Understanding Disclaimer: Characters and setting are the property of Yoshihiro Togashi, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.

Notes: This is my first attempt at fanfic in this fandom. I hope it's enjoyed.

My friends and I are at my parents' restaurant. We're supposed to be studying but we're mostly giggling and gossiping. It's okay, I guess, we studied hard for almost an hour and a half. It's time for a break.

The bell on the door rings. "Yo, Keiko." A familiar voices calls.

I sigh. "You haven't been in school all week Yusuke. You're wrecking our attendance record."

Yusuke rolls his eyes at me. If my friends weren't cowering in the back of the booth, looking like deer caught in the headlights, he'd probably come over and do something I'd have to hit him for. Since they are here I'm a little surprised he talked to me at all.

Yusuke waves to my mom and drops some money on the counter.

"Atsuko-san didn't get the grocery shopping done." My mom surmises in the careful, neutral voice she always uses for the topic of Yusuke's mother.

Yusuke steals a fugitive glance at my friends; I can see a faint blush staining his cheeks. He shrugs and makes a noncommental sound. "It's not a big deal. She'll take care of it tomorrow. I just didn't want to cook." He mumbles.

My mom doesn't contradict him. She knows as well as I do that the groceries will get bought when Atsuko gets home, after her hang-over recedes, assuming she has any money left. I know Mom wraps up more food than Yusuke paid for, enough to make sure he can eat for the next couple of days if it takes Atsuko that long.

Yusuke is blushing harder now. He mutters a quick "Thank you" to Mom and waves to me on his way out. "See you in school tomorrow Keiko." He promises.

"I'll look for you." I say. I hope he'll really come. Yusuke skips far too often. My friends stare at me in horrified disbelief. As soon as the door shuts behind him they start in on the normal round of questions and comments about Yusuke and about me talking to him.

It's routine, it happens every time they see Yusuke and I together. They've started in on divulging the latest round of rumors about him now.

"I heard he beat up a high schooler."

"I thought the guy was out of high school."

"He was Yakuza… and Urameshi killed him!"

"That's a lot of nonsense." I snap. "If you'd try to understand instead of just parroting that garbage you wouldn't say stuff like that."

"You understand Urameshi?" Sayo asks sounding like I've just admitted to some unspeakable act.

I shake my head at her scandalized tone and think back.

Nine Years Previously

Keiko felt a slight tug on her skirt. "Yusuke!" She shrieked as she spun around to slap the grinning little boy.

"Yusuke-chan." Keiko's mother murmured. Her tone carried a gentler rebuke.

Yusuke glanced at the ground repentantly. Keiko knew he was faking it for her mother's benefit. He was always doing things like that. Boys were all brats, the five-year-old Keiko thought with surety, but Yusuke was the worst. And her mom, her own mom, always went out of her way to be nice to Yusuke. Keiko crossed her arms over her chest and trailed along sulkily as her mother talked to Yusuke.

"Why didn't you wait at your house? I told you I'd walk to you to school with Keiko-chan." Her mom asked. "It's dangerous to cross streets by yourself."

"I know what I'm doing." Yusuke bragged. "Mommy says I'm a big boy and I can do things for myself. I got dressed and tied my shoes all on my own."

Keiko glanced down at the heavily knotted shoelaces dragging on the ground, threatening to trip the raven-haired boy then at the mismatched clothes that certainly weren't his school uniform. "You didn't do it right." She sniffed.

Yusuke crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out at her.

"Keiko, be nice." Her mother told her. Keiko knew better than to point out that Yusuke was never nice to her.

The trio walked in silence until they reached the Urameshi apartment. "You do need to wear your uniform to school." Yukimura-san said gently as she helped Yusuke sort out the knots in his shoelaces.

Keiko sat in the kitchen with Yusuke while her mom looked for the right clothes and talked with Atsuko. "He was five blocks from home, Atsuko."

"Yusuke can look out for himself." Atsuko's voice was slurred.

Keiko let the grown-up talk fade into background noise as she worried about the grin on Yusuke's face. He was going to do something bad; she just knew it.

Yusuke tried to look innocent as he walked over to the sink and climbed up onto the counter.

"Don't you dare!" Keiko exclaimed as he turned on the faucet and pointed the sprayer at her.

"Yusuke get your ass over here." Atsuko ordered. She leaned against the door jam. Her eyes were blurry and her hair tousled.

Yusuke hesitated.

"Don't make me raise my voice… I've got a hangover." Atsuko declared.

Yusuke scrambled off the counter. Atsuko ruffled his hair affectionately. "See you can be good." She said leading him into the backroom to change.

Keiko watched her mother quietly collecting up some of the trash that littered the Urameshis' kitchen while they waited. She easily filled several bags, which she neatly tied off and sat beside the door.

"Mommy, I'm going to be late!" Keiko protested. "And… and… I've got a project at school!" She finished triumphantly.

"We left early in case Yusuke wasn't ready." Her mother replied calmly.

"Why do we always have to wait for Yusuke?" Keiko complained. "Why can't his mommy walk him to school?"

"You'll understand when you're older." Her mother sighed. "You wouldn't want anything bad to happen to Yusuke if he tried to walk to school by himself would you?"

"No Mommy, but…" Keiko knew the look on her mother's face meant the discussion was over. She sighed and subsided into impatient silence.

A short while later Atsuko reappeared with a scrubbed and sulky Yusuke. Atsuko glanced at the floor as she gave her son a light shove toward the door. "Thanks. I'll get Yusuke to school tomorrow myself. It's just, I ran into some old friends last night, sort of lost track of the time y'know."

"It's no trouble." Keiko's mother insisted politely. "You live right along the way… just… please keep him inside until I get here. He's going to get hit by a car someday if you don't watch him more carefully."

Keiko's mouth dropped open in shock; had her mommy just scolded Yusuke's mommy? She didn't think mommies were supposed to get scolded. Of course Yusuke's mommy looked more like a big girl than a proper mommy, but still.

Atsuko glanced at the wall. "Yusuke, don't get in trouble at school today." She said. Keiko heard her add, "for a change," under her breath and then they were off.

Atsuko's admonishment received as much attention as it ever did once they were in class.

"Urameshi!" Another boy was crying; there was glue in his hair.

"Urameshi!" The teacher glared at a conspicuously empty desk.

"Yusuke!" Keiko felt a sharp tug on her pigtail.

By the time lunch rolled around Keiko was thoroughly annoyed with the insanely energetic boy who was shamelessly snatching the best parts of the lunch her mom had packed. Sure her mother always packed an extra large lunch and told her to share with Yusuke, but he could still ask first Keiko thought as she frowned at him. Still she wondered why Atsuko only remembered to pack a lunch for Yusuke once or twice a week; her mommy never forgot her lunch and she didn't think many of the other mommies did either.

"No sweets?" Yusuke asked disappointedly as he dug through the box.

Keiko used her chopsticks to thwack his knuckles. "You don't have to get your fingers all over everything." She complained primly, not that it served any purpose.

Done with eating, Yusuke was already halfway across the schoolyard picking a fight with one of their classmates.

Keiko stalked after him in a huff. She grabbed hold of Yusuke's ear and gave a sharp yank. The boy he'd been pounding on took advantage of the distraction and ran off. "You shouldn't walk off when I'm talking! It's rude!" Keiko exclaimed. She kept a hold of his ear to prevent a repeat of just that. "And you shouldn't fight! It's against the rules!"

"Urameshi! Yukimura! No fighting!" The teacher yelled.

Keiko stepped back staring guiltily at her feet, her hands clasped behind her back. Yusuke gave an annoyed sigh, buried his hands in his pockets and glared back at the teacher.

"Both of you; in my room!" The teacher ordered.

Keiko gulped. Yusuke sauntered past the teacher and into the classroom. After a moment Keiko jogged after him.

The teacher turned a disapproving look on Keiko. "This school does not tolerate fighting. I expect better behavior from you Yukimura."

"Oi, stupid!" Yusuke interrupted. "I wasn't fighting with her. She was just playing teacher; trying to lecture me."

With the teacher's attention firmly fixed on Yusuke Keiko sagged in relief. She couldn't resist sneaking glances at Yusuke out of the corner of her eye though. Had he just defended her?

The teacher dismissed Keiko with a curt nod and made Yusuke sit at his desk for the remainder of the lunch-break; it might not have been his best option for discipline. By the time classes resumed Yusuke was completely bored and totally hyper. He spent the rest of the day disrupting class with a frequency and determination that was unusual even for him. Finally the frustrated instructor sent him to the Principal's office.

Keiko hid a smile when she followed her mom into the office after school. There was whiteout dripping down the window. There were paperclips all over the floor. Yusuke's name had been carved into the front of the Principal's desk. The Principal and the secretaries all looked frazzled. Yusuke had climbed on top of the Principal's bookshelf and was sitting cross-legged, his head just a hand-span from the ceiling, as he surveyed the chaos he'd caused with a satisfied grin.

"Yusuke-chan, come down from there." Keiko's mother ordered sternly.

Yusuke waved at her and started climbing down. As soon as he was in easy reach Keiko's mother plucked him off the shelf and set him back on the floor.

The principal handed her a note. "Could you see that Urameshi Atsuko gets this?" He requested with a frown at Yusuke. "We tried to call her so she could take her son home but she didn't answer."

"Of course."

"You're in trouble!" Keiko sing-songed as they followed her mom outside. Yusuke shrugged carelessly.

Yusuke's apartment was dark and empty when they got there. Keiko watched while her mother wrote out another note then stuck both it and the one from the Principal to the refrigerator. "Yusuke-chan, remind your mother I made a dentist appointment for you tonight." She instructed.

Yusuke crossed his arms over his chest and sulked. "Why do I gotta go to the dentist?" He demanded.

"Because you told me your tooth still hurt from where Soto hit you with his lunch box."

"I hit him back harder." Yusuke announced proudly.

"You shouldn't fight!" Keiko interjected.

"The dentist will fix your tooth so it doesn't hurt anymore." Her mother said. "You'll stay inside until Atsuko comes home won't you?"

She waited patiently until Yusuke gave in and nodded his agreement. Then she frowned disapprovingly at the trash bags still sitting beside the door where she'd left them that morning. With a sigh she picked up two of them. As she headed to the dumpster Yusuke grabbed the last bag and jogged after her. She held the lid open and watched him toss the bag in. "You really are a sweet child aren't you?" She asked. Yusuke blushed a brilliant shade of red and dashed back inside. He slammed the door behind him.

Keiko's mother laughed and shook her head as she held out her hand to her daughter. "Would you like to go to the park Keiko-chan?" She asked.

Keiko nodded eagerly. The park was just across the street from her parents' restaurant. She spent a lot of time there because Mommy and Daddy could trade between watching her and watching the restaurant. If it got really busy it was easy for them to call her inside to play while they both looked after customers. Several of her bestest friends lived nearby and there was usually someone to play with, plus the best swings in Tokyo.

As dinnertime approached the park emptied out. Keiko sat on a swing lazily letting it sway back and forth while she daydreamed.

She was caught unawares when a sudden, hard push sent her toes pointing to the sky. "Yusuke!" She shrieked. "Stop it right now."

"Jump." He dared her.

Keiko shook her head and clung tightly to the chains as he made her swing higher and higher. "You were supposed to stay home. You're mommy's going to get mad at you!" Keiko threatened.

"How'm I gonna get in trouble? Mom ain't home yet." Yusuke said with confidence.

Keiko considered his seemingly unassailable logic. If his mom wasn't there to realize he wasn't home how could he get in trouble? At the same time it made no sense at all to her; how could Atsuko not be home? It was dinnertime and he had a dentist appointment.

"Keiko-chan, it's time to come in." Her mother called then noticed the small boy. "Yusuke, does your mother know where you are?"

"He said she wasn't home." Keiko reported, shocked and scandalized. "He missed his dentist appointment."

"Tattle-tail." Yusuke hissed.

Keiko's mother sighed. She checked her watch. "If we hurry we'll only be twenty minutes late. Maybe he'll still look at you." She led them into the restaurant and exchanged a few quick words with her husband. He scowled and Keiko caught Atsuko's name in his irritated response.

After a hurried race to the train station, a ride in a tightly packed compartment and another footrace they arrived at the dentist's office.

Keiko sat primly in her seat while her mother argued with the receptionist and Yusuke darted around getting into everything. Her eyes widened as she saw Yusuke slip into one of the backrooms. Through the open door she could see him digging through a drawer of bright, shiny, neat things. Keiko watched him longingly. She glanced at her mother's back. They'd both promised to sit still and be good while Mommy talked but Yusuke was never good. And he was having fun while she was bored!

Yusuke slipped back into the waiting room and dropped a handful of the shiny things in Keiko's lap before returning to his explorations. "Thanks." Keiko whispered.

A few minutes later the dentist emerged from one of his examination rooms. He held Yusuke by his collar. "Who's is this?" He asked while Yusuke squirmed and hissed like an angry cat.

Keiko saw a funny sparkle in her mother's eyes as she turned to the dentist and began explaining the situation. "I suppose I should reschedule and have his mother bring him back at a later date." She finished with a sigh.

"Bring him back?" The dentist asked, he sounded alarmed. "You said a damage tooth, I suppose that gives me a reason to sedate him. I'll look at him tonight. You don't have to bring him back."

"Thank you very much. I apologize for the inconvenience." The sparkle was brighter and Keiko was disturbed by how much her mother's expression reminded her of Yusuke right after he'd done something bad.

The dentist took Yusuke back into one of the examination rooms. Keiko found a story and curled up in her mother's lap to listen to her read.

Later the dentist came back with a dazed and sleepy Yusuke. "It was a baby-tooth. I pulled it. You don't have to bring him back." He reiterated. "I'm sure I could recommend a dentist closer to your home if anything else comes up."

Yusuke wandered over and climbed into the seat beside Keiko. She frowned worriedly; it wasn't normal for him to be so subdued. He stuck his tongue out at her to test the new hole in his teeth. Keiko felt a measure of relief.

After a few blocks of Yusuke stumbling along more asleep than awake Keiko's mother picked him up. Keiko frowned, Yusuke was stiff, like he wasn't used to being carried or held. It took several minutes, but Yusuke gradually relaxed enough to put his arms around her mother's neck and slump against her.

For a while Keiko held on to her mother's pocket as they walked then discovered that Yusuke's ankle made a better handhold.

The TV was blaring at the Urameshi apartment, forgotten when Yusuke had gone out earlier. Atsuko was still out.

"He's asleep." Keiko's mom said softly to herself. "He hasn't eaten dinner yet. If I wake him up he might not want to eat anyway."

"We could bring a snack in the morning." Keiko suggested. Her mother smiled and nodded as she set Yusuke in his bed.

There was a thunderstorm that night. Keiko sat up in bed, unable to sleep with the scary flashes of light and ominous sounds. After a while she crept out of bed and slide her door open so she would be able to hear her daddy's burbling snores. That bizarre noise should have been as worrisome as the thunder but Keiko knew it came from her daddy and hearing it meant he was nearby thus she was safe.

Comforted but still unable to sleep Keiko wrapped her blankets more tightly around her shoulders. She wondered if Atsuko had finally gotten home or if Yusuke was still alone in their apartment. She wondered if Atsuko's presence made Yusuke feel safe like her parents made her feel.

Keiko squeaked in terror at the sound of a soft rap on her window. The next flash of lightening revealed a drenched, dark haired boy crouched on the window ledge.

Keiko climbed out of bed and opened the window to let Yusuke in. He left his shoes on the windowsill as he scrambled inside before the thunder could crash.

"I'm not scared of thunder." Yusuke announced firmly.

"You're dripping all over the floor." Keiko observed disapprovingly.

Yusuke glanced at the puddle spreading around him. "It's raining outside." He pointed out. "And it was dark and the lightening… I got lost for a while."

"You shouldn't go outside at night." Keiko frowned as she imagined the lecture she'd get if she decided to go visiting all by herself after bedtime.

Yusuke shrugged. "Mommy goes out at night all the time. Or her weird friends come over and she tells me to sleep, but they make too much noise." Yusuke's face scrunched up in distaste at the mention of his mother's friends.

A yawn drew their attention to the door. "Keiko, why are you up…" Her father asked then noticed Yusuke. "What are you doing here, now?"

Yusuke scowled. "It was wet outside. The storm doesn't bother me. I was just cold."

"Stay put, I'm calling your mother."

"She wasn't home when I woke up. I couldn't sleep anymore so I came here."

Keiko's father looked like he was contemplating banging his head against the wall.

"Yusuke's here." He called to his wife. "See if you can find him something dry to wear… I suppose it wouldn't do any harm if he slept here tonight, better than walking him home in a downpour."

It didn't take long for Keiko to conclude that Yusuke's visit was a good thing. With the lights on and her parents bustling about the thunderstorm seemed very distant. In short order Yusuke was wrapped in one of her father's shirts, her mother had belted it around him like a kimono.

"Your bed's funny." Yusuke announced. "Why's it off the floor? How do you roll it up?"

"It's a western bed." Keiko informed him knowledgably as she hopped up to sit on it. Yusuke's eyes lit up with appreciation as he noted the way the springs gave and the bounce Keiko's small hop had produced.

Before Keiko could say another word Yusuke charged full tilt across the room and jumped on the bed. The springs creaked alarmingly and Keiko scrambled away before he could land on her. "Yusuke! You're not supposed to jump on beds!"

"Why not? It's fun."

Keiko thought about that. It had never occurred to her to ask why she shouldn't jump on the bed when her mommy told her not to.

Sensing that she was wavering Yusuke stretched a hand out to her. Keiko let him pull her up to stand in front of him. She bounced tentatively; she didn't feel particularly balanced or secure. Yusuke's hands tightened on hers and provided a steadying influence. Keiko smiled and jumped more confidently. She knew beyond any doubt that Yusuke would never let her fall.

"It's time to sleep you two." Keiko's mother said. "You have to lay down and be still. Yusuke, we've made up a bed for you. Now please calm down."

"But I'm not sleepy!"

"You will be in the morning."

"No I won't."

"Yusuke! To bed!"

"You better do it." Keiko whispered. "Daddy really means it when he uses that tone."

"You want to be a good guest don't you?" Keiko's mother cajoled. "Keiko-chan will be sleepy in school tomorrow if you don't let her rest."

Yusuke looked to Keiko and waited for her to contradict her mother. When she declined he sighed and hopped off the bed. "Night Keiko. Night Keiko's mom. Night Keiko's dad."

"Goodnight Yusuke-chan, sleep well." Keiko's mother replied as she straightened Keiko's bed then tucked her daughter in. "Sweet dreams Keiko-chan. I'll see you in the morning."

Keiko nodded, picking up on the implied. "And not before." She smiled sleepily. "Night Mommy, Daddy, Yusuke."

Keiko felt like she'd hardly closed her eyes when a desperate pounding on the door pulled her from a sound sleep. She glanced at the clock and saw it was three in the morning. Yusuke sat up in his bedroll and rubbed his eyes sleepily.

A moment later they heard Keiko's father answer the door. "Urameshi-san…"

"You've, you've gotta help me!" Atsuko slurred. "Yusuke's gone. I can't find him! I came home and he was gone! He wasn't in his bed. Yusuke's gone!"

All trace of sleepiness gone Yusuke ran out to his mother. "Mommy! I'm right here!"

Atsuko dropped clumsily to her knees and embraced Yusuke tightly. While Atsuko repeated how worried she'd been Yusuke babbled excitedly about everything he'd done.

He pulled back from her to display his missing tooth. Atsuko's mood changed in a heartbeat. She held him by the shoulders at arms length. "Damn it Yusuke! You don't run off like that." She snarled as she shook him. "What the hell were you thinking!"

Keiko flinched. Atsuko's every word was punctuated was a shake that slammed Yusuke into the doorframe and Atsuko didn't even seem to notice. Not the dull thud of his back hitting the wood or the way his head snapped back with a sharper crack.

Keiko felt a flare of anger building up in her chest. Atsuko was so careless with Yusuke. And it wasn't fair for her to be mad, if she'd been home like a good mommy Yusuke wouldn't have come over here in the first place.

What Keiko couldn't begin to understand was Yusuke. Rather than showing pain or anger his expression was blank. He endured his mother's temper as if weathering a storm. It didn't make sense. Keiko had seen Yusuke frequently attack much older students for less than what Atsuko was doing. He talked back to his teachers all the time… Why didn't he do something to make Atsuko stop?

A glance at her parents' stiff expressions told Keiko they weren't any happier about Atsuko than she was.

"Urameshi-san." Her father said, his voice carefully neutral as he knelt down beside them and placed a firm hand on Yusuke's back to discourage any more shaking or at least to shield the boy from any more collisions with the doorframe. "It was my fault, not Yusuke's. I should have called to let you know where he was. I am the adult, I should have been responsible."

Like she would have been home to pick up the phone, Keiko thought angrily.

Atsuko paused as she tried to process the new information. She blinked a couple of times. "S'kay." She decided. "Hey, it's pretty late ain't it?" She looked down at Yusuke. "We better be getting home, huh baby?"

Yusuke nodded and went to collect his shoes and clothes.

"I'll walk you back to your apartment." Keiko's dad offered.

"Naw, naw. Don' want to be a bother." Atsuko waved him off.

"Truly it would be no bother." He pressed.

"It's the middle of the night." Atsuko pointed out bluntly. "You should be sleeping. We both got here on our own. Yusuke and I can get home the same way."

Keiko watched the pair leave from her window.

"You shouldn't go wandering around at night." Atsuko reprimanded her son, her voice drifting up to Keiko's window. "There are demons, they'd eat you right up."

"No demon's gonna eat me!" Yusuke declared. "I'd beat them up!"

Atsuko laughed. "I bet you would." She reached out to ruffle his hair and ended up leaning on him to catch her to catch her balance. "My little tough guy." She murmured.

Yusuke's chest puffed up with pride.

Atsuko started down the street. Yusuke caught her hand and tugged her in the other direction. "Wrong way Mommy."

Atsuko peered more carefully at the streets. "Guess you're right. What'd I do without you, Yu-chan?"

Keiko frowned thoughtfully as she turned over the day's events.

"Why do we have to wait for Yusuke?"

"You'll understand when you're older."

Keiko supposed a day older counted as older.

Present

Keiko's friends finished yet another round of rumors about Urameshi Yusuke's fearsome reputation then waited eagerly for her reaction.

Keiko was thinking that Yusuke had as good as promised to be at school in the morning, she'd have make an extra effort to see that he actually made it to class instead of spending the day on the roof smoking and goofing off.

"What?" She asked.

"How can you not be scared of him?" Sayo demanded.

Keiko remembered the feel of Yusuke's hands holding hers as they jumped on a bed and the knowledge that he would never, ever let her be hurt. "Because all that stuff you guys hear, even the parts that actually happened, it's just…" Keiko raised her hands helplessly as she searched for the right word, "trappings. I know what's true."