A Kinder Word for Free

BY : Resting-Madness
Category: Yuyu Hakusho > General
Dragon prints: 352
Disclaimer: I don't own any character or part of the Yu Yu Hakusho universe. I make no money from this fiction and I don't endorse any products.

Disclaimer: I do not own any character from the Yu Yu Hakusho universe, nor do I own or make money from the concept. I just play with them like dolls but on digital paper.

Commentary: This was originally a story-story but due to consumption last year I decided it's better as a one-shot possibly a two-shot. Either way, I'm better to do it now, I hope you enjoy it.

x x x

Yusuke Urameshi, age 16, was having a hard time. It wasn't a case from Koenma that's got him down in the dumps, nor was it his drunken mother forgetting she's not the only one living in their house. He'd love to blame Sarayashiki high school for his despair, god knows it would have been an easy out to his problems if suddenly his lacking in academics mattered to him. But, no, his problems are far more basic. He needs money. Money for food.

His stomach gave an embarrassing groan as another set of customers exited the burger-joint bringing with them the intoxicating aroma of puffy-crisp French fries and greasy-beefy burgers. Even the lesser option of a chicken sandwich smells good.

Yusuke stuck his nose up in the air taking a deep breath. "Onions," his mouth is watering.

Life could be so cruel to an inner city teen whose got a wickedly healthy appetite, while belonging to a mother who has a wickedly bad habit of spending all the money from the minuscule checks received on anything other than food.

"Doesn't anyone have any holiday spirit? I thought this was a season for giving..." He grumbled to the feeding frenzy patrons who're simply passing him by. "Hn. Maybe I should dress like Santa, get some change and get some eats."

Looking around towards the ringa-linga of a bell and jaunty pleading, he spots several Santa Clauses working corners of the streets. But which one was making the most bank? Aah. Contestant number 4 over by the nail salon.

Pushing his face from against the large window of the Snack-Shack, although with as cold as the winter air is it's more like he's pulling his face from the glass, he then stalked through the foot traffic towards the holly-jolly man in red, fist ready for a gentle assault but his trail bee-lined to a bench where he dropped his disgruntled weight. His weight then slobbed over into a hunch with his chin steepen his hands and elbows on his knees to support the downcast head. Not even for food would he whomp Santa Clause- non-existant or not, it'd be like spitting on a cross in church.

"Here sits the second corpse of Yusuke Urameshi. You might remember him as a bad ass spirit detective who saved the world, and recently got a hair cut from a friend. Yup. Nice obit'," he sighed a visible breath into the air. "This is bullshit!" He declared to the world.

"No. I think it's beef," says a craggily familiar voice. Kuwabara reached into the brown logo'd bag fishing out of it a thick juicy burger which he leaned over to his distraught boyfriend. "I've been looking all over for you," he chuckled in that way he often does that sounds more like he's mocking then merry-making.

Yusuke couldn't hear a word he was saying too busy casting doe-eyes at the super sized burger that's cooling in the winter air between his hands. The spirit detective dug in with gusto as his boyfriend prattled on as he watched.

"It's like watching Wild Kingdom," declared the swordsman. "I'm surprised you haven't unhinged your jaw, heh, you're allowed to savor it. It's not tied to a string and I'm gonna jerk it back," he busted out laughing.

Yusuke finally came up for air, and as he's rummaging through the bag for fries he asks. "Did you say something?" He belched satisfactorily then started in on the salty sticks of potato. "Mmm."

The sight could break a heart, really. It's like a front row seat reason that soup kitchens are so important. "Your mom spent all the hospital settlement check money on herself again?"

"What do you think?" Replied his boyfriend, who finally slowed down the pace of his eating massacre. "She's got her own goals life, which is to never have a cent to her name."

The Urameshi family collects checks from the hospital that decided to pronounce her son dead rather than in the coma that he actually was- that she assumed. It was thought of as a joke amongst her friends and her child, whom were the ones she'd told, but Atsuko Urameshi was quite serious. Someone had to be accountable for the screw up, the pain and misery, the cost of the funeral. A lawyer promised a bloodbath to compensate for the screw up. However, afraid of the bad press, the hospital contacted Atsuko privated and asked to buy their silence- which worked for them since the penniless woman couldn't afford a lawyer, good thing a 'front' is free or they'd still be getting meager unemployment checks from when Ms. Urameshi worked in a diner... six years ago.

They're about a third percent in to their 70,000 dollar settlement, so after that... Who knows.

"So why were you looking for me? What, did I leave something dirty in my bedroom and you need me to get it before your sister sees?" Teased the red head's cheeky boyfriend.

Kuwabara spluttered whatever it was he was about to say; a deep blush tainted his cheeks. For as amorous as the guy was he sure couldn't take hearing about it. It was endearing, really.

"N-no! I wanted to tell you that Kurama is having a Christmas party on the day, he wants us to do a secret Santa, too. Can you make it? Are you busy?"

Yusuke laughed dryly, thinking. 'Yeah, I'm gonna spend Christmas hoping the heating bill's been paid while I watch cheesy old movies instead of something cool because my mother seems to believe that the only television in the house belongs solely to her.' Shaking his head he says. "I'm free. I'll be there,"

"Great! I'll tell him when I see him," scrunching up the empty bag, he rose from the bench. "Glad we could have lunch together but I've gotta get back to work."

'Rub it in why don't ya,' thinks the penniless.

"Ya know, if I get you as a secret I'm just gonna give you the gift that's already at my house," laughing merrily he says. "You already get enough freebies from me."

"Aheh, right." Yusuke waved it off.

"Good luck with the name draw, I sure as heck wouldn't wanna get Hiei." He shuddered. "I'll stop by later."

"Okay."

Walking off he turns around continuing to walk away, though his steps are now backwards, and he calls out between hands cupped at his mouth. "And don't worry, I won't be looking for my gift while I'm over there!"

Yusuke again gave another dry laugh. "Ahehe, yeah you'll need a ouija board to find it, since it doesn't exit." He muttered with his boyfriend out of earshot.

It would be the holidays...

The pale gray sky lay thick with the idea of snowing on the busy prefecture of Ueno, where the thrills are high and the rent is cheap especially in the promiscuous Kaidan neighborhood where a chilly spirit detective enters his home, blowing heat on his hands before rubbing the cold from his arms through his thick green coat.

"Mom, I'm home!" He calls out as he turns into the living room. "I need toooo..." Trailing off he says. "And you've got company, super."

Four ladies, one of them is actually a man in drag- the drag part is possibly a little more than by clothing- are seated around the kotatsu table enjoying what could only be shots of whiskey judging by the easy demeanor of atmosphere in the air.

"Heey, Yusi-poo!" Waved the cross-dressed guest.

"Hi Deloris," he greets. Why feign ignorance when she's one of his mother's regular friends? He often wonders where the seemingly normal woman meets these types of people? "Mom, can I talk to you for a second?" He gestures towards the kitchen by bobbing his cocked head in its general direction.

"Sure sweetie, I'll be right back girls," popping up from the floor she follows her dear son to a more private area to talk.

"I need some money," he got right to the point. "Fifty or more, if we have it."

Atsuko crossed her arms and shook with laughter. "Umm, why does a kid your age need that kind of money?"

"I'm sixteen, and what 'kind of money' you make it sound like I asked for two hundred." He scoffs at the 'kid his age' comment. "Kurama is having a Christmas party and we have to get each other gifts. I don't wanna be the I.o.u until maybe never guy."

"I'm sorry, but right now I just don't have it," she shrugged her hand. "I'd give it to you if I did. But they're you're friends, they'll understand a late gift."

"But it's humiliating," his head droops. He can just see them now. It's worse than pointing and laughing, they'll understand with pitying eyes. He trembled in repulse. "Isn't there any way to get it?"

"I'm sorry but the check for this weak is gone. Unless you wanna turn over an ATM, why not do like most kids your age and get a job."

Yusuke's eyes widened in shock. It was so obvious, so simple yet he felt like a little kid hearing his first dirty word. The sentence has that kind of 'did you really just say that' vibe.

"I... I guess I could."

Smiling, Atsuko kissed her son on the cheek. "That's the spirit. Go get 'em tiger!"

"Right!" He returned the smile though with less assure.

"Liu brought over some cocoa, fix yourself a cup before you head out." Kissing his cheek she wiped off the moisture the returned to he living room. "And good luuuuck," And she meant it. Finding anything open around the holidays when others have the same frame of mind wasn't going to be easy.

Feeling momentarily put out, he perked up for the cocoa. And with a full mug and the Want Ads from the paper, he sat in his bedroom mulling over the possibilities.

He's not the only one with money on the mind. However, with Hiei the situation was a bit different.

Kurama, known in the human world as Shuichi Minamino, age 16, sits in the kitchen of his home in the posh neighborhood of Kōkyū sorting through some bills. Not the ones acting as a receipt for the cost of living but monetary. Money.

"This year I'm giving you 100 dollars, Hiei,"

The money is held out to the youkai who's seated across from him at the kitchen table in the Minamino home. The pair just finished cleaning up after they've eaten lunch.

"Isn't it getting old, Kurama?" Asks the bored, almost, permanent-guest of the residence. "Every year we're doing secrets as if its a surprise anymore,"

Kurama blinked indifference as a response, because ever since their first holiday together in the human world they've done Secret Santa as friends. And ever since then Hiei has taken to complaining about it. It creeps in like the seasonal cold.

They'd be out for a walk in the park or through the city, the dark haired demon would see his breath and then very blandly state. "We're not doing it again this year." There was no question to it with the addition of "are we" or even a hitch in Hiei's voice at the tail-end of the sentence. Just a flat rejecting statement of command.

However, Kurama would coyly reply. "Doing what?"

Then Hiei would cut his eyes at him on a side glance and say. "Don't play dumb, Fox," Using his nickname for Youko always means he meant business. "You know exactlywhat I'm talking about."

And Kurama, of course, did know what he was talking about because the year before when they'd first done it, Hiei told him how ridiculous he thought it was. He then said he'd never participate in any other human world activity. It didn't help it that when they drew names for gift giving the youkai snagged Kuwabara. Yusuke laughed, the receiver's spirit sank with a groan, and four men dressed as Saint Nick wound up tied upside down in a tree with their sack over their head.

Now Kurama isn't saying that Hiei did it, but he was called out by name when the channel 606 news interviewed the jolly men in red asking them if they saw the attacker? Each man said the same thing. "It was a 'flying shadow'" and what does Hiei translate to...? Exactly. But, there is no definitive proof so Kurama didn't address the matter.

As time to buy gifts would draw near the complaining would resume. Hiei would dejectedly say "No" out of the blue as if Kurama had said something to him. Even once during sex the the three-eyed demon would tisk and tell him that the activity wasn't going to change his mind, and he wasn't going to warm up to it. Then on the day of shopping the disgruntled demon would follow him around the department store, toss the first of anything nearby into the cart and be done with it. Kuwabara got a stain glass panel for Christmas that year... Without the stain. Such a shame.

But not this year! This year Hiei is on his own. He'll have money, he'll have the mall, and Kurama will have a laugh and slightly guilt-free conscious because he helped do his part in making Hiei a part of their lives other than a comrade-in-arms.

"Hiei, it's not gonna work to complain about something you know is going to happen. Just draw a name this evening and buy something nice." He srood from his seat, and with a small smile he adds. "You don't even have to be the one to give it to him or her," Because Hiei could get Botan this year.

Hiei's thin brows shot up in belligerence. Was he kidding? "Is that supposed to mean something, because it's doesn't."

"You seem put off more by the bonding than the sentiment, leaving the delivery task to someone else lets you off the hook."

Hiei scoffed. "Hn. You're assuming I took the bait,"

Kurama smiled. "Was that a joke?" He meant Hiei's adding to his fishing comment. Seeing the stone-blank expression as a response, he sighed his defeat in the verbal battle and instead stuffed the money into the kangaroo-pocket of Hiei's hoodie. "Take the money, buy the gift, then show up. That's all you have to do."

"And if I don't?"

...

Hiei is standing outside the Minamino home with his hands in his pocket clutching the cash He removed the money and looked at it with disdain. "Hn." Kurama's chilling 'or else' threat ran through his memory. 'Well, I call your bluff.' The money caught fire and burned to ashes in his palm, and the youkai disappeared into the day.

Yusuke stood outside the flourishing eatery staring through the large window. This was starting to become a weird habit of his, he should really go inside before that thought of his becomes truth. He sighed a cold breath into the air.

Hiei appeared beside the spirit detective like he'd been dropped out of the sky. He watched the spaced-out teen for a moment then turned his sharp gaze towards the activity at the entrance. "If you haven't yet noticed," he began. "the entrance is over there."

Yusuke rolled his eyes but doesn't respond verbally. This is serious work he must do to psyche himself up to... to... Work. He cringed, and is almost positive a window glass might have broken somewhere or maybe there's a deep crack in the sidewalk from such a distressing situation.

Seeing the lack of response, Hiei then looked at the window before them. "Or maybe you've forgotten what you look like,"

"Would you quit pestering me, Hiei, I'm trying to get in the mood!"

Hiei snickered at the outburst. "Makes sense you have to do it without the gorilla."

"Rrr... Listen, smartass, that's not what I meant."

"What's with the bad mood? You must hate this stupid time of year more than I do," as he knows Yusuke is usually in a good mood because if he's not fired up with battle joy than he's overflowing with good mirth from just being a happy-go-lucky wise-ass.

"It's not that," finally ceasing his visual hole drilling into the shop's window, he turns to his friend. "I have to get a job."

That was surprising. Hiei looked at the building with wonder. "Kurama has a job, the ape has a job," he says casually. "Is this some new human activity you're all boring yourselves with?"

"Hn. I wish, but" he presses himself closer to the building as a group of patrons leave the eatery. "I need money so I can get Kuwabara a present for Christmas, and one for whoever I get from the name draw tonight."

He'd also like to get something for his mother, if the remainder of his pay would allow it. She's not all bad, and- who knows- maybe getting her a gift will keep her on her toes towards putting him first.

"Again with this secret Santa nonsense," groaned the demon in the most demure way, although that Hiei is complaining at all it's practically a scream in his sense. "And here I thought I could get some relief of it sparring with you,"

Yusuke snickered. "Missed the mark there, huh?" Grabbing Hiei by the shoulder when he sees that he's about to leave, he says hastily. "Hiei, wait! Stay with me. I could use the moral support."

"And you thought I'd provide it to you?" With a smug smirk Hiei scoffed. "Missed the mark there, huh?"

Yusuke only laughed at the quotation. "There is a faster way to get this whole shopping thing done and over with,"

"Oh yeah, how's that?"

"Kurama always gives you money, right?"

"Right."

"Split it with me, we shop for something cheap-o together and each of us wins,"

"Wrong." He shrugged his shoulder free from the spirit detective's grasp.

"What? You won't share with me?" Squinting at the demon he adds. "So much for my being your one friend,"

"I don't need friends," remarked the three-eyed demon coolly. "And I meant you're wrong because I don't have any money to share."

Taken aback, Yusuke asks. "Did Kurama tell you to get a job, too?"

That was surprising. Kurama is usually careful about hiding the less-than-willing-to-conform-to-man's-lifestyle demon from the human world which he can't stand. Hiei is barely tolerating the winter wardrobe Kurama picked out for him to wear. That was a fun trip to the mall. Hiei fought tooth and nail to dissuade his lover from dressing him like a human, especially when he doesn't get cold, but Kurama made it clear that the 'winter wear' was a must. To think of it as camouflage from being leered at by passerby who will believe Hiei is some freak of nature who doesn't feel the cold. From there it's a short trip to the hospital, science labs, and television to exploit the science experiment.

Kurama won the battle. Logically. Although Hiei won in another way, because every piece of clothing he rejected he damaged and Kurama wound up paying for it. Point, Hiei.

'Maybe he's trying to teach Hiei the value of money?' Yusuke smiled smugly. 'After that mall thing it would serve him right.'

"I burned it."

Yusuke blinked back to reality and laughed. "You mean you you spent it already- like you burned through it?"

"No. I burned it."

"...Oh." Sucking in a breath he shouts loud enough for an astronaut to believe they might not be alone. "You burned the money! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Lack of interest." Replied the demon coolly.

Yusuke emotionally bit his tongue so hard that he's actually clenching his teeth together. "You could have given it to me, ya know." The words were barely able to escape the clenched teeth.

"That's your problem,"

"Oh yeah, well it's gonna be your problem when Kurama finds out about it." He scoffs. Looks like he'll be applying for a job after all. Damn.

"Kurama already tried his lame threat on me," Hiei smirked recalling the weak statement that was said to him with such severity. "Doesn't he realize that I'm already missing an arm? I can't image why he'd think threatening to cut something off would work on me."

Yusuke could become a professional shocked-blinker because all of these knowledges were really getting him off kilter and setting a count-meter. "Wait a minute..." His laughter was hard to hide as he asked through a poorly contained chuckle. "What were his exact words?"

"Why?" One of his sharp eyes cocked with curious annoyance.

"Because if Kurama said 'I'm gonna cut you off' he meant in a sexual way,"

A mother, appalled by such words coming from the mouth of a youth, bundled her coat up around her throat and hurried away.

"Teenagers have sex too, lady!" Called one sexually active teen. "Adults can be so uptight."

Hiei stood stone still wondering if that's what Kurama had meant? "Yeah right. He wouldn't do something so foolish,"

"Oh no? Kuwabara did it to me once for a month," he walks into to the eatery. It seems messing with Hiei could really ease a guys tension; it's better than acupuncture. Now where is the manager's office. Seeing that the three-eyed demon is still following him, he continued what he was saying. "People don't joke when they use that threat. They go in ready."

"Kurama likes it just as much as I do. He won't last an hour." Again, he's calling his lover's bluff.

"Hiei, you've got a lot to learn about sexual sadism. Now, buzz-off I've got a job to apply for."

"Fine." He stopped following the spirit detective, but his voice held his position for one last moment. "But you're wrong. And I'll prove it."

Snickering, the departing teen waved it away about his being wrong. "You'll see the hard way then. If you're smart you'll beg for another wad of cash, either that or get yourself a job." He laughed merrily at the latter as he entered the manager's office.

"Hn. Exaggerating fool."

The next day...

"You're late!" The manager bellowed in his garbled voice causing his puffy cheeks to buoy like flat water just took a hit from some stronger force, when his newly hired employee walked into the eatery seven minutes late.

"There was a lot of traffic, okay. It wasn't my fault," Yusuke explained, leaving out the part where he doesn't own a car and had to run all the way because he lost his bus pass and didn't have change for a new one.

"Why're you sweating? Go clean yourself up before you get in the kitchen, we can't have the customers thinking you're the sort of person who handles our food,"

"Right away, sir," he gave a quick salute then rushed past his, oddly scrawny despite the size of his cheeks, boss headed towards the restroom to wash his perspiration away.

The spirit detective gathered a dollop of foam soap into his palm from the dispenser and after lathering it by rubbing his hands together he gave his head a once over. He shook himself dry like a dog then gave a refreshed "Aa" as he was back to prime appearance- well, as prime in his appearance as he could look in a lime green polo shirt with mock long white sleeves, and a dopey bright yellow-green visor that's got a wrap embroidered on it.

But, he had to work at this place. It's got the benefit of no one he knows eating here. Who amongst his friends eats wraps, anyway? Exiting the bathroom, he walked to his station in the kitchen.

"Hurry up and chop those tomatoes," came a dour tone.

"Right away, Hiei," replied Yusuke on auto-pilot, and grabbing a small metal bin that held tomatoes he set them down on a cutting station. He was about to get to the slicing when his words came back to him. "Hiei!? What are you doing here?"

"I had to get a job,"

"Ahahaha! Looks like you caved first, huh?" Really taking it in, he truly busted a gut even having to clutch his stomach from pain. "You look ridiculous in that get up!"

"Same as you. And I did not 'cave'… I didn't tell Kurama about the money, I figured this was easier."

That was a lie. But Yusuke doesn't need to know their business. The hyena could speculate and laugh at his misconceptions for all Hiei cares, so it stung a lot less being laughed at on someone's wrong assumption. The truth was that Hiei had tried to start something of the pressing-of-the-flesh variety last night before bed but Kurama gave him the big freeze. He got knicks from rose thorns when he went to touch his skin, and his attempt to climb on top of Kurama resulted in the room tipping over like a pinwheel as he went toppling to the floor where he was then grabbed and strung up by some plant that sprayed him with a gas that left him paralyzed. He was left on the floor. All that without his even knowing what had happened to the money.

They'd all gathered in the Urameshi household and drew names from a bowl, then after the horrors of the reveal they went their separate ways. He got Koenma. There were some saving graces in this cruel season. How hard to could it be to shop for an infant? As he laid there on the warm wood floor it gave him time to reflect on everything that happened that day. Then he remembered Yusuke's prattling about getting a job to get money. Recalling the store he then came by in the morning and asked for a job, and since Yusuke hadn't shown up the boss told him to take it. Although, with the spirit detective now present who was to say. He has to keep this job in order to get the money, he can't lose out to the penniless buffoon.

Besides, it wasn't hard. Chop this and chop that. Simple.

It was supposed to be easy. How hard could it be? Chop this. Wrap that. So simple. Not so simple…

It's been only two days since the pair acquired the job at It's A Wrap sandwich bar, and already they're ready to call it quits.

"I thought I told you I'm allergic to tomatoes!" Wailed a female customer. "I oughta sue!" The woman tossed the offensive garnish onto the countertop, it had an audible wet slap that coiled a tension knot in Hiei's back as he had to hear it on his way by with someone's order.

Yusuke, whom the enraged woman's disgruntled tirade was meant for, put on a rather ugly smile made possible in an attempt to be kind and personable while he was becoming more and more embittered by this complaint and that complaint. Why couldn't these people just be satisfied!?

"You didn't eat it did you?" Asked the newly employed spirit detective. "Because if you had…" He stopped himself from finishing that sentence, because he was going to tell her that his smile would be far more sincere if she was on her way to dropping dead.

"No. But it contaminated the rest of the wrap! I'm not paying for this," she tossed the rest of her ruined meal to the counter top. "I want my money back!" Her hands meet her hips, her stance strengthened to show she wouldn't budge until she got it.

"So don't pay for it. And here's your stupid money," he tugged a few bills from the register and shoved them at her. "But would it kill you to realize that we have trash cans for a reason?"

"This is only some, where's the rest?" She held the fist-scrunched wad of cash up as if he was blind or suddenly forgot what was going on.

"Oh, that wasn't you drinking that protein smoothie? You get a refund for the wrap only."

"Like hell I do! Do you want me to call your manager?"

"Go ahead, he'll be on my side,"

The woman growled in frustration then stormed away.

"Hn." It was about time she left, she was holding up the line. "How can I help you?"

A female customer stepped into the retreating customer's place at the register counter. "I'd like a wrap with turkey, is that turkey or chicken?"

"We only have chicken."

"Oh dear, I thought it was turkey," the meek woman swayed in a twist.

Not another one. "Hiei! Customer!" He stepped away from the counter when the three-eyed demon appeared from the kitchen. "I need to take a break," he muttered in their passing each other.

Now at the register, Hiei asked the customer. "What do you want?"

The timid woman wasn't sure if it was the tone of voice used or the severe look in his eyes that caused her to lose her nerve, but she bit into her cuticles then decided that she wasn't hungry. Not from this eatery. Not today.

And with an almost inaudible, "Umm, nevermind," she walked out of the shop.

Confused, Hiei wondered to himself. "What was that about?"

A man walked up to the counter, his eyes are floating above Hiei's head to the menu board. "Can I get a kale wrap with chicken and tomato?"

"Obviously, it's on the menu." Crooned the, attempting to be helpful, demon.

He managed to memorize it far faster than Yusuke, after they had to sit through a gruelling video on customer service and hygiene. He wonders if the other employees in the kitchen have watched the aforementioned video, because if they had they aren't that swift to follow instruction. He's seen hands going down the backs of jeans multiple times today so that the person inside the jeans could scratch their buttocks, after which they'd go right back to palming handfuls of greens onto tortillas or shuffling through the slices of meat like one would a deck of cards, then they'd hand them off to him where they'd get slipped into a piece of paper and handed out to the customer. However, no one has come in yet saying they're sick from germs.

Maybe the other workers think the video is a crock? So why the raised brow from them when he tried to chop onions with his sword?

The customer seemed to think this was a social event because he remained at the counter, speaking casually. "I heard they have the best food here,"

"I wouldn't know, I don't eat here."

"I thought employees got meals for free?"

Hiei had had enough with small talk. He doesn't like humans, the last thing he wants to do is make idle chit-chat while they wait for food to stuff into their faces or somewhere in the shop since he's seen other workers cleaning most of it from the furniture. He's wondered three times today if they're even capable of figuring out where their mouths are? To create messes like that which he's seen, it's not likely.

"Hey, I wonder if I could get a Mountain Dew with that?"

"Just order it if you want it," Hiei snipped. "you're holding up the line."

"Uuuummmm, one Dr. Pepper."

'Idiot. He's probably doing it to mess with me.' Figured the demon.

Among other things today, Hiei's had his fair share of wise-asses. People who order something then change their mind after getting to a table and sitting down with it. Customers who want items called 'sets' made with this or without that because they can't seem to understand what the word 'set' means.

"Can you make sure" the man went on. "that the slices of meat are all the same size? I don't like biting empty tortilla." He went into needless detail. "Last time I ate here I ate empty tortilla. That stuff tastes like fake flour. Is it fake flour? Like that gluten free crap my sister eats?"

He had to be kidding? Hiei's mouth twitched into an ugly smile. "One moment." He disappeared into the kitchen and when he returned it was with an armful of meats and toppings, tortilla choices, which he dumped onto the counter top. "There. Build your own or figure out what you want before you ask for it."

"That's disgusting! Do you know how many germs are on this counter?" The man looked at the food stuffs with a scrunched nose, mostly because it's mingling with some other mess that was left uncleaned from the counter.

"About as many germs as the hands touching it before you eat it. Now, order something or get out."

"Ummm,"

Hiei's twitch that helped him to put on a smile, an ugly-smile, but a smile all the same, elevated to his right eye causing it to scrunch. He's had enough.

"Was this sliced today?"

"I'm on my break," He marched away and out the front door.

Seeing the worker walk away, the indecisive customer called after him. "Hey! Who's gonna take my order?"

Asahi popped up like a muppet with a wind-up back. "Hello. My name is Junko Asahi, can I take your order?"

"Sure!" The man seemed to project the employees' good mood.

Yusuke peeked out of the prep-area to see if the timid woman finally took ordered before he exited into the main part of the eatery. Seeing the mess on the counter he points to it and asks the man who'd driven off Hiei. "Did you do this?"

"Not me, it was the kid with the tall hair," he points to where Hiei just disappeared.

Said tall-haired employee just took a seat on the outcropped windowsill of the store's large window. It's a wrap for him with the It's A Wrap eatery. Surely there must be somewhere else to work and make quick cash over the holiday.

"I'm telling you, Shuichi,"

A nerdy voice caught the youkai's sensitive hearing. It wasn't so much that the voice really was familiar, but that it said a familiar name. But, it couldn't be…? Turning his head in the direction of the conversation, he sees without a doubt that the Shuichi is in fact his Shuichi, or better known to him, Kurama. He's walking up the sidewalk with that territory specialist Yuu Kaitou. Damn it!

Hiei hurried back into the shop greeted by the sound of a crying child, a toppled chair, and chatter above normal level for people right next to each other who're trying to talk over the 56th playing of 'Here Comes Santa Clause'. If that short film How the Grinch Stole Christmas was modeled after any situation of being infuriated by noise, noise, noise! It's A Wrap was likely it.

Hopefully he'll be back outside before his boss notices that he's gone and puts him back to work. He doesn't mind it, it's not as if it's tough, but it's the people that are ruining it. Why can't he just stay on slice and drop, slice and drop? But, they're no better. It's a sea of infestation back there!

"Hiei, breaks over!"

So much for not being spotted by the manager.

"Clean out the men's room, stall three is a mess."

"Right." Walking past the boss he snatched the mop and bucket, that's got a scrubby sponge inside, as he cleared past the counter he says to Yusuke. "In coming,"

Confused, he almost thought Hiei was making a joke about his needing to use the bathroom, going by the green look flushed over his face rivaling his demonic form it was possible. But Yusuke noticed to where Hiei's gaze darted before his partner in undercover employment sped away; he was moving even faster than his usual speed. He muttered a swear under his breath then ducked behind the counter. He was prepared for this despite his hoping to not need it at all. Disguise power. Removing a wig and a pair of glasses with slightly tinted glass, he slipped them on to disguise himself from Kurama and Yuu.

"Hi!" He cleared his voice and raised it an unrecognizable octave. "How can I serve you today?"

Kurama and Yuu cocked a brow. They couldn't quite put their finger on it, but the cashier seemed somehow familiar… Maybe if he lost the ash-blond hair and glasses, he'd look just like-

"You know what you want? We have a great roast beef," Yusuke said hastily trying to hurry the pair along and keep them from staring at him as hard as they are.

Yuu asked him after his gaze left the menu board. "How long ago was it sliced?"

Yusuke blinked as he thought and having no clue he took a guess. "Yesterday." He mentally slapped a hand over his mouth, he forgot to disguise his voice. "Do you want it or not? You're holding up the line,"

"Roast chicken set for me," Kurama says.

"I guess I'll try the roast beef," Yuu orders. "My treat."

"Sure. For here or to go?" Yusuke mantras over and over in his head 'To go! To go!'

"It's pretty cold out, let's eat inside," says their spirit gangs' former enemy, but is now a friendly- terms schoolmate of Kurama's.

Seeing the strain on Yusuke's face, Kurama held a snicker. "I have a book I'd like to buy, we can eat on the way to the store."

"Oh, alright. And a couple hot teas, to go."

"Excellent decision- I mean, choice, we have a good tea selection." He points to the self service station.

"Thank you." Yuu says leading the way.

Kurama gave a curt nod. "Yes, thank you, Kurushita." He said reading the false name on the nametag Yusuke's wearing.

Following his schoolmate, the red head smiled secretly. He can guess why slacker Yusuke would suddenly get a job. He needs money to buy Kuwabara a gift, It's likely an afterthought the purchase he'll make for the person he's going to become a Santa. But, seeing as he's in disguise and sporting an assumed name, he doesn't out the spirit detective. And he won't tell Kuwabara about it either, judging by the soft 'phew' and wiping of his brow, Yusuke likely thinks he's gotten away with the trick.

"Yusuke?" Hiei appeared at the spirit detective's side a minute after Kurama and Yuu left with their meal.

"What happened to you, you look like hell," sniffing the air, even with the never ending flow of chicken, vegetable, and hot drinks floating through the atmosphere he can smell the lingering odor coming from his friend. "And you reek! What were doing the backstroke in the toilet bowl?"

Ignoring the comment, as he can only imagine the smell coming off of him, he asks. "How do you unclog those things, the water came up the other way,"

"Asahi, watch the counter,"

He didn't have to say so, as the long time employee was already taking on much more work than usual thanks to the newbies. Why not watch both registers while they goof around in the bathroom. At least the customers will be able to get in and out with the correct order. Asahi saluted Yusuke then manned the stations.

Following Hiei into the bathroom, he stepped into a puddle of water. Raising his foot, the thankfully unused water dripped back into its larger mass from his sneaker.

"What happened?" Yusuke looked around at the mess.

"There was waste left in the toilet, I flushed it and this happened."

Yusuke grimaced in disgust. "First, we have to stop the water from overflowing,"

….

"So fast food wasn't our thing," Yusuke was saying as he and his work-force buddy are walking the long trail of failure towards the mall.

Their boss fired them fast. Not only did they not unclog the busting toilet in stall three, but they used up every roll of toilet paper and paper napkin in their means to stop the overflowing water. For some reason, the second stall's toilet water was pooled at the very top of the bowl. Hiei said he wanted to practice on one that worked to see what he'd done wrong, but that it only made the water rise to the top as it had. It didn't help that their boss slipped when he walked in with intentions of telling Hiei to refill the cocoa tap.

Yeah, they were fired. That's cool. Life goes on. It's not the only location hiring right now. Which is what set them onto the path of the mall. Kaiden is the biggest one in the local neighborhood area. It hosts dozens of festive shows along with a gorgeous array of Christmas lights and 's the place to be when you're a teenager- especially during the high times of the season, first week of Fall. First week of Spring. First week of Summer is the best, they've got a rollercoaster that just turns your stomach into a knot.

"We're young, let's bounce back and try something a little simpler,"

"If it's another of your ideas then it's bound to be 'simple'," comments the demon, following behind the spirit detective.

"I'm open to suggestions from the peanut gallery," he cast Hiei a long glance, waiting for a better choice.

"Five-finger-discount." He smirked hearing Yusuke's laughter. "When Kurama was Youko, he stole things all the time. So much so, that he continued it with me and that buffoon, Gouki."

"Kurama only took the Forlorn Hope because he wanted to help his mom."

Hiei's smirk deepened, "Do you think that was the only time he's taken something that didn't belong to him?"

Snickering at the thought, Yusuke remarked on that statement. "That'll go over big at the party," Imitating Kurama, the soon-to-be recipient of his gift, he says. "'How'd you ever afford such a lavish gift, Yusuke?' I'll then reply, 'simple, my friend, I stole it'," shaking his head he says. "We'll have to come up with a kinder word for 'stolen' if that's gonna be the case..."

Hiei thought about that then replied. "How 'bout 'free'?"

"That sounds like dumpster diving,"

Hiei laughed at the scenario of rummaging through the trash and handing it off to someone in front of the others. Would they notice it's not exactly fresh off the assembly line of manufacturing? If it's next to the wrong things in the waste pile it's very likely they'll notice the smell.

Pointing on ahead of them, Yusuke beams. "Hey, it's Kuwabara!"

"Hn. What are the odds his ears were burning?" He wondered in reference of the 'dumpster diving' comment, as the red head certainly was street-side garbage in Hiei's three eyes.

"Ahaha," Yusuke laughed but he paired it with a dismayed shake of his head. Wouldn't they ever get along? Waving to his boyfriend who spotted the action and who it was coming from. "Hey, hot stuff,"

"Hey," holding his boyfriend by the hips in response to the arms around his shoulders, the swordsman kisses Yusuke with a lengthy peck. "What have you been doing all day?"

"Hanging out with Hiei, as 'The Ghost of Christmas Present', trying to find him some holiday cheer. You know how it is,"

"That's unfortunate," sticking out his tongue at the demon leering at their affection with distaste, he then looked at a more pleasing sight of a weather swaddled Yusuke Urameshi. "I was gonna hang out with Kiyoshi today, after I help this lady," he points at her with his thumb. "find her sister."

Yusuke and Hiei look at the vacant space beside Kuwabara then glance at each other as they see no woman. However, Kuwabara does, his sensitive psychic ability to see spirits seemed to be at work here.

"Don't be rude guys, say 'hello',"

"Whatever." Hiei stepped between the pair and through the unseen spirit.

"Ignore that rude shrimp!" He shouted that part after the departing demon. "Mrs. Hiwatari, even the holidays have a real-life Scrooge. This is my boyfriend Urameshi,"

Yusuke smiled in the woman's general direction. "Hi." Seeing that Hiei is getting away, he says goodbye to Kuwabara and his ghostly friend. Catching up to Hiei, he resumed their previous conversation but from a different area. "You got Binky-Boy, right? Do you know what you're getting him?"

"That option of something from the dumpster is still on the table," replied the pointy-haired demon.

"Nice idea for a catalogue, 'Better Homes & Garbage'," he hunched his shoulders up to keep the wind from blowing beneath the collar of his coat.

He should spring for a scarf for himself this year- tch! Yeah right! It's an RCA battery operated car all the way, baby! He hopes whoever got him took his less than subtle hints during the name pull gathering. He's always wanted one but never got around to buying because there was always something going on, lack of money, lack of free time because of his... "Voluntold", pay less, job with Koenma and the others. Or it just plain slipped his mind.

"You spend more time with Kurama than I do, did he ever mention what he wanted?"

"No."

"Have you noticed anything that he might need?"

"No."

With an exaggerated sigh, Yusuke threw his hands out in a huff. "Shopping should be fun. Maybe I'll just White Elephant the situation."

"What does that mean?" He steps through the rotating door and into the mall.

"Something he won't like, like a gag gift," explained the spirit detective. Going over to the directory he looks it up and down then left to right. "This is us," he points to an area on the third floor marked 'Santa Experience'.

Headed for the escalator they climb on. Hiei looked momentarily startled as he'd intended to walk up the stairway but found it moving beneath his feet. Yusuke smiled at how innocent the murderous-faced friend could be sometimes.

"What are we doing this time?" Hiei wonders. "It had better not be more cooking,"

"Nope. We're gonna be elves," Yusuke says brightly.

"What's an elf?" He knows what a goblin is, but an elf?

...

"Assuming that we aren't attacked by some random demon and you get killed," Hiei is saying as he exits the dressing room, his pace jingling from the bells at his ankles. "I get first run to see you to your end."

Yusuke busted out laughing, pointing at his friend's toned legs being showed-off via the peppermint colored tights. He waved his hands to cease Hiei's growl for blood. "It could be worse, who knew they'd go by height?"

Somewhere in Japan, Kuwabara must have felt an urge to laugh at that one. He loves a good zing at Hiei's petite size.

"At least you're not me," he tried to pass the humiliation buck off onto himself. "I have to wear a full-body brown suit and rubber snout, and these stupid antlers are messing up my hair," he adjusts them from back to forth.

"Buck up, small-fry, it could be worse," pointing to Ken, whom they met during the wait for their interview, he says. "You could have been made Santa

Said Santa is currently engaged in a set of squat-thrusts which after ten he ends it by heartily patting his knee as if to tell it to be strong. And being Santa, will it ever have to be. Hiei could only speculate the strange activity his fellow worker had just performed.

"I could here for a hundred years and I'll never understand humans."

"Alright everyone, there come the children," a plucky holiday nut began in a sugary-sweet tone. "Put on your bestest best smile and greet the day."

"What are the odds she's off her medication?" Comments Hiei.

"I'd say a hundred percent," he snickers. "Either that or a drug lord is missing a kilo or three."

They grimace as the woman suddenly spread her arms and made believe that they are cherub wings as she flitted about the Santa Experience area.

"Hey, you two" snapped the elated cherub became flightless and very human. Holy two-faced, with a tone that severe she should be a jail warden, or a high school teacher. Same difference in tactical requirements really. "Stop gawking and start merry making, I don't want one jus leaving this area without a candy cane and a smile, ya got me?"

"Got it!" They piped then manned their stations.

"Santa," a little girl seated on the faux big man in red's lap, asked for his attention with such unease in her voice that the young man posing as Santa thought he should listen as something truly could be wrong with the girl away from believing she won't get her Christmas wishes granted.

"Yes, little girl?"

"Your elf is scary" she declared, it snowballed Santa completely.

What about his elf is scary? He side-eyed the the strange looking fellow part-timer. Okay, so he's got creepy dark brown eyes that look more red then brown- auburn is a color for hair, why not for eyes. And so he's a lot more muscular than the average elf. Is that so alarming. Santa grimaced in wonder of why his elf's smile looks like a snake head eating sneer. Yikes.

"Make him stop staring at me," she suddenly burst into tears.

Hiei's intense gaze waned from the girl's reaction and his attempted smile left completely, transforming into a disgruntled eye-roll. He'd been waiting for her to finish with her list of demands from the jolly-ol'-gift-giver, who's persona is then dawned by many a parent, relative, or professional stranger to deliver, so that he could then give her the foul smelling mint candy so she could then be on her way and the next brat could step on up.

He's determined to not get fired, despite how ridiculous he looks and feels in the overly striped garments. It could be worse, look at Yusuke. Kids have been climbing all over him all afternoon wanting pony rides from the fake deer. There were some small joys to be had from this embarrassing situation.

"Are you a real deer, or just a dumb-dumb in a costume?" The taunting little boy made a raspberry then whacked Yusuke in the butt with the antlers he swiped from his head when his two year old sister cried, and begged for the costume-clad detective to bend over.

"Pain in my ass," spat Yusuke, "give those back!"

He roared like a mad bull but looked more like a confused Frankenstein as he stuck out his arms and chased after the kid around and around, all he was missing is the leisure suit.

"Dasherrrr!" Chirped his two-tones boss from her place at the gingerbread man station. "Swearing and scaring kids is not jo-llyyyy,"

"And neither is bad sing-iiiing," he impersonated. "And what do you mean 'Dasher'? I thought I was Rudolph?" Crossing his eyes he sees not a red nose but a black one. "Tah," he scoffed. "I've been selling it for nothin',"

"Hey, happy elf," Santa broke character to whisper reprimand the elf. "Wanna keep your eyes to yourself, you're spooking the kids?"

"I wasn't staring, I was waiting for her to finish," explained the less than happy helper.

"Well, be cute about it," waving his hands up and down as though he's summoning the tides, he says. "Be fun, be up-lifting... Um... Dance!"

"Dance?" Hiei blanched.

A good distance from The Santa Experience Kuwabara and Kiyoshi are moving while at a stand still as they chat on an escalator.

"And did you see Banba last night? The guy was seriously off his game vocally, I could have sung better..." His dark gaze shifts past his friend to the strange movement across from them as it gradually turns into a beneath the farther up the escalator takes them. "than... that," cocking his head to the side, he scratches his head trying to make sense of what he's seeing. "Why is Santa doing the cha-cha infront of that elf that's doing the Harlem Shake or maybe he's having a heart attack? Is it some kind of new selling technique to draw in customers?"

Kiyoshi looked over his shoulder, turning around in full to see what's going on. Nevermind the strange Santa and elf, however; the little girl wiping her eyes before grinning and applauding sure made Kuwabara's statement seem to have some truth to it, the other kids cheered in jubilation as well. "That is odd," smiling the blond rain-maker then noticed the deer. "And look at that, that deer's going the extra mile chasing the kids and letting them pull his hair. Should we go down? It'd be kinda fun to get a picture with Santa Claus, it's been years."

Kuwabara didn't want to say that he hoped it had been years since his territory specialist friend had sat upon Santa's bountifully full knee, because it would have been rude. But he had to admit it, it did look like enough fun to go over and watch the insanity. And the holidays always muster up childlike glee whether one is 5 years old or a hundred and three.

Kuwabara and Kiyoshi take the escalator back down to the first floor of the department store. Yusuke who was having his tail grabbed buy a small child notice them approaching and as quickly as possible he performed some kind of a magic trick, it didn't involve a rabbit or sawing someone in half, it was more of a body placement and displacement act. Now you see him now you don't as he traded costumes with a wire frame that was covered in a snowman suit. Slowly as the display had, he moved his arm to give a "How do you do?" removal of his hat to the patrons of the Santa Experience.

"I was not expecting it to look so lively up close," Kiyoshi beamed. "This is kind of adorable," He took up a position behind a face cutout board of two kids, having a snowball fight. "Excuse me, miss, can you take my picture?"

The photographer offered a warm smile and positioned herself behind the camera.

"Wait, I'll join you!" Kuwabara took stand behind the hole that has the genderless, until given a living person's head, child throwing the ball at the other.

"Cheeese!" the friends say in unison putting on big smiles.

The voice caught Hiei's ear and turning to look he sees Kuwabara and that wishy-washy rain man, Kiyoshi Mitarai. Damn it. Why is everyone they know following them around today? It isn't enough Santa was trying to hurt Hiei's back by causing him to lurch and recede away from the weird gyrations he called dancing, no, now he has to dodge the weak weather man and the loudmouth. Where the hell is To duke?

He gave a quick glance around at the four reign deer, noticing one lacked in movement, in fact, it lacked humanity and even a deer's shape as it's draped haphazardly over a thin wired frame that looked more like a snowman.

Locating the snowman, Hiei glared with full fury. He warned him about Kurama, but Yusuke left him hanging like this? It's just too bad that there are so many paring knives around for the older kids to make paper and cardboard ornaments. Snagging one from the table His I passed by the snowman and not even a blink could beat out the speed with which the demon used to jigsaw puzzle the suit.

Yusuke had only spied his silly looking, festively colored working accomplice pass by him, he didn't suspect a thing wrong. He kept up the act of being a moving display piece as his boyfriend and their friend passed by to get to the gingerbread man decorating station. It was then that the double-cross showed itself and the costume fluttered and whirled about him and to the cotton covered floor like he was in the midst of his own personal blizzard.

"I'm gonna make a swordsman," declared said swordsman, however, his intentions were put on hold when seeing his boyfriend standing amidst the fabric flurries. "Urameshi! What are you doing here? And why were you dressed like a snowman?" he points to the mess at the spirit detectives feet.

Yusuke straightened out of the costumes intended poses and said with a sheepish smile, "Would you buy that I'm jealous and spying on you?"

Kuwabara crossed his arms and muttered. "Maybe if you'd said it naturally? So what are you really doing here?"

With a heavy with past his lips, he admitted in a tone of shame. "Alright, here it comes. I wanted to get you a gift so I got a job with Hiei," Why should he be alone while the ship goes down? At least he was able keep on his street clothes beneath the deer suit, Hiei had to strip to be an elf. "we've been trying to keep it a secret, don't you people know any other parts of town to hang out in?"

"What about you and Hiei?"

Hiei, dressed as per his usual get up in the human world, walked up as if suddenly. He's not alone, Kurama is beside him, the clever fox is looking rather amused about something.

"Sounds like you've been inhaling too much holiday cheer, Yusuke."

'I'm gonna kill you,' thinks the spirit detective casting Hiei a severe look of harmful desires.

Hiei's curling smirk could rival that of the Grinch. Let's see Yusuke talk his way out of this situation.

"You're honestly gonna tell me you've been with Kurama all day? And that ugly, muscular elf making kids cry wasn't you?"

"Precisely," threatened Hiei's reply.

"What about an elf?" asked Kuwabara reminded of the elf that looked to be ill early before. He had seemed to vanish out of the location.

"Actually, I ran into him on my way in," Kurama was saying to Yusuke's accusing inquiry. "I'm returning Kokoda's sweater I bought him, he's already got one and is currently wearing it. You said Hiei was an elf?"

"He's obviously lying, why would I need do something so ridiculous?" And he dated Yusuke to mention the burned money.

It was then that the manager chose to appear behind her helpers and with a song on her lips she sang in polite anger. "It looks like my dear Dasherrrr and eeeelf have left their pooost" she then ground out. "And they want to be fired!"

"Dasher?!" Kuwabara looked as though he's won the heckling lottery.

"Elf?" Kurama questioned with amusement.

Yusuke and Hiei point an accusing finger at the falsely cheerful woman and in unison they exclaimed, "She's off her medication!"

It's December 25th. Christmas day. And the spirit detectives and their small circle of friends are at the Minamino home having their party.

Koenma squinted at his gift from Hiei. His iffy agent, acting now as his secret Santa, had to be kidding when handing him his present. It's a rocking horse for infants, and it's missing a handle and the tail. Not to mention it's got an unusual sort of… pre-owned sort of scent to it. "Was this in the recycling?" he wondered to the deafened ears of the joyous party attendees.

"Here," Yusuke hands Kuwabara a small package. "I've been thinking about what you said when we walked home from the mall, about how I didn't need to get you a gift and that it was the thought that counts…"

Smiling down on the adorable little gift wrapped up in pink construction paper, he swooned. "Aaw, but I meant it. You didn't have to get me anything- but since you did!" he excitedly opened the present. Lifting it up into view he deadpanned. "What is this?" he twists and turns a dark blue ribbon with a tiny jingle bell sewn into the center around.

"I know how much you love Eiikichi, so I made her a custom collar. Because, like you said, it's the thought that counts and I thought really hard on this one."

"Aheheh heh," he laughed kindly while thinking to himself, 'I don't think you did.' to his boyfriend's declaration. "Thanks, I'm sure she'll love it." He hoped the pang of disappointment of being virtually giftless didn't sound in his voice.

"Of course she will," nodding his head towards the center of the room, he asks. "Come on, let's dance,"

"Speaking of dancing," he tells Yusuke about how he thouht he might have seen such from Hiei being at the angle he was of the situation.

"Hiei," Kurama stands beside his disgruntled boyfriend. "you know, you could have just asked for more money. There was no need to get jobs,"

"Jobs?"

"Yusuke told me about how you were fired from It's a Wrap." Sitting on the windowsill, he smiled. "I noticed when you left there was a pile of ashes outside of my doorstep, what hadn't been scorched looked a lot like money."

"You knew, is that why you were giving me the cold shoulder?"

"Yes." He chuckled into his hand. "To think you'd go to such lengths to make up for it, it's better than anything you could buy for me."

"Glad you find it so funny,"

"I do. I only hope you learned your lesson about having the wrong type of attitude about these things,"

"I have. Next season I'll just stay in demon world and get hunted for my bounty."

And so that's their tale in the hunt for a kinder word for free. It's a gift of thought that comes from the heart and goes by the title of: Homemade.

The End

X x X

Commentary: I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday thus far. And thank you for reading, I hope you're not too disappointed in the change of story theme but I really was in a dark place. I'm better now. Thanks again. See ya!

 



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