It was the night before Christmas...
"Stop right there, you little bug from Hell!"
...and Urameshi Yuusuke was dashing from house to house, trying to staunch the damage being wreaked by one tiny youkai.
"No way!" The tiny creature stopped casting its cloud of snow over the roof of the house he perched on, drew one of his lower eyelids down until it looked like the skin would snap, and gave Yuusuke and Kuwabara a vigorous raspberry.
Yuusuke's head dropped. "Heeeh," he heaved a sigh, then lifted a hand and brandished one middle finger fiercely to express his opinion of what he thought about that.
"The house is full of coal!" Kuwabara called out, dashing up the walkway of the traditional-style house, arms pumping, a look of panic on his face. "How did he do that?"
With a rapid flit reminiscent of a certain impossibly fast fire demon, the critter leapt from that roof to another roof, then the next and the next, making a fast track deeper into the suburban area of Narita. A load of snow fell onto the house with a whump, burying the house and grounds in about a meter of snow.
Yuusuke cursed and broke into a sprint, Kuwabara dogging his heels. They ran after the creature full-tilt, approaching office buildings, busier streets and pedestrians that stopped in their tracks to stare. They kept going, led on by the dark shadow of the fleeing youkai.
At last the thing came to roost on a high office building, lifted both its hands, and began forming another dark, ominous-looking cloud.
"Oh, that's it." Yuusuke skidded to a halt. "It desecrated three shrines, tore up five houses, and now it's going to send a blizzard up over the business district?" He cracked his knuckles.
"What the hell is this thing, anyway?" Kuwabara screeched, red-faced, coming to a halt and leaning over with hands on his knees. He panted, catching his breath.
"Dunno," Yuusuke replied with a flip shrug, digging around in his back pocket and extracting a slim cell phone. "Koenma dropped Botan on me -- in the middle of an evening with Keiko and my Mom, the ass -- with instructions to find this thing and put a stop to it. On the other hand, Keiko brought a homemade cake so I guess he was trying to save me."
Kuwabara drew himself up in a pose both manly and reflective. "Keiko's cake, huh...?"
"Yeah, obviously you've never tried it."
The first flakes of snow began to fall and Yuusuke spoke urgently into his phone. "Kurama? Yuusuke. Get your ass down to the Seiko building in Narita, we need you here now." That done, he hung up his phone and stared up the length of the Seiko building. "Crap. He's going to bury it in snow, isn't he?"
Kuwabara was heading for the entrance.
"Where are you going?" Yuusuke called, crossing his arms.
"Well...er...up," Kuwabara replied, glancing up at the youkai as it capered at the edge of the building, a dense gray-black cloud forming thick and fast. "I mean, we gotta catch him, right?"
Yuusuke scowled. "We wait," he said, though he looked aggravated by the idea. "By the time we get up to the roof he'll just take off again."
It didn't take Kurama long; somehow, it never did. Sometimes Yuusuke privately suspected that Youko Kurama retained more youkai power than he let on. When he needed to be somewhere fast, he sidestepped into a dimension and emerged a great deal closer to his destination.
Or something like that.
Yuusuke had whipped out his communicator and was furiously trying to get Botan on the horn when their red-haired kitsune arrived on the scene.
"Guys," he said, with a nod to each of them. "What's going on?"
Kuwabara extended a finger and pointed upward. "He's been trashing things in the neighborhood!" the big teen exclaimed, looking outraged. "Two Shinto shrines, one Buddhist, and a handful of traditional-style houses...first he fills them with coal, then he dumps a meter of snow onto them before moving to the next place!"
Kurama raked a hand through his wind-tangled bright hair, green eyes squinting up at the apex of the building. "Oh." His eyes widened. "Oh, my."
"'Oh, my?'" Yuusuke repeated on a rising inflection. "What's that supposed to mean? What've we got on our hands, here?" He stabbed a finger at his compact communicator, evidently giving up on Botan for the moment.
"It's an elf," Kurama replied, shading his eyes with a slim hand. "To be more precise, it's one of the seasonal variety, a winter sprite...and from your account of the damages, I'd say he thinks he's one of Santa's helpers. Look, the little red cap with white trimming...it's a dead giveaway."
Kuwabara echoed "S-Santa?" He scratched his head, mystified.
"As in, gaijin Christmas Santa?" Yuusuke supplied, squaring his shoulders. This was going to take more work than he'd thought. "Don't tell me Santa is a youkai, too?"
Kurama answered with absolute seriousness. "No, to the best of my knowledge, Santa is in the Reikai...and I seriously doubt he'd endorse this kind of destructive activity."
"Ah, so," Yuusuke said, staring at him. Who'd have thought...? "So what does he think he's doing?"
Kurama shrugged, combing hair behind his ear with his right hand, then withdrawing a small pine cone. "My best guess would be that he's punishing the Japanese for not celebrating Christmas properly."
"You've got to be kidding me," Yuusuke gaped. "Where the hell did you get that pine cone?"
Kurama favored him with a small smile. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
The growth of a six-foot evergreen outside the Seiko building seemed to capture the elf's interest for a moment, then it wavered, the black cloud dumped a load of snow on the roof of the building, and the elf bounced madly up and down, looking positively irate.
Then it leapt from the top of the building and headed deeper into the business district.
"What was that?" Kuwabara demanded, putting right fist to left palm.
Kurama grimaced. "It was English, and you don't want to know."
Yuusuke shook his head. He knew his English wasn't that great, but he was fairly sure you couldn't do that with a Christmas ornament. Or maybe he hadn't understood. "Well, come on, I guess we've got to go after it again...any more bright ideas, Kurama?"
"Oi," Kurama said, looking mildly put out. "I don't see you trying to grow Noble firs in the middle of concrete sidewalks."
"Didn't help much, did it?"
"You're all idiots," a new voice proclaimed darkly. "I expected better of Kurama, but the rest of you...bah, you're too slow, anyhow."
"Hiei!" Yuusuke exclaimed, swiveling to glower. He had gotten used to him as a teammate, and more or less considered him someone to depend on -- for now -- but the attitude problem never ceased to irritate.
"Hiei," Kurama said in turn, looking over the diminutive black-cloaked youkai. His expression was not particularly favorable, though he usually seemed glad of Hiei's presence. "Why don't you show us how it's done, then?"
Hiei sniffed. "I don't know why I bother," he said, but he was off in a shot. Beside them one moment, he was nimbly flitting over the tops of buildings the next.
"Why does it have to be Hiei to close the case?" Kuwabara demanded stridently, gesturing with one clenched fist.
Yuusuke lifted a finger. "Just so long as that little bug doesn't desecrate another shrine, I'll be happy," he said, and shrugged. "So, we wait here for Hiei, or do we try to follow?"
"We wait," Kurama replied, but looked doubtful.
"Kaaa!" Kuwabara exclaimed, sounding like a fierce, distressed crow. "He's not coming back! That little shrimp will leave us here to spend Christmas Evening on the street!"
"Ho?" Yuusuke said, arms behind his head. "Didn't know you and your family celebrated it, Kuwabara. And it's Christmas Eve, by the way."
"Yet more assumptions by a bunch of foolish humans," proclaimed the dark voice of Hiei, and abruptly he was there, depositing a trussed burden on the sidewalk. "You know what they say about people who assume things."
"Hiei," Kurama said, a warning note entering his voice.
"Here's your youkai," Hiei said, tone surly. He examined the evergreen growing out of an immense split in the sidewalk. "Where did you stow that pine cone?"
"Never mind," Kurama snapped, looking as incensed as Kurama got for all of an instant. He gave Hiei a smile that bordered on pleasant. "I was saving it for a special occasion."
Hiei widened his eyes, shook his head, then he was gone as abruptly as he'd appeared.
Yuusuke and Kuwabara were crowding around the elf, who had been bound expertly with a coil of what looked like black twine, but knowing Hiei...? Kurama joined them, peering down at the wayward spirit.
"What are you doing here?" Yuusuke demanded.
"It's Christmas!" the creature squeaked. He glared up at them all accusingly. "No one is celebrating! Everyone's been bad! Coal for you!" He began to struggle in his bonds, tiny hands twitching.
"Hold it right there!" Yuusuke said, aiming his forefinger at the little elf like a gun.
Kurama exclaimed, "Yuusuke, don't!"
Yuusuke gave him a glance and continued, "Santa says you're the one who's been bad."
The creature's huge blue eyes got even more huge. "S-Santa?" it squeaked.
"That's right!" Yuusuke continued, obviously warming to his topic. "Santa has different rules for different countries...and he sent us to tell you that you're in the wrong country!"
Those huge blue eyes wavered, then filled with tears. Its long pointy ears began to droop. "I didn't mean to be bad!" it sobbed, crying veritable streams of tears. "Really, really!"
Kurama squatted beside the elf, taken with inspiration. "You can do something to make it up to Santa, and avoid punishment," he suggested, and captured the creature's attention.
"What is it, what is it?"
Kurama pointed to the big beautiful Noble fir that he'd grown outside the Sanrio building. "Take care of it," he said imperiously. "Decorate it if you want, but don't steal anything, don't go punishing any other temples or residences, and keep the tree alive."
The elf looked up at him with wide, wobbling eyes. "Yes, yes, I'll do it, master."
"You promise?" Kurama prompted, a stern note entering his voice.
"Yes, yes!" The elf nodded his head vigorously. "Hobnob promises pretty young master!"
Yuusuke and Kuwabara broke into wild peals of laughter as Kurama flushed at that. Over ten years of being mistaken for a girl; one would think he'd have gotten used to it by now...
"This case is closed," Yuusuke decided, and glanced at him. "Isn't it?"
"I'd say so," Kurama said dryly. "Considering the fact that an elf's promise is binding."
"Ahh, good to know."
Kurama accompanied Yuusuke and Kuwabara as far as the more suburban areas of the district, then they split off once more. The other boys had worked up an appetite but couldn't agree on where to satisfy it.
"Sushi bar, come on, I'm in the mood for sushi!" Kuwabara said in full voice, waving his arms around.
"And just what's wrong with Keiko's ramen? It's free, the price is right!"
"Sushi bar, sushi!"
The two young men disappeared up the street, waving their arms madly and still arguing.
"I don't suppose you'd like to visit a sushi bar," Kurama murmured to the long shadows cast by the tree beside him.
The tree made a disparaging noise. "Don't be ridiculous," Hiei's voice replied.
Kurama tossed back his red hair and stuck his hands in his pockets with a sigh. A youko of such years as he should not be concerned about a trifling human holiday, yet for some reason he didn't feel like spending it alone.
"But if you were offering tea," Hiei continued, "I wouldn't turn that down." A rush of displaced air, the softest whisper of sound, let Kurama know that he was no longer walking alone.
Tilting his peripheral gaze to the side, Kurama met the amused crimson eyes of the quixotic fire demon. "Hiei, would you like some tea?"
Hiei shrugged. "Why not?" He paused. "Happy Christmas...whatever that means."