Hello, I don't know what to say here, so enjoy... or not. whatever.

Chapter 9, So long, Normal.

Keiko yawned expansively as she woke on Saturday morning, having gotten her first totally restful sleep since Yusuke had died. Ever since that day, she'd been having nightmares about how it had happened, about him coming back and yelling that it had been her fault, her words that had driven him off to get run over by a car. Even after he'd come back himself and told her that he was coming back to life, she'd kept thinking that it was some sort of dream, and that he would just stay in the coma he'd somehow ended up in forever… but now, indirectly, she had PROOF that Yusuke had really promised her that he'd be back.

As she went about getting ready to help open the restaurant for the morning, her parents noticed her lifted mood. "Wow, you're cheerful this morning Keiko-chan." Her father observed, busy cooking breakfast for the family.

She just nodded, and proceeded out into the main room to begin flipping chairs down off of the tables. Her parents exchanged a slightly mystified glance, before shrugging and returning to their activities.

HR.

Several blocks away, Shuichi Minamino had a much more reserved attitude as he went about preparing for his day. Since it was a weekend, he had very little idea what to do with himself. Usually, he would be doing errands for his mother or tending his garden, but his mother was in the hospital, and because of his worry over that fact, the garden was already VERY well tended.

As he finished off his small breakfast, he considered just finding a good book to read until the hospital's visiting hours started. That was, of course, until someone started knocking on his door rapidly.

He stood to answer it, hearing the rapid knocking come again, and scowled. "I'm coming, already." He mumbled, wondering why the person at the door was so impatient. Opening it, he got his answer. Ranma was standing there, looking like he hadn't slept all night.

The red haired boy was about to say something, when Ranma spoke up. "We gotta talk."

"What about?" Shuichi asked, slightly concerned.

Ranma answered with only two words. "Forlorn Hope."

Shuichi stiffened, surprised to hear Ranma say that name. "Come in." He said, flatly, and lead the slightly older boy back into the house.

Ranma looked around the place in interest, and Shuichi realized that the other hadn't been in the house before. He frowned at that thought. His own 'brother,' Shiori's REAL son, had never stepped foot into her home before. Shaking that thought off, he lead the black haired boy into the living room. "How did you find out about the forlorn hope?" He asked, sitting down in one of the several chairs that were scattered around the room.

"That guy I fought a while ago, Heie, or whatever his name is, he told me it's a mirror that can grant wishes, and that you were gunna try 'n steal it."

Shuichi's face briefly collapsed into a scowl, before he got it under control. Internally, he was cursing Hiei for getting the other boy involved, and wondering why on earth he would do so. Perhaps, he thought, this was some twisted form of revenge for Ranma beating the small demon in combat? He was about to start coming up with a deception that would throw Ranma off, when the martial artist spoke again.

"Look, there's no sense in denyin' it. He told me it could grant any wish, which means yer goin' after it ta cure mom, right? I ain't gunna let you do it alone." He gave Shuichi a surprisingly determined glare, and then continued. "Now, why don't ya tell me everythin', so I don't have ta figure it out myself?"

Shuichi looked into his brother's eyes for a moment, and thought. He could still lie to Ranma, get him chasing some mundane but heavily guarded artifact rather than the real forlorn hope, but… Sighing, he nodded. "Ranma, what I am doing is very dangerous." He explained. "Hiei is a demon, from the spirit world, and that is where the forlorn hope is located. It's not a very safe place for an unprepared human to be." As he saw Ranma's eyes widen, he realized that he must have said something wrong.

Across from him, the pigtailed martial artist's mind whirled. Normally, he wasn't the best at thinking things through to get to a logical conclusion, but he'd been chewing on a question in the back of his mind ever since he'd first felt Shuichi and Hiei's auras. They had both felt… wrong, inhuman. There had been far too little chi in them to keep someone alive and active, and he'd felt some form of other energy instead. Now, he learned that Hiei was a demon… like the one he'd tried to fight the day before, who had had the same aura. "You… that means you're a demon?" He asked, pointing at Shuichi in shock. "But how?! I…"

Shuichi, or rather Kurama, sighed. Yes, he'd definitely given away too much, but he had no idea how his brother had leapt to the conclusion. "I presume you want an explanation now?" He asked.

"Yeah, like why you're pretendin ta be Shuichi 'n pretending you care about Shiori?" Ranma asked, obviously angry now that Kurama had confirmed his suspicions, rather than denying them.

"I am not pretending!" Kurama thundered, Ranma's comment apparently striking a nerve. Sighing, he sagged in his chair. "Yes, I am a demon… but I do want to see mother live." At Ranma's confused look, he continued. "A long time ago, I was known as Youko Kurama, one of the best thieves in Demon world." He smiled sadly. "I apparently wasn't good enough, as I ran afoul of some human demon hunters, who injured me very badly. In order to survive, I.." He trailed off, and Ranma leaned forward.

"I took the place of a human woman's unborn child, so that I could regain my power. At first, yes, I thought of mother merely as a convenient vessel to stay in, and one who I could trick into taking care of me once I was born. I thought of you merely as an annoyance…" He looked down at his own hands, opening and closing them slowly. "That isn't the case any longer. I truly love Shiori Minamino as if she were my mother, and I… I fear that it may have been me that caused her illness."

Ranma was incredibly confused, and Kurama would likely have found his expression comical if he wasn't so busy looking at his own hands. Apparently, he had managed to step into an incredibly complicated situation. During his training trip, he and his father had attacked countless low-level demons to drive them into sealing, mostly because the priests gave them free food if they did, but now, he really had no idea what to do. "So… yer tryin' to get the forlorn hope 'cuz you think you owe her a debt?" He finally asked, thinking that he'd gotten things sorted out.

Kurama looked at him oddly. "Yes, that is part of it." He said. "Now that you are back, after I finish this mission, I will leave."

"Hey, ya don't have ta do that.." Ranma objected, suddenly, then looked down himself. "Considering how long I've been gone, yer probably as much her kid as I am, or more. It wouldn't be right ta make ya leave."

Kurama smiled sadly, knowing a few things that Ranma didn't. "Thank you for the offer." He said, simply. "As for the forlorn hope, it will be very dangerous to go after it. As I said, a normal Human shouldn't try it."

Ranma shrugged. "Well, I ain't exactly normal." He quipped. "Besides, if it's gunna save mom's life, you know I have to help."

Kurama nodded, resigned. "I am going to have to have a long discussion with Hiei." He growled, before standing and heading for the door.

"Hey, wait, where are ya going?!" Ranma asked, quickly getting up and following after him. Unfortunately, by the time he'd gotten to the door, Kurama was gone again. "Gah! I hate it when he does that!" He yelled, and suddenly felt really guilty for doing the same thing to Keiko the night before.

As he thought that, something clicked in his mind. "Oh yeah, Keiko's place." He sighed, having forgotten all about what he'd promised her the night before. Being sure to lock the house's front door before he left, he took a quick scan around for Shuichi, unsuccessful, as he'd thought, and then ran off towards Keiko's place.

HR.

Keiko was humming to herself, setting down a plate of rolls on one of the tables in the restaurant, when the front door opened to let in another customer. It was very near the end of her shift, but she took a glance over anyways, and was surprised to see Ranma walking in. She'd actually never seen him around here before. Actually, she reminded herself, since he and Ranko were the same person, she had, sort of. "Ranma, what's going on?" She asked, walking up to him.

"Not much." He answered. "Just gotta talk to yer parents about something."

Keiko looked at him oddly, but took a look around to be sure that all the customers were satisfied and lead him to the back of the building.

Her mother looked up from where she was working on the finances, noticing that her daughter had brought a boy she didn't recognize. "Keiko? What's going on?" She asked.

"This is Ranma, he's a friend of mine from school." Keiko introduced, nervously, seeing Ranma blink at her when she mentioned the word friend. "As for what he wants, I have no idea."

"Oh, a friend, eh?" Her father asked, from his position at the stove, before raising an eyebrow. It was odd, though. He had thought she liked that Urameshi boy. "Something we can do for you?" He finally asked.

Ranma nodded, slightly nervously. "Yeah, well, it's not for me, it's my sister." He explained, desperately wishing he'd remembered to get some water before entering the restaurant. "Her name's Ranko."

Keiko gave him an odd look, but her parents smiled. "Oh, you're Ranko's brother? Nice to meet you. She's a very nice girl, one of our waitresses. I hope there's nothing wrong?" Keiko's mother asked, worriedly, looking away from her paperwork.

Ranma scratched the back of his neck. "Nah, nothin's wrong, Somethin' kinda important just came up and it'll take a while to resolve. She's gunna have ta quit her job here." He explained.

Keiko blinked, surprised, and then remembered that Ranko, or Ranma, or… damn, she was getting a headache, Ranko had promised her that she'd quit her job after Keiko had found out about the curse. "Oh no, she doesn't have to quit!" She exclaimed.

The two older Yukimuras gave each other confused looks, and Keiko's father was about to rebuke her for getting involved in what was obviously personal business, when a new voice butted in. "Oh, yes she does!"

Everyone in the restaurant's back room turned to the door, to see a thin man wearing a blue suit and a pair of glasses standing there. "Mr. Ewamoto?" Keiko asked, surprised.

"Yes, it's me. And how fortunate I found that delinquent Mr. Ranma here as well." The rather oily teacher said, rubbing his hands together.

Ranma's eyebrows twitched. "Why, you lookin for me?" He asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"I'm here to talk to the Yukimuras about a forged work permission slip." The teacher explained. "We just found out that a clerical error was made, and a girl by the name of… Ranko, or something, was using Mr. Ranma's permission slip to work here while not attending our school."

The Yukimura adults both blinked, and Mr. Yukimura frowned. "Well, that's unfortunate. She was so good at her job, too. I suppose that's why she asked you to tell us she has to leave?" He asked, looking at Ranma.

"Yeah." The pigtailed boy said, bowing. "Sorry for bein dishonest, but we needed ta do it that way."

"She was… quitting anyways?" Ewamoto asked, gaping.

Ranma shrugged, trying to keep himself from smirking. "Yeah, 'fraid so."

"Oh well, there's also the matter of a little accident involving destroying school property yesterday." The teacher said. "Given all of the fights you get into, and your dishonesty with your work papers, we have no choice but to expel you from Sarayashiki, permanently!"

"Wait, what?" Ranma asked, blinking in astonishment.

"I am referring to the destroyed wall in the school's front yard. Don't pretend to play dumb." Ewamoto said, almost seeming happy.

"Hey, wait. I didn't do that, it was someone else comin ta attack me!" Ranma objected, angrily.

Ewamoto smirked. "It was still your fight that caused the damage." He explained, smugly. "Now, if you'll excuse me." Turning, he walked out of the door, leaving Ranma's eye twitching rapidly.

"I really, really wanna pound that guy." The pigtailed martial artist muttered, quietly. "Look, sorry if I disturbed ya guys, especially with that idiot showin' up."

"It's fine." Mrs. Yukimura said, but frowned. "Unfortunately, now that we know that, we definitely can't keep employing Ranko. She really should go to school, and we would get in trouble with the government."

"Don't worry about it." Ranma said, and then started to leave.

"Hey, wait!" Keiko said, and then threw a quick look to her parents.

"It's the end of your shift." Her father said.

She nodded, happily, and charged after Ranma.

HR.

As Ranma headed back to his park home, he glanced back at Keiko, annoyed. "Is there a reason you're followin' me?" He finally asked, after trying to ignore her for over a block and a half.

"Well, I wanted to talk." She said. "You took off so quickly last night, and there was still a lot of stuff I wanted to know."

Ranma grudgingly slowed down so that she could walk beside him. "Thought ya wouldn't want to have anything to do with me after I told you about the curse." He said. "I mean, I've been spendin' almost a month lyin' to ya."

"What was it you said when you fought all those guys? You're my friend, right?" Keiko asked, then smiled. "Plus, do you think I would have believed you if you'd have told me that you changed genders when we first met?"

Ranma stopped. "Yeah, I guess you've got a point about you probably not believing me." He conceded, and then smiled slightly. "Is what you said 'bout us being friends true?"

Keiko blinked. That was a pretty odd question. "Yeah, I mean, even though I don't like some of how you acted in school, you're a pretty nice gu.. gi.. person."

"If it helps, I'm actually a guy." Ranma said, feeling slightly less annoyed than he thought he would. "And thanks, I don't got many friends." Keiko wasn't sure what to say to that, and the two lapsed into a silence for a few minutes as they started to move again.

"So," She finally said, trying to break the silence. "What did you mean someone attacked you yesterday?"

The martial artist looked away. "Look, it's not important, okay?" He asked, slightly annoyed. She wanted to respond to that, but recognized the way he was acting as very similar to how Yusuke did on the very few occasions he'd lost a fight.

"So, if you don't have a job, and you're expelled from school, what are you going to do now?" She finally said, sounding a little bit worried.

"I'm gunna train." He responded, off-hand. She was about to ask what he meant, when the two entered the park again. This time, he didn't leap into the trees to lose her, but walked deeper into an overgrown section. She followed him, curious, and the two broke out into a clearing in the center of the overgrown section, where she saw a small one person tent and a passed out Kuwabara.

She blinked, trying to clear her eyes. Kuwabara was still there, laying on the grass next to the tent and snoring away happily. "What?" She asked, confused.

Ranma shrugged. "I invited him over to spar today, but forgot I had some stuff ta do. Ended up writin' him a note ta eat some food and wait." He grinned evilly. "Guess he got bored." The martial artist walked over to the red haired boy, and then looked back to Keiko. "Oh, ya may wanna leave. This could get kinda ugly."

She was about to ask him what he meant, when he grabbed Kuwabara by the shoulders, lifted him, and threw him into a small pond nearby.

Keiko retreated then, hearing the sound of a pissed off red haired boy yelling at the top of his lungs as she cleared the overgrowth. "Does everyone I know at school have to be so weird?" She complained, before starting to head home.

END.

End Notes: Sorry it's taken so long. I've taken to not giving excuses, especially since right now I have none that would actually be truthful other than me getting burnout from all of those Contrast Match chapters at once.