There was a saying that desperate times called for desperate measures. In spite of the fact that it was a platitude, Kakashi felt it was a generally correct statement, with some desperate situations being more desperate than others.
This situation counted as moderately desperate, so he was going to Minato-sensei's house to endure the moderately stressful and embarrassing ordeal of imposing upon his teacher's time at home.
He walked up to his sensei's door and rang the doorbell. He didn't have to wait more than two seconds before the door opened. Kakashi bowed. "Konnichiwa."
"Oh! Kakashi-kun. Come in." Minato bowed and then allowed him inside. "Konnichiwa! How are you?"
Kakashi slipped off his sandals self-consciously. He considered his answer.
Before he came to a decision, he saw Kushina padding out from the kitchen to join them. "Ah, Kakashi-kun!" She smiled brightly and gave him a hug.
"Kushina-san," Kakashi said.
"Would you like something to eat?" Kushina asked.
"No, thank you," Kakashi said. He didn't think he could eat now if he tried.
"Are you sure?" Kushina tilted her head. "I just finished making rice balls. You're welcome to have some."
Kakashi bowed. "No, thank you."
"Alright." Kushina ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead.
Kakashi found the affection slightly embarrassing. However, he wasn't going to stop her. She was his sensei's wife. And Kakashi was glad that Minato-sensei was married to someone as sweet-natured off the battlefield as him. Minato was the type who would have been easily crushed under the heel of the 'strong-woman' type of kunoichi.
Kushina straightened and looked to her husband. "Would you like anything, Anata?" 'Anata' was a familiar term for 'husband' special to being a man's wife.
"No, thank you," Minato said, smiling. He kissed her cheek lightly.
"I'll go back to making dinner, then." Kushina turned on her heel and walked back to the kitchen.
"Just don't make it too spicy, Habanero-chan." Minato called. He grinned at Kakashi and winked.
"Oi, watch it, you!" Kushina retorted from the kitchen. "I might come out and burn you up for remarks like that."
Minato chuckled quietly. "Gomen, gomen," he called. "Please don't burn me."
"I'll think about it."
Minato pressed his palms together and widened his eyes, even though Kushina couldn't see him from the kitchen. "I beg of you."
"Well…okay. But only because I'm feeling merciful today."
Minato beamed at his student. "I've been pardoned!"
Normally, the banter between Minato and Kushina never failed to make Kakashi smile. Today, he was too sick to his stomach.
"Minato-sensei, can I speak to you alone?" Kakashi muttered.
"Of course, Kakashi-kun." Minato looked surprised and concerned. He allowed Kakashi to lead him into another room.
Minato patted the sofa. "Let's sit down."
Kakashi allowed Minato to sit down, and then sat. He clenched his hands in his lap, not reclining against the sofa but instead perching on the edge of the sofa cushion, his back straight.
"I need to get Gai a present," Kakashi said straight away, needing to get that off his chest and clarify the conversation they were about to have.
Minato almost fell over. "Oh?" He blinked. "You do?"
Kakashi groaned miserably and hid his face in his hands. Even a mask was too little coverage at the moment. "Minato-sensei, I don't know what to get him. I see him almost every day and I feel as though I know everything about him, but as soon as I think about what he would like to receive as a gift I get stuck. I don't know what's wrong with me. I feel like a little kid again. I can read people. I can mold chakra into any shape I desire. I can even become almost anyone else with my range at Henge and my information gathering techniques. So why can't I get him a present?"
Minato hugged him. "Because you're thinking too hard."
Kakashi lowered his hands and raised his head warily, looking at his sensei. "I am?"
"Get him something from the heart," Minato said gently, smiling. "Present-giving is about your heart, not your head. When you don't know what to think of, look instead for a present that reminds you of Gai-kun."
Kakashi took a deep breath and nodded, absorbing the advice. He noted that Minato didn't ask him why he needed to get Gai a present. He supposed it was Minato's usual discretion. It didn't matter to Minato why it had happened, only that Kakashi needed help. Not having to explain was a relief.
Kakashi walked up to the lamppost, his hands in the pockets of his coat. The present he'd gotten Gai was inside his coat, against his chest.
"You're late!" Gai pointed at him.
"You didn't say what time, only that it would be today," Kakashi said. "How long have you been waiting?"
"Two hours!" Gai wrapped his arms around himself and shivered.
"Maa, that was foolish, wasn't it?" Kakashi grinned.
Gai gave him a look.
"So, who goes first?" Kakashi asked. "I assume there is a prearranged order to this gift exchange."
Gai straightened, nodding. "It is you who goes first, as the challengee. Being the challenger, naturally, I go second."
"Alright." Kakashi pulled the gift-wrapped box out of his coat. "I wanted to get it over with anyway." He handed the box over to Gai. He had the urge to shift his weight from one foot to the other. Even though he was trying not to be, he was nervous. No matter what Minato-sensei said.
Some gifts are just stupid, and I don't want this to be one of those. Kakashi found himself holding his breath.
"What…is this?" Gai held up the box, mystified.
Kakashi shifted uncomfortably, clenching his hands inside his pockets. "Maa, that's what gift wrapping is for, isn't it? You said to gift-wrap."
"But the box is so light and tiny!" Gai shook it, listening. "And I hear nothing shaking within the confines of this mysterious box."
"Open it," Kakashi said through clenched teeth.
"Alright, alright." Gai looked at him with concern. "It is merely a custom to guess one's presents. I did not mean to agitate you."
Kakashi sighed. "Let's get this over with." He glanced at his apartment complex longingly. He wanted to go back inside where it was warm, not stand out on the street corner a block away from his home. Why does Gai always insist on doing things the hard way? He knew that if he asked, he'd probably get a training-related answer.
Gai tore open the paper, revealing the white cardboard box, and fiddled with the tabs of the lid. He pulled the folded lid free at last, opening the box, and reached inside. His brow furrowed.
Kakashi had a sick feeling in his stomach.
Gai pulled out the bright orange scarf with a blank expression.
Kakashi knew he had utterly failed.
"It's a scarf," Gai said in a totally neutral voice.
Gai never says anything in a neutral voice. I've failed, I've failed, I've failed. Kakashi bowed his head and stared at the ground.
"Allow me a moment in which to don this lovely scarf," Gai said.
The words crunched inside Kakashi's chest like broken ribs. He could barely stand it. "Don't bother."
"Don't be silly," Gai said. He wrapped the scarf around his neck as if positioning a dead snake, all uncertainty and uncomfortable shoulder-shrugging. "There." He spread his arms. "How do I look?"
Kakashi glanced up and then quickly looked back down at his feet. Oh, god…this is too horrible for words.
"I don't know what to get you for Christmas," he mumbled, admitting it. His chest felt filled with heaviness. "I'm sorry." He held out his arms and took a step forward, crossing the gap between them, and wrapped his arms around Gai awkwardly. He'd never felt as though he had to apologize before. But the world was full of firsts. And he'd really let Gai down.
Gai accepted the hug with awe, patting Kakashi's back and finally wrapping his arms around Kakashi in return.
Kakashi miserably rested his head on Gai's shoulder.
Gai cradled him. "I'm very happy."
Kakashi's head jerked up. He looked at Gai incredulously. "Why?"
A warm smile spread across Gai's face. "This is the best present I ever could have asked for."
"What is?" Kakashi stared at him.
"A hug," Gai said simply. "It's the best gift in the world."
"You've got to be kidding –"
"I'm not," Gai said, cutting him off before he could finish. "I'm not joking." He hugged Kakashi tightly. "A small hug willingly given is the best present I ever could have asked for from you, Kakashi. You are truly the best friend I have ever had."
"It's not –" Kakashi started to complain.
Gai hugged on him happily. "You are the person that knows me best in the world."
"I'm not the person that knows you best in the world," Kakashi retorted. "I just finished saying I didn't know what to get you, didn't I?"
"A moment of low confidence," Gai said. He grinned. "Followed by success. Just like my rival!"
Gai hugged him again.
Kakashi was helpless. There was just no way to fight his way out of this sticky mire of optimism and saccharine-sweet sentimentalism that Gai displayed. He hugged Gai back, resigned. It wasn't as if he was getting away any time soon, anyway. He was likely to be dragged around in Gai's arms like a teddy bear for at least another five minutes. "Alright. What did you get me?"
Gai lit up with excitement. He took off running, dragging Kakashi by the arm. "This way!"
Kakashi saw where they were headed the instant before Gai burst through the door. "This is my home," he protested.
"I know!" Gai said. "It's waiting for you in your apartment!"
Gai grinned. "I had help. I just distracted you long enough to get you out of the place so that we could bring your presents in."
"Presents?" Kakashi had a bad feeling about this. "But I only said one. There was one – supposed to be one gift. Not many. What have you done?"
"You'll see," Gai said contentedly.
Oh, dear. Kakashi braced himself as Gai raced up the stairs with him.
"He's here!" Gai called as he flung open the door to Kakashi's apartment and pulled Kakashi inside.
Kakashi was stunned to find Minato-sensei and Kushina standing in his living room waiting for him. Minato was dressed in a blue knit sweater, and Kushina had on a dress and apron. They'd decorated his living room with streamers and spread food on his kotatsu table, too. He could see it behind them.
"Surprise!" Kushina exclaimed, spreading her hands. She giggled.
Minato glanced at her fondly and then gave Kakashi a warm smile. "Merry Christmas, Kakashi-kun."
Gai shut the door behind him, making him jump.
The realization slammed into Kakashi that Gai's present was an attempt to give him a family for a day. A mother and a father and… He slowly turned his head to look at Gai. Gai stood beside him, blushing with happiness and excitement. A brother.
His eyes stung, and he was tempted for one single moment to call Gai stupid, but then he realized it was the emotions inside of him running unaccustomedly high. He ran to Minato and threw his arms around his sensei instead, trying to use the convenient placement of Minato's chest to hide the fact that he was crying for once in his life. He buried his face against Minato's sweater and sniffled.
"It's alright," Minato said gently. He touched Kakashi's hair, hesitated, and then lowered his hand further, rubbing Kakashi's back. "Gai-kun was right, I see."
Kakashi didn't have to ask what Gai was right about. He clung on to Minato fiercely and shook his head, drying his eyes on Minato's chest.
"Now, may I offer you a glass of eggnog?" Minato asked. "Gai-kun insisted on buying some for our celebration. I'm not familiar with the holiday traditions surrounding Christmas myself, but he says it's traditional."
Kakashi smiled up at his teacher. "That's Gai." He glanced at the green person in question. "We may as well."
"Yahoo!" Gai dived in and served everyone a glass of eggnog before Kushina could even finish reaching for the carton resting on the kotatsu table. He passed the glasses around and then raised his own glass of eggnog over his head. "Holiday cheer!"
Minato laughed, taken aback.
Kushina shook her head, smiling. "Gai-kun, you're so fast."
"I train for ten hours a day with leg and wrist weights!" Gai gave her a thumbs up. "Now let us partake of this holiday cheer in a glass!"
Kushina snorted. "Alright." She took a sip, then examined the glass. "It's not bad."
Minato took an experimental sip as well. "Delicious. Gai-kun, thank you."
Gai took a swig of his own eggnog. "Ahhhh."
Kakashi sneakily applied his genjutsu so that no one would be able to catch a glimpse of his face. Then he pulled down his mask and took a sip of eggnog. He made a face. "What is in this stuff? It tastes like I'm drinking straight custard."
"Aha!" Gai grinned widely. "Rival, you are as astute as ever! Eggnog is liquid custard! It is nothing more than cream and eggs with a sprinkling of holiday spices mixed in."
Kushina burst out laughing. "Kakashi-kun, oh, I'm sorry."
Minato smiled mischievously. "I like it." He took a second sip, giving himself an eggnog mustache. "But then, I have a sweet tooth."
"I'll pass," Kakashi said weakly. He set down his glass of eggnog on the kotatsu table and wilted onto the sofa. He wasn't sure how to get the coating of eggnog out of his mouth.
After the eggnog was finished, everyone gathered around him on the sofa. With Kushina on one side of him and Minato on the other, with himself squeezed in between, Kakashi did start to feel like they were a family.
Gai sat on the floor in front of him between the sofa and kotatsu table, picking the spot voluntarily. "Now, it is time for gifts!"
Kakashi noticed then the pile of gift-wrapped packages on the floor under the kotatsu table. "Ah…" He was embarrassed all over again. I didn't get anyone anything.
Gai handed the packages back to the people they'd come from, although for some reason Kakashi ended up with packages on his lap. Kakashi stared down at the presents he definitely hadn't picked out for anyone. "Ah, Gai…"
"Just a moment, Kashi," Gai said. "I know you are eager to give Minato-sensei and Kushina-san their presents, but I want to do it my way."
Kakashi bowed his head. "Maa…" He sighed. "Whatever. I guess this is your idea from the start, so go ahead."
Gai directed the gift exchanges with a broad smile, apparently enjoying himself a great deal. He pointed. "First, Kushina-san and I will exchange gifts. Then it will be Minato-sensei and Kakashi."
"As you wish," Minato said, smiling.
Kushina gave Gai a squashy, vaguely cylindrical package.
Gai squeezed it, curious. "It feels like clothing."
"Open it!" Kushina encouraged him, her eyes alight with excitement.
Gai tore the wrapping paper off and unfolded a sweater.
"I knitted it myself. I barely had time to finish it for Christmas." She beamed. "But I found you just the right color. It's pretty, isn't it?"
"Indeed it is!" Gai took off Kakashi's scarf, pulled on Kushina's knitted sweater, and then rewrapped Kakashi's scarf around his neck – even though Kakashi thought the reapplication was unnecessary.
"Oh, dear," Minato said.
"I think my eyes are bleeding," Kakashi said.
"What are you talking about?" Kushina protested. "It's cute!"
Gai beamed. "I agree with Kushina-san. I find this combination of lime green and neon orange quite appealing."
Kakashi sighed. "Maa, Kushina-san, you're not helping Gai's fashion sense improve any."
Kushina pouted. "Hmph."
Gai held up a rather large package above his head. It also looked like clothing. "This is for you, Kushina-san!"
"Why, thank you, Gai-kun." Kushina accepted the gift happily. She carefully tore the messy gift-wrap and revealed a winter coat. She blushed. "It's wonderful. How can I accept this?"
Gai grinned. "Because Minato-sensei helped me pick it out."
Minato chuckled and leaned across Kakashi to kiss Kushina's cheek.
Kushina's blush intensified, turning the same color as the coat in her lap.
"Alright, now you and me," Minato said to Kakashi, smiling at him warmly.
Kakashi had to read the messy label on the packages to tell them apart. The writing was obviously Gai's. He held in another sigh. "Here." Kakashi picked up the irregular, lumpy one and handed it over to his sensei.
Minato beamed. "Thank you, Kakashi-kun. Here is your present." He handed over a smaller package, a box that fit in Kakashi's palm.
Kakashi stared down at it curiously.
"Let's open our presents together," Minato suggested.
Kakashi nodded. He glanced at Minato to make sure his sensei had started unwrapping, and then followed suit.
"It's cute!" Minato exclaimed.
Kakashi looked up, startled.
Minato was holding a plush cat, rubbing his cheek against it. "It's Mitsuki-chan! I didn't have her yet! She just came out. Didn't you, sweetie?" He snuggled the stuffed cat for another moment before reluctantly attempting a stern expression. "I know that my Koneko Charm Collection is a silly hobby to have, and I would never have asked you to aid and abet my shameful otaku-ism…" His lips curved upwards again. "But thank you."
Kakashi looked away shiftily. "I…" He flashed back to a short conversation he'd had with Gai about a month ago.
Does Minato-sensei have any hobbies? Gai had asked.
He'd wondered if he should, after all, reveal his teacher's embarrassing secret, but he'd figured that nothing could be more embarrassing than Gai's behavior every day in broad daylight. So he'd reluctantly told Gai about Minato-sensei's plush cat collection. Including that Minato had mentioned in passing that a new Koneko Charm plushie was coming out.
Kakashi felt simultaneously humbled and grateful. Gai…I don't know what to say. "It wasn't really me, Minato-sensei. It was Gai."
Gai laughed. "Kashi was too busy to do the holiday shopping himself, Minato-sensei, but he told me what he wanted me to get for you."
Kakashi blushed. That's true enough.
Minato smiled and asked gently, "What about your present, Kakashi-kun?"
Kakashi looked down at his lap and realized he hadn't finished unwrapping Minato's gift. He pulled out a small box with a clear plastic top. There was a digital wristwatch hanging on a small display stand in the box. "A watch," he said blankly.
Minato chuckled and hugged him. "Gai suggested you need one, because you can never seem to be on time."
"I can be on time!" Kakashi protested. "I'm on time to all our missions, aren't I? Gai's just protesting because I don't show up whenever I say I will whenever I promise him I'm going to be somewhere. And it's not my fault, it's just that things happen! Thieves try to rob fruit stands and steal purses and roads don't go where they used to and sometimes little children lose their toys and – and – and –"
Everyone was laughing by this point, so Kakashi gave up. He hung his head. "Maa, it's a nice watch, after all. Maybe I'll wear it sometime." He gave Gai a pointed glare. "But I am always on time when I have to be."
Minato patted Kakashi's shoulder comfortingly.
Gai grinned up at him. "Well, now you might be on time all the time, even when you have the luxury of being late."
"I doubt it," Kakashi muttered. He gave Gai a sly look. "I would have to remember to wear my watch, and I am very forgetful."
Gai gave him a wide-eyed, pitiful pout.
"It's time for you and me to exchange presents, isn't it?" Minato reminded Gai. "And Kakashi-kun and Kushina."
"Oh! Yes." Gai brightened. "Yes, it is."
Everyone passed around their presents.
Minato gave Gai a scroll with instructions on a jutsu Gai hadn't learned yet that was compatible with Gai's talents. Gai held up the scroll and grinned. "A wonderful gift from a wonderful teacher. Thank you, Minato-sensei!"
Minato grinned in return. "You're welcome." He unwrapped the present Gai had given him, which turned out to be a framed calligraphy painting of 師恩 , the kanji for 'shion', or 'the kindness of a teacher'. He held it up for everyone to see. "And this is a thoughtful gift from a thoughtful student. Thank you, Gai-kun. You honor me even though I am not your team's instructor."
Gai beamed and rubbed the back of his head, blushing.
Kakashi discovered that he had apparently gotten Kushina a necklace with a little gold fox pendant without his knowledge. He glanced at Gai.
Kushina kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Kakashi-kun. It's wonderful." Then she hugged him. "It's wonderful to be surrounded by people who honor me for my position as Konoha's jinchuuriki instead of becoming afraid or standoffish."
Kakashi's cheeks heated up. He'd told Gai that, too: that Kushina's fondest wish and her most sensitive concern revolved around her status as a jinchuuriki. It seemed that Gai knew exactly how to turn Kakashi's knowledge about the people he loved into the perfect presents for them.
"Maa, it's really nothing," Kakashi said.
"Silly," Kushina said. She squeezed him. "Now open your present!" She pushed a familiar looking package into his arms.
He knew what Kushina's present to him was before he opened it, but he pretended not to anyway. "Maa, what a nice sweater, Kushina-san." He smiled and held up the hand-knitted sweater, just glad that it wasn't lime green. Kushina's choice of color for him was navy blue.
Wrapping paper had gotten everywhere during this process. Gai wadded it up into one big ball and stuffed it in Kakashi's trashcan underneath the kitchen sink, then squeezed onto the couch between Kakashi and Kushina, seeming not to notice the tight fit.
"Alright, I picked out a Christmas movie, everyone!" Gai grabbed the TV and VCR remotes and commanded Kakashi's entertainment center to come to life. "I had to search long and hard, but I found a Christmas movie that is guaranteed to entertain!"
It was a disturbingly illogical story about a reindeer with a red light bulb on the end of its nose that was apparently a genetic mutation.
Kakashi found himself fascinated.