“I'm pissed off enough to actually kill someone tonight,” Sango snarled. She smoothed an errant strand of her thick brown bangs back into the baseball cap she always wore backwards in rebellion of WacDonalds' uniform code. “So I'm warning you, if you came here to fuck with me or Kagome, I'llˇ”
“Calm your tits. I brought food.”
Magic words. The aggravated wage-worker's mood did a sudden one-eighty and she invited InuYasha behind counter. As if he worked there himself, and with none of the managers batting an eye at his waltzing in, he made a bee-line for the break-room and grabbed a table, setting a crumpled and grease-stained take-out bag down on it.
Sango went to close register and came back with Kagome, her company in misery. Both girls were set to work doublesˇwhich tonight happened to be evening shifts that bled into overnightsˇduring their week of midterms at Sengoku University. Kagome looked more than happy to see InuYasha, and even happier to have gotten away from the zoo that was WacDonald's after-hours.
“Our hero,” she announced, before both girls sat down and dug into the food. They got a kick out of it being from WacDonalds' competition: the Burger Baron.
“Seriously,” Sango affirmed. “You wouldn't believe the kind of day we had.” With her mouth full of fries, she then began telling InuYasha how their shift opened and why the bad mood: an early dinner rush that lasted over an hour, and so nightmarish that one of the teenaged newbies up and quit.
“Speaking of quitting...”
InuYasha jumped in with how he quit his own job that morning:
“I'm over that old bastard, Totousai, playing senile when it comes time to pay me.”
He'd been with the blacksmith for the past three years as a clerk in his antique shop, getting paid well enough considering the work he didˇand the occasional humiliating task, like heating up big cauldrons of water that InuYasha suspected Totousai used (and disturbingly, just once a month) for a bathˇuntil the day Totousai stopped paying him. InuYasha never found out why, but formed his own theory combining the old man's gambling obsession with the mean Yakuza-type that took a sudden interest in his store. The first couple of weeks, InuYasha had stuck out not getting paid, hoping for a nice lump sum once everything got settled. Then he finally got tired of being stiffed his hard-earned money, and walked.
...which almost put him in the tough position of figuring out bill pay for the next couple of months. About seventy percent of his earnings he parceled monthly into tuition, food, clothes, and rent, while dutifully saving the rest for a crisisˇlike the one he found himself in now. Were it not for Kaede, his landlady, immediately understanding when he talked to her about his situation, and striking a deal with him that morning that obliged him to gratis repairs and maintenance of the building in exchange for living rent-free for a few months, he would have been in trouble. Now InuYasha could use whatever he had left in savings towards finishing off his last school year at Sengoku University without having to worry for another two, maybe three monthsˇif he ate only Ramen noodles, and InuYasha totally couldˇabout food and other expenses.
“Wait,” Kagome interjected as he explained all of this. She set down her half-eaten burger with a solemn, guilty look at it. “Why'd you waste money buying us food, then? We could've had Wacky Wings and fries on the house.”
InuYasha rolled his eyes. “Because I beat a nice severance pay out of Totousaiˇ” though the pittance he'd extracted could hardly be called that. “ˇand because I fucking wanted to. So enjoy it, because until I find another job this is the last free meal you two are getting out of me.”
“This is also the first,” Sango snorted as she savored every bite of the enemy's french fries. “You're forgiven for neglecting us all of this time, though, because we needed this after that nightmare rush...and because you didn't bring the pervert.”
“I deserve a soda, at least, for that one.”
Sango stood up quickly, to distract from the slight blush that confused all as to whether or not she had actually wanted Miroku there with them despite her claiming otherwise. Some days, she seemed to like having InuYasha's best friend aroundˇbut most days she couldn't stand the fool. Given the horror-show at dinner, InuYasha would have thought that today would have been one of those days in which his absence was a blessing, but he never understood anything when it came to those two. Sometimes it seemed like Sango and Miroku were a little closer than just friends. The four of them had met at Sengoku University, during freshman orientation, and remained close ever since. Miroku and Kagome even took the same pre-med courses, while Sango and InuYasha studied Criminal Justice.
“You know what? You do deserve a soda. Coming right up,” Sango said, leaving InuYasha and Kagome alone in the break-room. Kagome rolled her eyes playfully at the departure. From the look she leveled his way, it looked like she'd long ago given up trying to understand her best friend, too.
In her absence, they enjoyed a comfortable silence for another minute or two until InuYasha noticed that Kagome hadn't resumed eating her burger since setting it down guiltily.
“Finish,” he ordered with a pointed look at the Baron Burger. “Before it gets all cold and nasty.” He nudged a few of his nuggets toward her, too, not surprised to see her worrying about his problems when she had enough of her own to worry about. Not to mention the fact that she probably hadn't eaten since breakfast, if she'd even eaten then...
“I swear I could spare the chump change it cost to buy all of this,” he gruffly reassured her.
Kagome hesitated, and InuYasha didn't miss the way her hand inched into the pockets of her slacks for the couple of crumpled bills she'd earned in tips earlier. “Thank you, Yash, but you should still let meˇ”
“ˇpay me back some other time with those free Wacky Wings you mentioned earlier, and don't skimp out on the sauce the way Sango does when I order from her. I want extra, but not the spicy kind.”
`As if I'd take her money...' he thought, knowing how badly she needed it right now. Even more than InuYasha did, as her money kept light and gas on in the shrine-home she shared with her mother and little brother.
Months ago, Kagome's grandfatherˇwho'd been the sole provider for the Higurashi family, and manager of their Shinto Shrineˇhad passed in his sleep, leaving Kagome and her mother to clean up the financial mess he left behind with his careless bookkeeping at the shrine's merch store, sporadic bill pay, and bad investments. Her mother took care of things at the Shrine, but to help out, Kagome signed on for extra evening and overnight shifts at WacDonalds, juggling the part-time gig with full-time schooling and her internship at a local children's hospital. All of this barely left her time to eat or sleep properly, and it showed on her face, the bill of her correctly worn hat and harsh lights in the break-room emphasizing the dark-circles scalloping her under-eyes.
Still, the smile she gave him when she finally picked up her food and resumed eating made her look breathtaking. “Deal,” she caved, and InuYasha was satisfied to see her putting away the double cheeseburger and the last of his nuggets.
“So what are you going to about a job?” Kagome asked. “It's kind of sad that you won't be at Totousai's Treasures anymore. Grandpa used to love that place.”
“I'll figure something out,” InuYasha shrugged. He'd already begun looking for jobs, hating the thought of potentially having to rely on someone else to get through school and pay his bills after doing everything on his own for so long. Bumming a few meals off of the girls every now and then, and bartering rent for free labor with Kaede was okay, but in the long-run, InuYasha wanted to maintain his independence and financially support himself.
Admittedly, his older brother, Sesshomaru, was in a position to help him outˇand had even, on numerous occasions offered to help pay for his school and housing. Even though the relationship they had now was better than the one they began withˇback when Sesshomaru found out that his father's “human whore gave birth to a bastard hanyou brat” and wanted nothing to do with himˇInuYasha refused to accept his help or his handouts. The sudden change-of-heart seemed genuine, but InuYasha would take nothing less than a job offer from himˇwhich struck him with the sudden idea of asking Sesshomaru to take him on at the company.
“That's a great idea!” Kagome enthused, knowing full-well that the brothers didn't always get along and happy that something might eventually bring them closer.
Also, InuYasha's older half-sibling managed the business end of Taisho, Inc., a private security firm their father founded years ago, and without Sesshomaru knowing, InuYasha took up Criminal Justice with Taisho, Inc. in mind as his post-graduation goal. The company had a reputation of training some of the best bodyguards, security personnel, and private police officers in the country, and InuYasha wanted nothing more than to join the ranks of the company's elite security team. Though he didn't yet have his bachelor's degree in hand, he knew Sesshomaru would find him qualified, as in trying to “bond” these last couple of years, the brothers often sparred at Sesshomaru's private gym where InuYasha had bested him on more than one occasion.
Now that he really needed a job, it seemed the perfect place to apply to, and the idea grew on him the longer he thought about it. Why not get a head-start on his dream? Even if Sesshomaru refused to take him on as a guard just yet, he could intern or do some kind of clerical work and observe what all of the guards did on a daily basis, getting a feel for the job and his foot in the door.
“I hope it works out for you,” Kagome said, and the warmth of her palm laid on his hand spread all the way up to InuYasha's cheeks. “And if it doesn't, remember that Nazuna just quit andˇ“
“Oi, did you two finish off all of the fries while I was gone?!”
Sango walked back into the break-room balancing three sodas on a serving tray. She handed Kagome and InuYasha their drink cup and held hers slightly raised for a toast.
“Cheers, ya jerks!”
They laughed and bumped their paper cups together.
“To losing my job,” InuYasha toasted, but his slight grin gave away his not being upset anymore about having to quit his job at the antique store. He'd known hanging with the girls would make him feel a lot better about it, and after figuring out what to do nextˇand even reconciling with the idea of having to ask for anything from Sesshomaruˇhe was even a little excited about his future.
“And to us hating our job,” Sango added, wrapping an arm around Kagome, who rolled her eyes at her and InuYasha.
“To friendship,” Kagome said reproachfully. “And new beginnings.”
“But being broke in the mean time,” InuYasha snorted.
“And having to forget about Christmas shopping this Black Friday because we'll have no money for presents.”
“Or shopping in general.”
“Cheers aren't supposed to be depressing, you guys!” Kagome laughed when InuYasha and Sango went back and forth toasting their mutual brokeness and bad luck.
“Besides, Christmas isn't all about the presents,” she admonished. “It's about being with the people you love.”
Kagome said this and looked very sad, no doubt thinking about her Grandfather and what it would be like spending the upcoming holiday season without him. From what she'd told them, and from what InuYasha remembered about the man, every holiday he soliloquized before the family a story about where something they'd perceived unimportant came from. One year, he told them about the Goshinboku tree, and it had actually been an interesting, though impossible story about two lovers transcending time to be together. Another year, he'd traced back the origin of an ordinary-looking butter knife to an ancient sword that brought the dead back to life.
Crazy as they soundedˇand despite InuYasha being almost sure of him making those stories upˇGrandpa Higurashi had bought something special to the holiday season that they'd be missing this year. This time, InuYasha laid his hand over Kagome's.
“Don't be sad,” he told her. “Sango and I are the black clouds. You're the Sunshine, so if you're going to talk about Christmasˇor about anything, make it something happy.”
Kagome looked up at him and smiled, brilliantly and beautifully, in a way that brought light and life to her clear blue eyes again. “I'm lucky to have the best friends ever,” she said softly. “How's that for something happy?”
He blushed. “You guys!” Sango gushed, leaning over the table for a big group hug. “Are we having a moment?”
InuYasha `keh'd in answer, pulling away from the two girls and awkwardly clearing his throat. Sango laughed, then reached under the table for her purse.
“But guys,” she began, fishing a pack of post-its and a booklet out of her bag. “Christmas is totally about getting presents. Check this out: my wish-list in case either of you hit the lotto and decide you really love me.”
InuYasha raised an eyebrow. A bright-red moon formed the apostrophe in the shop's name on the calendared cover as part of the iconic logo emblazoned onto it.
“Stacy's?” he asked, having heard of the high-end department store. “I don't even love myself that much.”
“You might wanna work on that,” She sneered, middle-finger raised while she cracked open the booklet with her free hand. Several hot-pink notes already stuck out of it andˇwhen flicking through she found something else that seemed noteworthyˇshe carefully peeled off another post-it (purple this time) and smoothed it onto a glossy page.
“It's like window shopping,” she explained. “Just something I do when I'm bored.” Kagome leaned in to watch Sango earmark a cashmere sweater and a pair of brown boots. “Every time I see something I want, for Christmas or whenever, I make a note of it for later.”
The hanyou noticed the price tag on a post-it marked bracelet: $300 for what looked like silver floss wrapped around Supermodel and Stacy's spokeswoman Midoriko Edo's thin wrist. “How much later?” he teased. On WacDonald's pay, Sango wouldn't be able to walk into a Stacy's without immediately being laughed out of it, so making a wish-list of high-priced items seemed pointless and silly. He would have told her so if Sango, ignoring him, hadn't passed Kagome the catalog and given her a you-know-you-want-to look that made herˇwith a shy, pretty smileˇpeel off a post-it of her own.
“Pretend money isn't an issue for once,” she encouraged. Kagome quietly turned a page, but instead of haphazardly slapping the post-it onto the first thing that caught her eye, she took her time deliberating which item deserved the marker she'd tacked to her thumb. She took forever, skimming women's fashions and a section with perfumed inserts that made InuYasha's nose itch, but finally settled on an item...which InuYasha never got to see, because the second she set her post-it down, after only a split-second of gazing longingly at whatever it was, she shrieked and slammed the catalog shut.
“Working hard, ladies?” Miroku grinned, having slithered up behind them without InuYasha even noticing. He'd been too focused on Kagome, extremely curious about what item she'd want for herself if money weren't an issue. Since they'd broached the topic of Christmas, he'd toyed with the idea of getting Kagome a present as she'd never, ever forgotten about him on his birthday or any other gift-giving holiday, and she almost never expected anything in return. This yearˇand especially if his job situation worked itself out in timeˇhe wanted to surprise her with something nice. Maybe whatever she'd tagged in the Stacy's catalog...
...if he ever got a chance to wrench it back from Sango, who'd rolled it up to beat Miroku with.
“Who the hell let you back here?” she demanded, thwacking the twenty-two year old hard upside his head. She then pointed her makeshift weapon at InuYasha. “And you. I want my soda back, you traitor. You said you didn't invite him!”
InuYasha shrugged. He actually had mentioned his plans to drop in on the girls during their break, but Miroku had claimed he was busy. “I guess his pervert senses were tingling.”
“For you, Sango,” Miroku grinned. “Only for you.”
“Then why is your hand on Kagome's ass!?”
InuYasha shot out of his seat, uncomfortable with the idea of Miroku touching Kagomeˇwho sat ramrod straight, her face tomato redˇlike that. He bared his claws. “Move it or lose it, pervert,” he threatened.
“Sorry, I'll move it.”
Sango shrieked again, tipping them off as to where Miroku's hand had moved. “Aaaargh! I put a sign on the door and everything, letting everyone know not to let you back here into our employee break-room.”
Miroku, unfazed by his beating, pulled a burgundy cap out of his back pocket and put it on.
“Well I'm an employee now, so...”
“WHAT?!” - all three of them shouted in unison at Miroku. He chuckled, enjoying their horror-struck reactions.
“Yeah, apparently some girl quit earlier. I saw the `Help Wanted' sign just as I was walking in and IˇSango? A-are you crying? My love, it won't be that bad!”
“You idiot!” InuYasha told Miroku, picking up the catalog Sango had used to pummel him and smacking him in the shoulder with it. Not long after his arrival, Kagome's manager announced the end of the girls' break, so she'd had to half-drag a devastated Sango out of the room, leaving InuYasha and best friend alone there. “Did you really get a job here?”
“I really did,” Miroku swore. “Serendipitous, isn't it? I was out all day looking for a job and just when I decided to give up and join you over here I saw their manager tacking a `Help Wanted' sign on the door. Now I don't have to work for my Uncle Mushin anymore. Was really getting sick of working at the shrine.”
“Sango's gonna love having you around here,” InuYasha sniggered. His best friend grinned. For whatever sadistic reason, he actually enjoyed getting a rise of Sango, and could piss her off worse than any other person.
“Those were tears of joy, I'm sure, just like the one's I'll be crying when it finally hits me that I'll get to spend so much time working with our two gorgeous girl friends.”
InuYasha picked up the catalog and waved it threateningly at Miroku. “Oi, don't try anything funny with Kagome.”
Miroku backed off. “Fine. What is that thing anyway? Stacy's? Since when do youˇ”
“It's Sango's...but that reminds me,” the hanyou muttered, suddenly remembering that he'd wanted to get a look at the item Kagome earmarked. If anything, it would give him some idea of what to get her this Christmas, and if it was affordable enough, he could even surprise her with the exact item. Miroku peered quizzically over his shoulder, and peeled off the post-it on a page in a section for lingerie before InuYasha could turn the page in time.
He whistled low, eyes dancing with mirth when he saw the satin negligee. “Is this stuff she wants to buy? Because my lady has excellent taste, I must say.”
InuYasha elbowed him away, and then explained the deal with the post-its.
“...and then Kagome picked something, but I never got to see what it was because your dumb ass came up behind them andˇ”
“Must we relive that? Get to the point. Why do you care so much about what she picked?” Miroku asked. “It's probably not something she imagined ever getting for herself. Just a game, like Sango said.”
InuYasha shifted uncomfortably, hating having to get all sentimental with a friend who might make fun of him. “I don't know,” he shrugged. “She's just...been through a lot this year. I thought I might get her something nice.”
Miroku picked up the empty take-out bag and waved it at him. “Bringing two hungry girls food is doing something nice. This isˇmore. When are you going to admit that you like her?”
“Keh, she's okay,” InuYasha snorted, purposely misunderstanding Miroku's question and lifting the catalog up to cover his face. He flipped past several post-it marked pages to find the one Kagome might have marked, until finally resigning himself to asking Miroku for help.
He handed him the catalog. “See if you can find anything.”
With gusto, Miroku set about looking through the book, until he finally `aha-ed'. Then blanched.
“Wow, never took her for the type to like expensive jewelry like this...”
He handed InuYasha the magazine. On the glossy page, Midoriko Edo clutched the glittering pink orb hanging off of the thin silver chain around her neck. Admittedly, it was something that suited Kagome's tastes: a necklace which was simple, elegant, and...
“$2000?!?! There's no fucking way she'd go for something like that. How can you be so sure Sango picked this one and not Kagome?”
“Sango doesn't like that shade of pink,” Miroku said, sounding sure of himself. InuYasha raised an eyebrow, not wanting to know how his friend knew her well enough to know which shades of a color she either loved or hated. “Anyway, now you know. Search over. You've got two months to think about getting her something else forˇ”
“I could make that kind of money in two months,” InuYasha said absently. He was staring hard at the page in the catalog, and the longer he looked at it, the more he could see Kagome wearing it. She hardly ever wore necklaces, but something like this would look great on her. Even better than it did on the Supermodel wearing it on the page. To InuYasha, Kagome was worth that kind of money, as she was the most selfless person he'd ever met. Always doing for others and never expecting anything in return. He knew he had to get it, too, when he read the item's descriptionˇwhich boasted it being a replica of an ancient, wish-granting item from the Japanese Feudal Era. So, not only would he be getting her something pretty and wearable this Christmas, it'd be something with a story to it, to make up for her Grandfather not being there to tell them a story of his own.
Miroku looked at him like he'd suddenly sprouted human ears on the side of his head.
“You're not seriously considering getting her something that expensive.”
InuYasha bit his lip. “You didn't see the way she looked at this thing.”
“No, but I saw the way you were looking at her, my love-struck friend.”
The hanyou didn't deny his friend's statement, knowing that if he were honest with himself, the real motivation for him wanting to get something for Kagome were the things he'd been feeling for quite some time about her. There was just...something about the girl that made him think a little crazy, but she also made him happy, and stole his breath away with her smiles and melodious laughter. Thanks to everything she'd been going through, though, she hadn't been laughing or smiling all that oftenˇtoo overworked and drained of energy to have fun and be cheerful the way she used to be. InuYasha knew that something like this could cheer her up, so he made up his mind about getting it for her. To Miroku, however, he tried to play off his sudden sentimental feelings about all of this, with feigned annoyance and a punch to the arm.
“Keh. You're full of shit, Miro. You barely took your eyes off of Sango's ass while they were here.”
His perverted friend grinned. “I won't deny that. So, how are you going to make this kind of money after only just losing your job? Prostitution? Gambling? Selling one of your kidneys? Because if you're interested in the latter, I might actually know someone in the business of harvesting organs...remember my creepy cousin, Naraku?”
InuYasha rolled his eyes, while tearing the page with Kagome's Christmas present out of the Stacy's catalog. He then sighed loudly, knowing what he'd ultimately have to do to afford Kagome's gift.
“I think I'm gonna talk to Sesshomaru about a job.”
`Hopes and dreams crushed,' InuYasha thought sardonically. `Thanks a lot big brother.'
He chased after Sesshomaru, whom he'd cornered just as the businessman was leaving Taisho, Inc. “Why the hell not?” he demanded. His brother hadn't even spared him a sideways glance after he'd sprung the job question on him, nor had he deigned to explain why he'd unexpectedly turned him down for a position within the company.
Sesshomaru halted in the middle of the underground parking lot, mid-stride and shooting an icy glare at InuYasha. “Let's review,” he said stoically. “You corner me after-hours in that filthy red t-shirt and jeans, without a resume or the courtesy of even asking me how my day went and then expect me to give you a job? Try doing that with human resources and see if they don't give you the same answer I did.”
“...but you're my brother. I just thoughtˇ”
“ˇthat that relationship entitled you to special treatment?” Sesshomaru cut him off. “I don't think so, half-wit. You want to work here? Fine. But you'll need at least a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice or a related subject, several licenses I know you don't have, and like every other Taisho, Inc. hopeful, you'll need to submit an application to human resources. Within two to four weeks, someone will get back to you about an interview date, and if all goes well with that and the background check you canˇ”
“The ONE fucking time I've ever swallowed my pride to ask you for anything,” InuYasha interrupted him, seething. “You are such an asshole.” He felt humiliated, and regretted ever having come to Sesshomaru about this. His fists balled tightly at his sides, and he even had to hold back a few frustrated tears.
Sesshomaru, seeing this, mercilessly reminded him of the time he swore he'd never need his brother's handouts.
“Which is what this would be,” the older demon pointed out. “I can't give you a job when you're so clearly underqualified, and if I did, you'd never make it far within this team. None of them would ever respect you, and everyone would know you got the job because of me.”
The hanyou carefully measured his next words. “You know I can do this kind of job. You've seen me in action. I can fight better than any of the guys on this team, and I'll be the best damn Security Guard the company will ever take on.” ...but in his heart, he knew Sesshomaru's reasons for not wanting to hire him made sense. His own brother had started in an entry-level position and climbed his way up the corporate ladder until he finally succeeded their late father as CEO of the company. No one ever questioned his position as head and everyone respected him. InuYasha wanted, and had planned on doing the same thing after graduationˇbut working the other side of the company, where all of the action and hands-on experience was to be hadˇhe just need the job a little earlier than expected. He tried explaining this to Sesshomaru, describing everything he'd told the girls earlier about quitting his job that morning, and how he intended to stay in school and keep a roof over his head in between jobs, and to his surprise, Sesshomaru's glare softened before he cut his eyes away.
“Believe it or not, this Sesshomaru is proud of you for everything you've accomplished these last couple of years,” he said, stunning InuYasha silent. His brother sighed loudly. “But I can't help you, and it's not because I'm an asshole. I simply can't hire you as you stand before me now. Maybe in a few months, when you've finished up with school.”
InuYasha grudgingly accepted his answer, no longer angry but feeling like he'd been kicked in the gut. He'd thought it would be easy, and that he'd had everything figured out. Still hopeful, he wondered: “Isn't there anything you could have me do around the office? I wouldn't mind grunt work: fetching coffee, making copies, scrubbing toilets?”
Sesshomaru shook his head. “You'd be putting an overzealous little imp out of a jobˇand trust me. Jaken needs it more than you do.”
“Fine, thanks anyway, bro,” InuYasha said solemnly. He turned to leave, refusing a ride home from Sesshomaru because he wanted to walk and clear his head. Surprising him, Sesshomaru called out from behind him.
“Little brother, wait.”
InuYasha turned around, looking hopefully at his brother. “I know of someone in need of a personal assistant.”
And for the first time ever he saw Sesshomaru Taisho squirm uncomfortably.
“...but when I tell you who it is, know that I'm really not trying to be an asshole.”
If InuYasha thought begging a job off of Sesshomaru was an exercise in swallowing pride, standing before Kouga Ookamiˇa guy he'd never liked, but who was independently wealthy and indebted to his older brother for some financial advice that wound up turning profitˇwas a damned trial. The cocky wolf-demon sat King Geoffrey-style on his computer chairˇwhich didn't make him look regal or intimidating at all. Just ridiculous. Still, Kouga smirked and enjoyed having InuYasha before himˇand very soon, at his mercy.
“You are to address me as `master' and answer only to `bitch.' I jump, you ask `how high?' I tell you to do something, you do it. Disobey me, and you'll catch these fucking hands. Are we clear?”
InuYasha's eyes narrowed on the wolf. At what he was willing to pay, the hanyou would be able to afford Kagome's Christmas present within the next month and augment what he'd already had in savings. He weighed his options carefully before looking at Kouga and answering his question:
“I don't fucking think so.”
As much as he liked Kagome, he wasn't about to let Kouga make him his “bitch.” There would be other jobs, he reasoned, but as he prepared to leave he heard the wolf-demon heave a small object at him. It just barely missed hitting InuYasha in the head, and whenˇannoyed by the wolf demon's immaturityˇhe went to throw it back, he saw it was small cellular phone.
“You're no fun at all,” Kouga grumped. “Fine. All I'll need is for you to clean, launder my clothes, grocery shop, prepare a few meals, and run some of my errands. You'll get a list every day in the order that I want things done. Don't fuck any of it up and answer that phone whenever I call you on it. Are those conditions to your liking, mutt face?”
“Much better, wolf-shit.”
His new boss sat upright in his chair.
“Good. You can start tomorrow. There'll be a lot to do. Trust me when I say I plan on working you to the bone.”
InuYasha looked around the wolf demon's apartment. It badly needed cleaning, affirming Kouga's statement that he'd be working him hard in his employ. The place looked a pig-sty, with old take-out bags and used coffee cups littering various corners of the house and clothes both dirty and clean heaped in a pile on Kouga's couch. Then there was the smell.
But InuYasha wouldn't let any of that dissuade him. He needed the money and could put up with working for Kouga for at least the next two months. However, he was curious about how the thirty-somethingˇwho looked as if he rarely, if ever, left his self-proclaimed “man cave”ˇcould afford to pay him the kinds of numbers Kouga promised.
“What the hell do you do anyway?” he asked, wondering if his job had anything to do with the vintage movie posters and comic covers covering every square inch of Kouga's apartment walls.
Kouga, who'd expected him to leave by now, had his eyes affixed on his computer screen, where his video game character just lost a fight against his white-haired, huge sword carrying enemy. He grunted.
“Don't go spreading this around, but I'm a software engineer. I recently built a program that sets up underprivileged youth living in third world countries with a virtual mentor to teach them reading, math, and science.”
“Oh.” InuYasha was shocked. Never in a million years would he have guess Kouga's answer, or that it would be one that actually earned his grudging respect...
“I'm just fucking with you, idiot. My parents were loaded, and now that my trust fund kicked in I have more money than I need paper to wipe my ass with,”Kouga laughed. He resumed playing his video game without looking back at the hanyou. “Now be sure to get here early tomorrow. I need my laundry washed before I run out of clothes to wear.”
InuYasha glanced at the pile of laundry Kouga wanted him to tackle tomorrow and nearly wretched. The smell coming off of it hit him straight in the face, and if that weren't bad enough, a pair of Kouga's dirty drawers sat at the very top of the pile.
`What did I get myself into??'
“What did I get myself into?!”
InuYasha banged his head when he fell forward against the table in WacDonalds' break-room, and resisted the urge to repeat the painful move. `And repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it,' he thought, thinking back on Kouga's ridiculous request that morning for his milk to be stirred into his coffee ten times counterclockwise, and then again in the other directionˇor the late night call that came before that demanding InuYasha show up at his apartment to investigate a loud banging (which happened to come from the living room TV Kouga had forgotten to turn off before bed).
After telling his friends about the misery that was the past three weeks' “work,” InuYasha looked up at Sango, Miroku, and Kagome, desperate for any advice they could give him.
“Wow,” Miroku said unhelpfully.
Kagome frowned, and Sango shook her head. “And here I thought we had it bad.”
“Thanks guys,” he muttered sarcastically, envying that his three friends all worked together, and probably even enjoyed being put on the same shifts. Even Sango and Miroku seemed friendlier with one another, as when InuYasha had come in to hang out on their lunch breaks, he noticed a little bit of hand-holding and Sango for the first time choosing to sit on the same side of a booth as Miroku.
Kagome offered up the only would-be helpful suggestion, but he wasn't willing to act on it: “Why don't you just look for another job?”
InuYasha had already considered it, but for now, Kouga paid him better than anyone else he'd seen offering jobs close to the holiday season. He'd even tried going back to Totousai, but the Antique Shop, Totousai's Treasures had come under the ownership of the Yakuza-type he'd seen menacing the blacksmith, and Kaijinbo informed him that, at present, even the mob wasn't hiring.
The hanyou grunted in answer, not wanting to tell Kagome how close he was to being able to buy her the necklace he'd decided to get her in that very same break-room nearly a month ago. He had the ripped out page from the Stacy's catalog still in his back pocket, and had even gone into the department store on Main Street to keep an eye on it's availability. In person, the trinket was even more stunning, and he tried to keep in mind Kagome's happiness whenever Kouga sent him a list of ridiculous chores, or called him in the middle of the night and made him get out of bed for something stupidˇall because he could.
At first, InuYasha resisted doing some of the more ridiculous things Kouga requested, but when Kouga upped the amount he'd be willing to pay for InuYasha to be on-call at all hours of the day, the hanyou found himself giving in a little, and then giving in a lot when he decided he could now afford to buy and spend more on other people's Christmas presentsˇsomething he'd never really gotten into before. Usually, Miroku and Sesshomaru were the only people he brought presents for and it was always easy, thoughtless gifts he could get away with purchasing last minute: a tie or something equally as boring for his brother, and a renewal of Miroku's annual Hustler and Penthouse subscriptions. This year, he found himself putting a lot of thought into gifts for the people he didn't mind having around. Kagome made him realize that day in the break-room, when he'd told her to cheer up, that he was fortunate to have some amazing friends, a Landlady who didn't toss him out on the streets when he came to her about losing his job, and even his brotherˇwhose way of apologizing for that day in the parking lot of Taisho, Inc. had been to send him text-messages with recommendations for places to go for the security licenses he'd need before applying to work at his company.
So, in the near future, working for Kouga would pay off around Christmas. He just needed to reconcile himself with another three weeks of absolute torture and ridiculous requestsˇlike a two-A.M. wake up call demanding he come over and turn off a light in Kouga's kitchen because the wolf himself didn't feel like getting up, or reading and opining on drafts of the cringe-worthy “pick-up artist” book Kouga had been writing for the past couple of months.
“I might as well put this God-given gift I have at picking up ladies to good use,” Kouga explained the first time he'd ever handed InuYasha a copy of his writing to review. The hanyou was no book critic or a pick-up artist, but even he knew it was bad. Still, Kouga seemed enthusiastic about the book and spent all of his waking hours writing itˇhence, his need for a personal assistantˇand InuYasha wasn't about to put himself out of a job by discouraging him.
And speaking of job...
His “work phone” went off with the ringtone he set for KougaˇSlayer's “I Hate You”ˇand he groaned.
“What?” he snottily answered, while his friends looked on sympathetically.
“Hurry up and get here with that food I told you to get! You're taking forever and I'm starving.”
InuYasha sighed and hung up. Thanks to him, Kouga had a well-stocked pantry full of food he could be making for himself if he were actually “starving.” He was just too lazy to cook and had been craving a WacDonalds burger.
“And ask that pretty friend of yours out on a date for me, would ya?”
InuYasha ignored him. Kouga had accompanied him one time to WacDonalds and taken notice of Kagome. As if he were going to help the self-proclaimed “pick up” artist pick her up...
Hanging up, he snatched the bag of greasy take-out (which he'd had Sango prepare, specially requesting that she drop his burger's patty on the floor a few times) off of the table and said goodbye to his friends.
`Just a few. more. weeks.'
Two weeks later...
“Is today the day?” the grinning Stacy's saleswoman at the jewelry counter asked. She'd gotten so familiar with InuYasha, since he'd come in so many time to check on Kagome's necklace, that the two of them even spoke on a first-name basis.
InuYasha, with a little over $2000 in his pocket put his hand on the glass counter and peered down at the expensive necklace. He managed a slight grin of his own, excited to finally be purchasing it.
“Yep, today's the day, Kagura.”
The saleswoman squealed, and because of their friendly rapport, InuYasha knew it wasn't just because of the commission she'd be getting off of the sale. She actually knew what buying the necklace meant for him, after she'd bluntly asked him the millionth time he'd come in to check on it if he was ever intending on buying it. InuYasha really liked her. Unlike the other salespersons in the store, she wasn't pushy or aggressive about making her sales. She was easy to talk to, a little goofy, and made him feel like he wasn't a total idiot for dropping this kind of money on a girl...
...but maybe that was how she operated, and a mark of her good salesmanship. Still, InuYasha considered himself good at reading people and he saw that her excitement for him seemed genuine. When Kagura reached underneath the counter and pulled out the necklace for him, she smiled widely.
“You never told me who the lucky girl was,” she teased.
InuYasha felt himself blush. “Just a friend,” he shrugged, pulling his money out of his pocket and getting ready to pay. Kagura's jeweled eyes flashed with amusement.
“I wish I had a friend like you. Any chance you've got a hot older brother you haven't told me about yet?”
InuYasha wrinkled his nose. “I've got an older brother, but I don't know about him beingˇoh, excuse me.”
His phone rang mid-sentence and he picked it up. Thankfully, it wasn't Kouga calling him to run another errandˇwhich in his final weeks, had gotten progressively more ridiculous. It was Kagome, and InuYasha started when the tone of her voice gave away that she'd been crying.
“Y-yash?” the distraught girl asked on the other end of the line.
InuYasha's heart raced. “What's wrong?
“They took everything.”
“It's okay,” InuYasha reassured the scared and crying girl. They sat in her bedroom, Kagome leaning against his chest with his arms curled around her, and everything around them in disarrayˇher desk overturned, several drawers pulled out of her bureau, and clothes and broken glass littering the floor. Downstairs was even worse, as actual furniture had been stolen and the Christmas tree set up in the living room knocked down. It had also been bared of the mountain of presents Kagome and her mother had put under it.
Miss `Christmas-isn't-all-about-the-presents' had gone all out for her family, wanting to make the holiday special for all of them, and putting a lot of thought and nearly all of her extra spending money towards the effort, only to have lost it all when the Higurashi home was unexpectedly burglarized.
The hanyou stroked her raven-colored hair. “At least you're safe.”
Kagome looked up at him, her eyes and nose red. “I guess you're right. I justˇthe Christmas presents. Mama, Souta. I know that's not what matters right now. The holidays are supposed to be about all of us together, but I...I really wantedˇ”
“Shhh,” InuYasha hushed her, gently brushing a knuckle underneath her eye and wiping away a tear. “Don't worry about that right now. We'll figure something out.”
`I'll figure something out,' he thought, cradling the crying girl back into his chest. `I'll make this right.'
...then he remembered the money burning a hole in his pocket. The money he'd almost spent on Kagome's necklace, and he grinned into her hair.
`I know exactly how to fix this.'
When he was a kid, back when his mother was still alive and Christmas had actually been fun and worth celebrating, InuYasha figured out a number of ways to sneakily get a look at all of the presents his parents bought for him and put under their Christmas tree. Extracting himself from Kagome with the excuse of going downstairs and seeing if his mother needed help talking to the police about the burglary, InuYasha went to find Souta sitting on the couch. The poor kid was staring sadly at the empty space where his television and game system used to be.
InuYasha sat down next to him.
“Hey runt, just curious: did you happen to sneak a peek at any of the presents that were under the tree?”
Souta looked him as if to ask why any of that mattered now, but the seriousness on his face broke open when the mischievous memory made him smile.
`I knew it!' “Good,” InuYasha praised him, then leaned in so Kagome's mother wouldn't hear his whispered plan. “Go to tell your mother that we're going out for ice cream. I'm gonna need you to help me out with something.”
Two thousand dollars poorer on Christmas day, InuYasha never felt richer when he got to witness from the branches of the Goshinboku Kagome and Mama Higurashi open their front door on Christmas day to a mountain of wrapped presents. Having picked most of them up with Souta, and then a few on his own after another humiliating week of working for the wolf-demonˇthings like pots and pans for Mama Higurashi, stationary to replace what had been ruined in Kagome's ransacked room, and games for Souta to go with the new game system he'd splurged on as a `thank you' for his helpˇthe look on their faces when both girls dropped to their knees crying, laughing, and hugging one another had absolutely been worth it.
The next day, Kagome approached him in the back-room of WacDonalds.
“I can't believe someone did all of this,” she gushed, wearing the simple sterling-silver necklace with a purple, shard-shaped charm that he'd gotten her as an extra little gift around her neck. “It's...I don't know how to thank whoever did it, but how incredible.”
“I'm happy for you,” InuYasha said, having decided against telling her that he was the one who'd bought them all of their Christmas presents. He'd also made Souta swear to secrecy, binding him to a `promise between men.'
Kagome toyed with the charm on her necklace.
“You know, they didn't steal your gift that day.”
She peeked up at him through her lashes, her eyes glittering mischievously. InuYasha raised an eyebrow.
“You got me something?”
Souta had mentioned a red scarf, but InuYasha opted against buying himself something in favor of getting the Higurashi's everything they wanted. Kagome stood on tip-toes and leaned in, until they were practically nose-to-nose. “This,” she murmured, surprising him with the gentle press of her lips against his.
“Keh, they better not have,” InuYasha said when she pulled away, light-headed and grinning goofily after the unexpected kiss. Kagome lightly smacked him in the shoulder.
“I know it was you, punk.”
She caught him off-guard and InuYasha barely managed to sputter out how Souta had broken his promise not to say anything. Kagome laughed and shook her head.
“He didn't give you up. The box of security cameras for the shrine from Taisho, Inc. did.”
Confused, because he hadn't been the one to gift them that, InuYasha shot off a quick text to Sesshomaru. Within seconds, his brother's response confirmed that he'd snuck a package of his own into the pile.
“Merry Christmas, baka. I figured you'd appreciate this in lieu of me getting you anything else.”
InuYasha grinned, grateful for once that his relationship with his brother had improved over the last couple of years. Before turning back to Kagome, he texted back: “Thanks. I got you something, too, but you're going to have to pick it up yourself. Her name is Kagura, and she'll be waiting for you at eight in front of the Stacy's on Main Street.”
“So why'd you do it?” Kagome asked softly.
InuYasha carefully debated what to tell her.
`Because you're beautiful, and the most selfless person I know. Because your family is pretty great, and none of you deserved what happened at the shrine. And because I'm head over heels, and hopelessly in love with you...'
But in the end, he settled on:
“Because I made some extra money working for that idiot, Kouga.”
Kagome giggled, knowing full-well the torture he'd put himself through to buy herˇand even some of their other friendsˇChristmas gifts this season.
“And,” InuYasha continued, emboldened and leaning in for another kiss. “Because I fucking wanted to.”
Hand in hand they walked out of the break-room, happy and wanting to enjoy the leftover magic of the holidays away from the dingy back area. Their two newly-coupled friends had been sitting in WacDonalds' outdoor tables waiting for them to join them. InuYasha sat down and wrapped an arm around Kagome.
`Everything I put myself through for her was worth it.'
...especially when, in the middle of another make-out session, he scented Kouga coming up behind Kagome, to their outdoor table. He'd mentioned still planning to ask Kagome outˇthis time, just to spite InuYasha and making use of his infamous “pick-up” artist skillsˇwhen InuYasha had quit as his assistant.
The look on his face had been absolutely priceless, more so when InuYasha thread his fingers through Kagome's dark hair to deepen their kiss, and also to discreetly stick up his middle-finger behind her.
`So worth it.'