Gifts

By Chibi Hime

Her house is decorated for the Christmas. Multicolored lights glow and blink around the roof, windows and bushes. It looks nice...classic...homey.

He likes to look at it.

He's keeping watch in her backyard...her house backs up to a small woods behind her development. He likes to come and keep watch...for something like him. If that something shows up, he'll be there to protect her...not that she needs it. He can't help it. He's tried to think otherwise, tried to leave...but he always ends up back here.

Because she actually speaks to him, sometimes.

She's the only one who does. She's the only one he dares show himself to because he knows she's used to that sort of thing. She knows there is a boy inside him...that he's not just a monster.

It is cold now...the snow flutters down from the sky. None of it reaches his Pyronite arm...it all melts before it can touch it. Some of it lands in his dark hair, giving him a salt and pepper look. He shakes his head roughly and they flutter off of him.

The year is drawing to a close. Another year has gone by and he's still...this.

The panic is starting to close down on him again...the frantic mania that chews at his mind sometimes if he ever lets his thoughts wander.

He will never have anything like she has. He will never be one of them again. He'll just have to learn to live with his mistakes and carry on.

But that's the thing...he can't.

Oh, he can exist...he can survive...but he can't live.

His oversized, mismatched body can't even fit through the door of a normal sized house...how could he hope to stay anywhere that isn't a barn or an airplane hangar? He can't fit in a bed, let alone a pull out sofa for holiday guests. He doesn't have two pennies to rub together, so he can't buy a gift. Not that he could go shopping looking like he does without causing pandemonium. He doesn't have a computer...or a credit card...and his blocky fingers are too big to hit the keys anyway, so he can't shop online.

The panic and despair push down on his mind again. It makes him feel trapped and miserable...more so than usual.

More and more, he wants to run away...fly away into the wilderness. He doesn't want to see any trace of humanity, and he certainly doesn't want to be seen. There are times when he doesn't want to talk because his voice is so horrible...distorted and inhuman. He doesn't want to force himself to walk on two legs...it is hard to balance that way since he is so top heavy. He would leave and do all those things...but he doesn't because he'd miss her. She remembers even when he feels like he has forgotten.

Kevin doesn't know how old he is, but he's certain he's at least a teenager now. It is hard to tell since without a home, family, or regular schedule, all his days seem to blur together. He knows it has been at least three years since he...well, since it happened.

His younger self had raged about it and sworn vengeance.

His teenage self is ashamed and frightened because it is starting to grow up...and it sees and understands the consequences of his actions in a painfully clear way that his younger, angrier, more short sighted self could not.

His teenage self is also becoming painfully aware of something else.

Just then, she looks out the window then and sees him. Her eyes widen for a moment, then she smiles and waves. She brushes her bright red hair out of her sparkling eyes and she motions for him to wait.

He nods.

He'd wait forever if he had to.

He wags his striped tail slightly.

She emerges from the house a few minutes later, wrapped in a blue parka with white fur trim. She'd brought them both hot cocoa. His is in a giant novelty mug she found at the craft store. He's used it before. It is nice to know he is thought of. She seems to have put half a bag of marshmallows in his. Two bob in her small, purple mug.

"Hey, thanks," he rumbles.

It sounds horrible to his ears, but she smiles up at him as if it doesn't bother her at all...maybe it doesn't.

"No problem. How have you been? Staying out of trouble, I hope?" she laughs, joking with him.

"Yeah, same old same old," he nods.

He drinks some cocoa. It is made with milk, he can tell. He can taste it and smell it under the chocolate. It feels good as it washes down his throat and warms the pit of his stomach.

"Any plans for Christmas? You...got any family around here?"

She doesn't mean for it to be a hurtful question, he knows that.

"No," he lies. His mother lives a few towns over with her new husband...and new children. There's no room for him in their lives. Then again, there's precious little room for a giant mutant freak anywhere...but Gwen always manages to make time and space in her life.

"You?" he asks before burying his face in his drink again so she doesn't see his expression.

"I think we're staying here. Well, we might drive over to Uncle Carl's and have dinner with them and Grandpa...but other than that, we'll be here. Would you like to join us?" she asks softly.

He starts then, and chokes on the liquid in his mouth. It scaled his throat, but he's too busy hacking to do anything. Gwen puts a hand on his side and he feels warmer...and calm. That sort of thing happens when she touches him.

"Are you alright?" she asks, genuinely concerned.

He's humiliated, but he nods.

"So...would you like to stay with us for Christmas? You don't have to go with us to Uncle Carl's house. You can stay in the garage, if you want. We'll bring some things for you to do. Please. I don't want you to get sick. It is supposed to get below freezing again tonight and our house is warm...and with Mom off visiting my Aunt Lilo this week, there's plenty of room for you,"

His heart hammers in his inhuman chest. He isn't used to this kind of thing. He's been fine in the caves in the woods, in the abandoned warehouses on the outskirts of Bellwood. He can't remember the last time he was inside a house.

"I...I don't want to be any trouble," he answers, his voice as awful as it always is.

"You wouldn't be any trouble. We...I'd be happy to have you," Gwen promised.

"But...your parents...your brother...they...they wouldn't want...," he doesn't know how to end that sentence.

Gwen's eyes look anguished for a moment before she blinks the emotion away.

"Please. Please come inside tonight. Make it my Christmas present if you have to. I just don't want you out there alone in the cold again," she insists.

Again.

This would be the second year he'd be alone in the cold of Bellwood and not the Null Void. Two years already. Time just seemed to slip away.

"So please...I already asked if a friend whose family was away could come over and they already said yes," Gwen promises.

It is true, he can tell by the way her eyes look to the left a little, then blink. They do that when she's telling the truth, which is a lot of the time.

"I...want to...but...,"

I don't want to be in the way. I don't want people to see me, it is humiliating enough that you have to. I don't want them looking down on you because of your association with me. I want them to love you. I want you to be happy.

His younger self would have found these thoughts as alien as the parts he's composed of. The irony of it is not lost on him, that he's more human now than he was then.

Gwen places her hands over one of his orange furred Vulpimancer arms and she squeezes it gently.

"Please. I promise nothing bad will happen. I promise you won't get in the way. I promise that no one will hurt you," she said softly, bringing his clawed hand up to her cheek and leaning against it.

And he's helpless, then.

He can't say no to her...not after all she's done. No matter how frightened he is, no matter how stubborn he is, he can't say no to her. He can't deny someone who actually wants him to be there.

He nods slowly.

"Okay," he whispers so quietly, his voice could almost...almost pass for human.

"Thank you, Kevin," she sighs and there are little sparkling points of light in the corners of her eyes.

She hugs him and something explodes in his chest and he knows, at last, what the nagging feeling he has had for months is...and it terrifies him...but he pushes it out of his mind and returns the hug with his free Vulpimancer arm. He nuzzles his flat face against her hair and doesn't fight the purr that rumbles in his chest. He doesn't bother because Gwen doesn't mind. She takes what he can give, which at this point, isn't a lot, but he'll give her all he can.

It is Christmas, after all.