Kazuichi hissed to himself and held his now-bleeding finger in his other hand, checking the severity of the cut. Fortunately, it wasn’t significantly deep or troublesome, just a surface wound - he’d certainly dealt with worse before while working. He reached into his desk drawer, removed another bandage from the box and applied it to the injured finger. Giving his right hand a once-over, he mentally made note of the fact that he was only on his third minor injury of the session and was nearly complete with his little project - he felt a small welling of pride in his chest at how much better he had become about being more careful while building things.
Running a hand through his messy mop of black hair, Kazuichi glanced at the digital clock on the table. “4:56 PM” stared back at him in bright red letters, as did today’s date: Saturday, December 24th. Kazuichi let out a heavy sigh as he picked his screwdriver back up and got back to tinkering with the objects in front of him.
Ever since he’d become an official member of the Tanaka family, a whole 6 months ago, Kazuichi couldn’t help but feel as though he was an unnecessary burden on this small home. Gundham and his mother were already not the most well-off family around, living in this small house by themselves, so Kazuichi’s presence only further complicated things, surely. He knew, from living with his real parents, that he was a lot to handle, and he had lived his whole life accepting this as fact. He was loud, he was clumsy, he was irritating, annoying, bothersome, unwanted, a mistake —
Kazuichi gritted his teeth - something that had become a harsh go-to habit when he got stressed - and shook the line of thought out of his mind, not wanting to bog himself down like that when he was so close to finishing his latest projects. He decided he needed to find a way to show how grateful he was to them for putting up with him enough to actually welcome him into their lives like this. He knew he didn’t deserve it, that he’s really a pretty shitty kid who’s fully deserved all the shit he was getting. Nonetheless, they’d taken him in and welcomed him with open arms (well, with some extra, fully-anticipated roasting and friendly ribbing from Gundham, but they’d been friends for long enough that Kazuichi knew there wasn’t nearly as much malice in the words as it seemed).
As much as he and Gundham kind of verbally attack each other, Kazuichi couldn’t help but feel just as grateful for Gundham’s kindness and willingness to let him live with him and his mother. As much as he knew he deserved what he got at home, it didn’t make it any easier living there, and living here in the Tanaka house has been so much calmer, more friendly, and more… well, like a home. Because both Gundham and his mother have been so kind, Kazuichi decided that he needed to really pay them back for all their kindness. He’d been nothing but diligent about trying to be helpful since the first day he’d moved in; he started taking up most of the chores, constantly asking if there’s anything he can do for Ms. Tanaka, just really trying to repay the debt he feels he now carries.
Now, with Christmas just around the corner, Kazuichi felt more obligated than ever to pay off some of that emotional debt - by crafting special gifts for both Ms. Tanaka and Gundham. He’d spent the last several weeks planning the schematics for how to build these things, collecting scrap metal and working odd jobs to gather enough money to acquire all the extra things he’d need to assemble it all. He knew he could never make something that would completely make up for having to deal with him 24/7, but dammit, he’ll admit these were really starting to come together after all this work he’d put into them.
Setting his screwdriver down and wiping his face down with a rag, Kazuichi let himself relax as he looked down at his two new creations with a small smile.
“Damn,” he muttered quietly, leaning forward to rest his head on his crossed forearms on the desk. “These ain’t half bad… Sucks I couldn’t do much else, but I guess this’ll do.”
He gathered the two trinkets up and began gingerly wrapping them in paper to place them in their gift boxes. As he was putting the two gifts together, Kazuichi couldn’t help but contemplate whether or not the two would even enjoy what he’d made. He may be a decent mechanic, possibly an Ultimate if he keeps working at it, but he didn’t think of himself as much of an inventor or a creative. Despite all the weeks of work he’d put forth into these gifts, he still second-guessed himself and their worth, doubting that they’ll be anywhere near enough to express the gratitude he wanted to express.
God, Dad was right - I’m not gonna get fuckin’ anywhere being this much of a little bitch about this stuff.
Kazuichi groans, digging his hands into his hair and tugging in frustration. He’s glad to have let his hair grown out a little so he has more to grab into when distressed, digging his nails into his scalp as he rapidly bounces his leg in irritation. He hated that he clung so tightly to these anxious thoughts in his head all the time, not to mention his terrible ADHD always making his brain cycle through thoughts until it inevitably brings him back to self-loathing. Gundham gets on his case about it a lot, but he knows it’s probably just because it’s annoying to watch your friend beat himself up all the time. Still, he appreciates being called out for his bullshit nonetheless.
A door slamming shut followed by heavy footsteps alerts Kazuichi of Gundham’s return home. He quickly sits up and hides the two gift boxes hastily inside his desk drawer, slamming it shut just as Gundham walks into their shared bedroom. Kazuichi winces internally at the reminder that he’s been forced to occupy Gundham’s living space, and even though Gundham doesn’t seem to care, Kazuichi still feels like he’s intruding, even after all this time.
“H-Hey, dude!” Kazuichi greets the other boy, whirling around in his chair to face him. “How was your volunteer stuff?”
Gundham removed his heavy coat and unraveled his trademark scarf from around his neck, further exposing the soft purple polo shirt he donned, a sort-of uniform he wore when helping out at the animal shelter. For how complicated and weird he normally liked to dress, seeing him in a simple shirt and jeans and with less makeup than usual was always something that felt weird to Kazuichi. He’d seen Gundham dressed down plenty over the last six months, but it never felt any less odd to him.
“It was pleasant, as per usual,” Gundham said, taking a seat on his bed to remove his socks. “The day was prosaic at best. And yet, these are the variant of days that garner my good will, for the simplicity of its nature is what keeps our more skittish followers at ease.”
Kazuichi nodded absentmindedly, picking out the gist of what Gundham seemed to be saying with context clues. Gundham then looked over at Kazuichi and asked, “And your day was likely productive, were I to judge by the array of equipment littering your work table.”
“Oh, yeah! Was just fiddling with some broken cameras I found the other day. Nothing too exciting” Kazuichi hastily concocted a lie to dissuade Gundham from finding out about his gift.
A soft hum of acknowledgement from Gundham was the only response he received, so Kazuichi guessed he bought it. He began putting away his tools as Gundham talked a bit more about some of the stuff that went on at the shelter that day. As Kazuichi listened and cleaned his workspace up, he couldn’t help but glance at the two small, wrapped boxes in the bottom drawer when he opened it to put his wrench bag away. His mouth quirked down in a thoughtful frown as he quickly put the bag away and shut the drawer.
Well, at least if it sucks, I’ll know to try harder next time.
The morning came, and with it, a day full of preparations and celebration. The Tanaka household wasn’t exactly a “go all out” type of environment, but the things they did were nice, simple, and relaxed - very much reflective of what the home was like in general. The trio spent most of the day cooped up in the safety and warmth of their home, Ms. Tanaka preparing their holiday meal for later, Gundham tending to his animals and reading leisurely, and Kazuichi passing the day away playing video games and pestering Gundham to join him repeatedly until the other boy sighs and gives in. It was a soft day, but even the tranquility of the air did nothing to quell the worry still balled up in Kazuichi’s stomach.
He didn’t even know if he’d be receiving any sort of gift for the holiday, knowing fully well the financial situation of this family may bar any sort of gift-giving from going on between them. Maybe they’d see his gift as being rude, in that sense? Or perhaps this is the one day a year they go all out on spending for each other, and Kazuichi’s dingy little trinkets would be laughable inferior in comparison? Do they even consider him family enough to get anything for? Is he even worth getting gifts for? His mind raced with all sorts of possibilities all through the day in between bouts of gaming. He was thankful for having something mindless he could do with his hands without tearing at his hair or chewing things into bits from anxiety and frustration.
Eventually, the evening came, and their dinner was had. It was some sort of vegetarian dish that Kazuichi had zero clue what it actually was, but since it tasted fine to him, he saw no room to complain. Once they’d all finished, Ms. Tanaka rose from her seat and began collecting their plates.
“You boys go wait in the living room, and then you can get your gifts, alright?” she said with a soft smile before turning and wandering over to the sink. Kazuichi quickly made his way back to his and Gundham’s room to go collect the gifts he’d hidden. Opening the drawer and staring down at the two little boxes, he couldn’t stop the worry building in his gut that this wasn’t a good idea. He shook it off once more and, with all the resolve he could muster, grabbed the two boxes and slammed the drawer shut.
When he returned to the little living room, he found Gundham seated on the floor cross-legged and Ms. Tanaka seated on the couch with two wrapped boxes next to her.
“There you are! Where did you run off to, dear?” Ms. Tanaka asked him.
“W-Well, uh,” Kazuichi began nervously, clutching the two small boxes a bit tighter.
Gundham glanced at the items in his arms and spoke up. “You left to obtain those parcels, I take it?”
“I, uh… y-yeah, I was getting your gifts,” Kazuichi muttered, holding the two boxes up and walking into the room.
Ms. Tanaka noticed the boxes at that point, her smile only growing. “Oh! I didn’t know you’d gotten us anything! How sweet of you!”
Kazuichi hesitantly handed Ms. Tanaka and Gundham their respective boxes and then took a seat across from Gundham on the ground.
“Perhaps you would like to unseal your bestowal first, Mother?” Gundham offered, to which Ms. Tanaka gave a soft nod of acceptance before beginning to unwrap the red-wrapped box in her lap.
Kazuichi felt that knot of worry grow significantly larger watching her open the box and retrieving the item inside. She stared at the thin, weaving bands of silver metal with curiosity, manipulating it around in her hands for a moment before speaking up again.
“Kazuichi, you bought me such a lovely watch?”
Kazuichi fumbled a bit before responding, “W-Well, not really bought so much as built, kinda. I-I found the parts for the actually, like, bracelet part and thought it looked pretty, and when I found this old broken watch, I thought it’d be cool to put ‘em together and make a newer, better-looking watch out of them. The, uh, the little cat-shaped bead hanging off the face of the clock was just a little extra thing I picked up one day and I thought it’d look cool as a little, like, extra thing to make it a little less plain, y’know? So… yeah.”
Ms. Tanaka’s soft smile grew wider as he explained, fiddling with the opalescent cat charm in question and chuckling. “Sweetheart, you did such an excellent job in building this. Not only am I very thankful for this, but I’m also incredibly proud of you! You always do such lovely work, Kazuichi.”
Kazuichi felt his face flush at the very unexpected praise. He didn’t expect her to be so fond of the little trinket so quickly, not to mention the mere idea of being praised at all by a parental figure was something rather foreign to Kazuichi.
“You go ahead and open yours now, Gundham!” Ms. Tanaka spoke, voice cheery and light as she slipped the small wristwatch onto her wrist.
Kazuichi fidgeted nervously, playing with the hem of his shirt as the other boy opened his gift. He felt Ms. Tanaka was likely way easier to please than Gundham, so he didn’t have very high hopes for Gundham enjoying his gift. He refused to look at anything aside from a specific spot on the floor, even when he heard Gundham lower the empty box and move the plastic object around in his hands. Without waiting for Gundham to say anything, Kazuichi heard himself begin spouting out an explanation of the gift.
“I-It’s, uh, it’s a hamster wheel - I-I know there’s, like, a bajillion of those out there, and you’ve got a couple already, but like, I found these cool, soft mini LEDs and I put them around the outside of the wheel, and there’s two of those little hamster saucers on either side, so, like, you can get three of your hamsters to be active and stuff at the same time, and there’s a little pathway tunnel where they can get from one side to the other, and it’s kinda dumb, probably, because I still don’t know much of anything about hamsters and you’re the expert and I probably should’ve just asked, but I was worried it was gonna be dumb or something, so I had—“
“Excellent craftsmanship, Kazuichi.”
Kazuichi felt the next words die in his throat when he heard Gundham speak up. His gaze finally lifted from its fixated spot on the floor and looked up at Gundham, who was absentmindedly spinning one of the saucers with a finger, a ghost of a smile on his face.
“My Djungarian compatriots are in dire need of more activities they can perform alongside their fellow guild members - this will serve nicely as a tool to strengthen their group dynamic,” Gundham explained, lowering the plastic device onto the floor next to him. Looking back at Kazuichi, he gave a firm nod of solidarity. “Thank you for the offering you have bestowed upon my empire.”
Kazuichi sat, mildly shocked. The holiday season must make them even more forgiving and understanding, Kazuichi though, because he just could not wrap his head around his little gifts being so warmly received like they are.
“Okay, boys —“ Ms. Tanaka clapped her hands together once, “—time for your gifts from me!” She then reached over to pick up the two wrapped boxes next to her, handing the gold on to Kazuichi and the silver one to Gundham.
Gundham didn’t hesitate in beginning to open his gift, whereas Kazuichi slowly picked at the wrapping for a moment, unsure of… he didn’t really even know what. Gundham opened his gift and pulled a couple of items out from the box: two books (Kazuichi couldn’t see the full titles of both, but he saw the word “Infernal” on the spine of one and what looked like “Sleep” written in smoke on the other) and a new, soft-looking blue blanket. Kazuichi probably would’ve found the blanket to be an odd gift for Gundham before, but now that he’s lived with him for six months and has seen just how frequently he bundles himself into blanket cocoons and nests, he can’t really be surprised by it.
“Kazuichi? Are you going to open your gift?” Kazuichi blinked hard hearing Ms. Tanaka’s question, looking down to realize he had only peeled back a small corner of the wrapping so far.
“Oh, heh, y-yeah, sorry,” he chuckled, somewhat embarrassed as he tore open the gold wrapping of the box and opened it up. The first item on top was a brown, warm-looking beanie. He picked it up and ran his fingers along it, finding the knitted texture pleasant to the touch. He smiled at the simple gift, lifting it and sliding it over the top of his head.
Gundham huffed a light laugh next to him. “Perhaps this barrier will prevent you from assailing your scalp with unwarranted blight during times of strenuous work.”
Kazuichi smiled a bit at the jab, sticking his tongue out at him in response. “Anyway,” he began, turning his attention to Ms. Tanaka, “thank you for the gift!”
Ms. Tanaka looked at him curiously. “Dear, there’s more in the box, you know.”
Kazuichi felt his brows furrow in confusion. He was hardly expecting one gift, let alone two. He peered back into the box to find that there was, in fact, a second item in the box. Inside the box was a black case of some sort. Pulling it out of the box, he inspected it further; the outside was polyester, and unzipping it, he found multitudes of pockets, zippers, and spaces nestled along the inside as well as around the outside of the bag.
It took him far longer than it should’ve to realize it was a tool bag.
“Do you like it?” he heard Ms. Tanaka ask him, though his gaze was still fixated on the case in his hands. It was good quality — really good quality — likely worth a fair sum of money, no doubt. Instantly, Kazuichi felt his stomach sink with guilt; he didn’t deserve something so nice, especially considering Gundham got seemingly less expensive things in comparison. He was about to speak up when a small flash of yellow caught his eye at the very top of the case.
Inspecting it closer, he found the words Kazuichi Tanaka written at the top of the case in bright yellow stitching.
The simple text made his heart swell and his stomach drop all at once. He felt pinpricks of tears beginning to form in the corners of his eyes, several emotions all welling up in his chest and making him feel like he’s going to burst. He felt guilty, like this isn’t real, like he wasn’t worth this, like maybe this is a trick, like a lot of things.
The moment he looked up to see Ms. Tanaka and Gundham both smiling softly at him, suddenly the only thing he felt was loved.
And to Kazuichi, that was such an odd feeling, but one he welcomed nonetheless as he finally broke and burst into tears.
Ms. Tanaka worriedly rose from her seat and knelt down next to the crying boy as Gundham silently watched them both. She wrapped an arm around Kazuichi’s sobbing form and rubbed his arm comfortingly. “Oh, sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
“I-I-I…” Kazuichi could hardly speak through his hiccupping sobs and heavy breaths, but he managed to choke out a broken “Th-Thank you so much ” before dissolving into more grateful tears, curling around and wrapping his arms around Ms. Tanaka - no, his mom - in a tight embrace.
His face was buried into her shoulder as his body wracked out several more heavy sobs, and his mother only held him closer, rubbing his back soothingly and muttering quiet words of encouragement and love. Kazuichi, unexpectedly, then felt a sudden extra pressure along his side, his mind not registering it as a second hug until he feels Gundham’s bandaged hand stroke his arm comfortingly. The very surprising show of solidarity and comfort from the other boy — his brother — only made Kazuichi cry even more, adjusting to grip the other two figures tightly as he continued to sob.
Eventually, Kazuichi’s tears were dried, merely sniffling now as he sits next to Gundham on the couch, the two nursing their own cups of hot chocolate made by their mother. The two were watching two of the family cats run around and play with one another in the living room as they sat in a comfortable silence.
Kazuichi was the first to break the silence. “H-Hey, Gundham?”
A quiet “hm?” reverberated from the mug in front of Gundham’s lips in response so Kazuichi continued on. “I, uh… thanks.”
Gundham lowered his cup to his lap and stared at the other with a quirked brow. “For what am I receiving this gratitude?”
Kazuichi opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it again, thinking. There was a moment of stretched silence between the two before Kazuichi snorted a quiet laugh.
“What is so humorous, fiend?”
Kazuichi kept giggling to himself as he answered. “God, y’know what? I don’t… I dunno what I was actually, like, gonna thank you for. I-I guess, like… thanks for just, like… everything? I dunno… Sorry, that was dumb.”
Another moment of silence fell over them before a rumbling chuckle escaped Gundham’s throat.
“You are a most fascinatingly awkward mortal, Kazuichi,” Gundham jokingly prodded at him, raising his free hand to teasingly drag the beanie still atop Kazuichi’s head down over his eyes and glasses.
“Gah— Hey! Not cool!!” Kazuichi whined, still smiling, pushing the beanie back up onto his head and readjusting his glasses.
“But… you are welcome, Kazuichi. For ‘everything’, as you so eloquently put it,” Gundham continues, staring down into his drink.
Kazuichi nestled further back into his seat at that, smiling to himself and taking another sip of his drink, the warmth of the hot chocolate hardly measuring up to the warmth he felt blossoming in his chest.
As he looked around the room, at his mother, at his brother, at their animals, Kazuichi idly thought to himself, “So this is what a real home feels like, huh? Maybe I could get used to this, after all.