somewhere, has to find Yuuya somehow, if it's the last thing he does, because Yuuya is everything, Yuuya is the only thing, and if Kusanagi has let anything bad happen to him, then--
But when he throws open the door, he's met with "Nii-chan…?" and Yuuya's sweet face, his cellphone in his hand as he blinks up at Kusanagi, and all Kusanagi can do in that moment is to pull his little brother into his arms as tears of relief burn in the corners of his eyes. Everything feels like a blur, but eventually, he has to let Yuuya go and close the door and shed his shoes and coat again before pulling him close again right there in the kitchen. "What happened?" he breathes when he feels like he finally can find his voice again, can speak without crying.
"I was downstairs helping one of the neighbors with her laundry," Yuuya explains matter-of-factly, looking up at his brother with concern in his eyes. "She said she'd give me ¥1,500 if I helped out. What's wrong, Nii-chan?"
And it's so sweet, the sound of his voice, the meaning behind his reasoning, that Kusanagi can't help but love him all the more hotly, all the more intently, but at the same time, he's still shaking with the adrenaline rush, and so he swallows, trying to find the right words. "I-- you don't have to…" he tries to start, and somehow, that doesn't even cover the issue, doesn't even mention how coming home to find his brother gone almost gave him a heart attack, but Kusanagi has never really been good with feelings, least of all when they're feelings about Yuuya.
"But I want to," Yuuya replies, eyes still shining with worry, and Kusanagi practically feels weak in the knees. Yuuya has always been the sweetest, kindest, most caring kid in the world, and maybe up until now, Kusanagi hasn't quite realized just how much he's grown into a little person with his own feelings, how much more he is than just someone for Kusanagi to protect. The defensive instinct is still strong, the will to tell Yuuya not to stress himself just to help with money burning in his throat, but he swallows it back, because how can he blame Yuuya for feeling something that, in some way, is exactly what Kusanagi feels for him? He searches for the right words, for any way to articulate what he's feeling, but he's coming up blank when Yuuya continues.
"I want to help, because you're my brother," Yuuya says, like it makes perfect sense, like it's perfectly obvious, "and I love you." And the worry is fading from his eyes now, being replaced by something else entirely, something warm and real that makes Kusanagi's heart jump into his throat, and it's all he can do not to cry, right then and right there. But he doesn't, he can't can't cry in front of Yuuya, and so instead, he presses a kiss to his forehead and manages in a hoarse whisper, "I love you, too, Yuuya."
And maybe he isn't sure what it is he's feeling, maybe he isn't aware enough to put a word to his emotions, maybe he still feels confused and shaky and a little scared, but when he sees Yuuya's smile, when he feels Yuuya kiss him back sweetly on the cheek, he thinks, maybe, for right now, just love is enough.