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The first chapter of the fanfiction series, Another: Tokyo Mew Mew. Japanese honorifics and address will be used.

Chapter I

Morning.

A girl lay sleeping with her covers thrown over her face to block out the sun, mumbling dreams incoherently under her breath. The trees outside her window cast a dappled light over the bashful smile on her face - she was having a good dream.

But then a branch fell abruptly against her window with a sharp rap, and her eyes immediately opened wide and she sat up rapidly, grabbing her alarm clock and staring at it in disbelief.

'You've got to be joking!' she yelled, jumping up. Suddenly, Ichigo felt herself falling forward out of her bed, and waved her arms around frantically in an effort to stop herself.

'I'm gonna hit my nose, I'm gonna hit my nose, I'm gonna~!' she gabbled, hopping unsteadily on one foot for several seconds until she miraculously managed to gain some balance. She paused and blinked in astonishment at herself with a suprised 'oh', before a beam spread across her face in relief.

'Aha!' she grinned. 'How do you like tha-! Wah!' she flailed her arms again, as she shortly crashed backwards onto the floor.

'That hurts...' she whined, clutching her head.

She clambered up and groggily reached out for her dressing table, fingers going towards her ribbons with practised precision.

'Why can't I just get it together for once?' she scolded herself, throwing off her pyjamas in a scattered heap on the floor with one hand, and brushing her teeth with the other. 'I was so nervous that I couldn't sleep, but to sleep in on the first day...Geez, I'm such an idi-! Ah!' she cried out, as her hair tie broke. 'My ribbon snapped~!'

Patting down her school uniform for the fifth time, she stormed down the stairs, tripped on the final step, and headed for the door.

'Okaa-san, Otou-san, I'm leaving now!' she called out.

'Wait, Ichigo-!'

Ignoring it, she slammed the door shut and fled into the streets.

'Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!' she ranted all the way down the pavement, turning sharply around the corner. Despite her flexibility, Ichigo was never good at physical excercise and was quickly running out of breath. Perhaps she should ask Takusu to teach her roller-skating next time...

'Ah, geez, I don't have time for this!' she wailed, picking up her speed - before promptly running into a boy with a bike.   

'I'm sorry!' she shot up, mortified, bowing over and over again. 'I'm sorry! I'm really very sorry, I'm-!'

'Ichigo.' 

She stopped mid-bow at the familiar, gentle voice and looked up hesitantly to see the smiling face of her boyfriend.

'M-Masaya-kun!' she stammered, flushing with embarrassment.

'Are you okay? You're not hurt?' he asked anxiously, eyes flickering over her knees and face.

'Y-yes, I'm fine, thank you,' she blushed, brushing her hair behind her ear nervously. 'Ah! But I'm gonna be late to school!'

Masaya, who had been giving her a look of utmost seriousness, now broke out into a radiant, warm smile at her flustered antics, and stood up.

'Come on.'

Ichigo looked up tearfully at Aoyama, who had straightened his bike and now leaned towards her, hand outstretched.

'Eh?'

'We'll go together, okay?' he smiled warmly. Ichigo looked bashfully at the courteous hand proferred towards her. Still a little shy, she took it. His hand was warm.

'Yeah.'

'Alright,' he grinned with a playful glint in his eye as he suddenly, but carefully, lifted her up by the waist and seated a very bewildered Ichigo onto the rear rack of his bike. 'Let's go!'

'What? Ah!' she cried, as he swiftly hopped back onto his bicycle and shot down the road.

They tore past trees, vehicles and people with a scattering of hasty apologies, and the wind whipping Ichigo's crimson hair about her face. Before she knew it, her startled gasps had turned into the infectious, pealing laughter that Masaya loved, and it wasn't until later that he realised that he was laughing too.     

'We made it!' she panted, relieved, when they finally reached the school gates. She glanced at Masaya, red-cheeked and bent over his knees himself, wearing that same happy exhaustion on his face that she did. He seemed to be thinking the same thing, as something tender came into his expression as he straightened and gazed at her.

'Then,' he said softly. 'See you later, Ichigo.'

'Mm. See you later.'

A few minutes later, when the high school principle stood up to give his speech in the assembly hall, she was gripped with apprehension and glanced tentatively back and forth along her row, automatically searching for Masaya's face and finding it several seats on her right. Either because he felt her nervous gaze, or because he had been looking for her too, he turned and smiled, and everything was alright.

From this day onward, Ichigo Momomiya was a high-school girl.

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'I'm back!'

'You're 5 minutes and 23 seconds late.' Ryou said drily, giving her a look of annoyance as Ichigo burst into the cafe.

'I'm sorry!' Ichigo apologised. 'I was getting hassled by all the clubs.'

'Ah, this time of year's always scary, right?' Lettuce said sympathetically.

'Mm, mm,' she nodded.

'Well, since you're late, you're on cleaning duty,' Ryou stated in an off-handed sort of way.

'Eh~?'

'Don't eh~ me.'

Growling, Ichigo frowned to the side.

'Stingy.'

Ryou hid his smile behind his hand. She had grown in the past few years, and had, somewhere in the midst of growing up, abandoned her pigtails for a ponytail, tied up with the bell ribbon she had once worn around her neck. It was getting harder to tease her about being childish with a straight face, but now, with her cheeks flushing red and her mouth drawn up in a pout, she looked really, very, cute.

'As I thought...' he murmured aloud.

'What?' she said irritably. He blinked, caught off guard for a split second, before he smoothly covered it with a smirk.

'You don't look like a high schooler at all!'

'Hah!? Why, you..!' she fumed.

'Ichigo-onee-chan~!' Pudding abruptly burst out from the kitchen and jumped into Ichigo's arms in a flurry of yellow and orange before the older girl could start ranting. 'Mint-onee-chan is bullying me~!'

'Now, that is not true,' the girl said primly, delicately setting down her tea cup. 'I only told her that if she refuses to wash the dishes, she wouldn't get any pudding.'

'No pudding!' the smaller girl wailed. 

'Zakuro-onee-sama says that less dessert will be good for you,' Mint reproached, tossing back her dark curls with a pointed look at Pudding's figure.

'Ah, did you hear from her? It's already been a year since she left for America, right?' Ichigo perked up.

'She's just been signed up by a top company!' Mint sighed dreamily, chores immediately dismissed to the back of her mind. 'Just as I'd expect from Zakuro-onee-sama!'

Lettuce giggled at the scene, as Pudding started to half-complain and half-chatter excitedly to Ichigo while Mint continued to practically exude bubbles as she thought about her favourite model, and caught sight of Shirogane's face watching them all, with a frown struggling to make itself known on his face.

'Is there still no news on Akasaka-san?' she asked, quietly going to stand next to him. He looked at her sharply, but if he was surprised at how she'd known what was on his mind, he didn't show it.

A few days after the Saint Rose Crusaders had retreated back into the shadows, Keiichiro had vanished suddenly, without a trace. He'd left behind no clues, no note, or even a goodbye. They all feared the worst, but with no hostile invasions on Earth ever since, they could only guess what had happened to him.        

'No,' Ryou replied.

'I see.'

He glanced at Lettuce's worried expression, and smiled reassuringly.

'Don't worry, Lettuce. I'll definitely find him.'

'I believe so. But,' she looked up, her face serious. 'I'm worried about you too.' 

Although Ryou kept his face nonchalant, his heart swelled a little in pride. Lettuce was still timid and was finding it harder to make friends at her school than she let on, but he wouldn't have guessed that this straightforward young woman beside him was the same frightened girl she was when she first found out that she was a Mew Mew. 

'Thank you.'

She smiled. She seemed about to open her mouth to say something else, but she was interrupted by the sound of the bell tinkling as the doors burst open.

'We're back!'

Berry and Tasuku tumbled in, bringing their cheerful energy with them, juggling boxes, bags and letters through the door and setting them down on a nearby table with Lettuce's help.

'It's the lovebirds!' chirped Pudding happily, dessert quickly forgotten.

'Ah, gee, you've gotta stop calling us that, you know?' Berry admonished, but her blush gave her away. Tasuku looked up, caught Shirogane's eye and grinned.

'Hey, Shirogane-san!' he greeted.

'Thanks for your help, as always,' Ryou replied.

'No problem.'

Shirogane cast a side-long glance at the girls, who were already chattering away and swapping their first-day high school experiences. Deciding that it was a good opportunity if ever, he drew the younger boy aside and said quietly,

'I need to talk with you for a second.'

Tasuku raised his eyes with a curious look, but the masked seriousness on Ryou's face was one he became familiar with over the years, particularly after Akasaka had left. It was something about the Mew Project. 

'Sure.'

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'Take a look at this,' Shirogane said.

They were in the hidden basement under the cafe, where Ryou was gesturing towards the screen map on the large computer. Infected by Ryou's sombre mood, Takusu became quiet and leaned closer towards the familiar red light beating in the centre of it.

'That's a Chimera Anima pulse!' he exclaimed disbelievingly.

'So you think so too,' Ryou remarked, thoughtful.

'But I thought they were all destroyed?'

'So did I,' he said, leaning back on his chair. 'Once the Chimera Anima threat was gone, their powers should have disappeared completely. But it stayed behind. And this must be the reason for it.'

'What are you going to do?'

Ryou responded with silence, staring at the dot that was glaring at him from the screen. He was well aware that the girls were growing up and struggling enough with their normal lives to get tangled up into something that could be more dangerous than the typical Chimera Anima. Pudding had finally become comfortable in school and Zakuro had already moved on from them to concentrate on her modelling career. Just another few years and it could be Lettuce who said farewell.

If Keiichiro was here, he'd know what to do, he thought.

But Keiichiro wasn't here, so, breathing out heavily, he clasped his hands together under his chin, and started to think.

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'I wonder what it is that made Shirogane-san call us out so suddenly,' Mint said thoughtfully.

'But,' Mew Lettuce smiled, nostalgic. 'It's really been a while, hasn't it?'

'Yeah! Mew Pudding is full of energy!' the blonde-haired girl beamed, swinging energetically on the tree branches.

It had been a long time since they were sent out on the field, even if it was only a reconnaissance mission. Ever since Ichigo had come back from England, there had been no Chimera Anima sightings and their active life as Mew Mews had dwindled until they could almost live normally, although none of them were willing to give up on their jobs at Cafe Mew Mew just yet.

Mew Ichigo smiled, feeling a sense of freedom as she leaped across rooftops with the bell on her tail chiming as she ran. She'd missed this.

The Mew Mews came to a halt as they reached their destination, instinctively probing the area with caution.

'Nothing looks wierd, but...' Pudding remarked, peering around.

'Mm. I sense something...but it can't be,' Mew Lettuce frowned.

'You can feel it too?' Mint asked.   

'This is...' Ichigo confirmed uncertainly. 'Mew Aqua, right?'

They all looked at each other, wondering what this meant, when an ear-splitting crash shook the earth and knocked them off their feet.

'W-what-?' Mew Ichigo stammered nervously.

They barely had time to get back up on their feet, when the trees violently broke apart and the monster emerged. 

'What is that?' Mew Mint whispered, petrified.

It was completely alien to any other enemy they had every seen. Wings tore out from its shoulder blades, feathers twisted and ugly as the bones gnarled out of its back. Sharp talons had broken out as its feet, flailing and unsteady, but when it opened its mouth and screeched into the air, it was horrific and frightening and...

So terrifyingly human.

It spun around in the centre of the clearing, whirling its wings so fast that the Mew Mews only just managed to leap away, except for Lettuce, who was struck forcefully on the side. She let out a sharp cry as she hit the tree behind her, and crumpled when she fell.

'Mew Lettuce!' Ichigo called out, hastily running towards her friend. Lettuce stumbled up with a weak smile, before her eyes widened with sudden urgency. 

'Ichigo, watch out!'

The girl spun round quickly, but the mutant was already striking out, she would never be able to block it -  

'Ribbon Pudding Ring Inferno!'

A jolting crevice burst between them with a crackle of yellow energy, a paralysing bubble forming around the creature as Mew Lettuce and Mew Ichigo made their escape. 

'Thank you,' Lettuce smiled gratefully. 

'Mew Ichigo!' Mint said briskly.

Ichigo nodded, and summoned her weapon into her hand.

'StrawBell Bell!' she caught the bell from her tail with familiar expertise, twirling it in her hands with a look of determination.

'Ribbon Strawberry-!'

But before she could finish her attack, a bright flash of angry orange light sliced through the air, and struck the mutant before Ichigo could say another word.

They all watched in shock as it - she - screamed, enveloped in a blinding column of light that seemed to part the sky. She seemed to be burning, burning without fire, and she shrieked, or something inside her shrieked and fell apart, crumbling into the light, until she closed her eyes and disintegrated before them.

The Mew Mews stared at the empty space where the mutant - woman - had been, eyes fixed on the light as it fizzled and disappeared as quickly as it came.

'W-what..why..?' Ichigo faltered, scared, more scared than when she was when she saw the creature emerge through the trees. A rustling noise above them drew their attention, and they looked up at where the attack had come from, eyes widening.

Five figures stood above them, the sunset on their backs bright, so bright, that they were cast in shadows. Only the bright colours of their eyes glowed ominously out of their faces, and the out-of-place, unmistakeable features that marked them as possessors of Red Data DNA.

'Are they Mew Mews?' Pudding gasped. Mint shook her head dazedly.

'They can't be...'

'How...' Lettuce whispered, trembling. 'How could they..?'

Without a word, the unnamed figures started to turn their backs on them, sillhouettes still hidden in darkness.

'Wait! Who...' Mew Ichigo fixed her gaze straight ahead, swallowing down her fear determinedly. 'Who are you?'

'We are...'

One of them paused and pierced them with a sharp silver gaze, before vanishing with the others into the shadows, leaving behind a single word in their wake.

'Sprite.'      

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Somewhere, a girl walks, the soft sheen of twilight splayed across her face and the breeze cool on her skin. She is small, like a child, and has the kind of face you might recognise but quickly forget. She listens to a melody that only she can hear, with her headphones secure around her head, and sings a song no one else remembers.

So she doesn't pay attention when the people suddenly turn to see the bright flash of light in the distance. She can't hear the gasps of fear and wonder they make as Tokyo stops for a while to gaze at the spectacle. And while they hear a violent rush of sound, like the wind that wanted to prove its strength by trying to rip a man's coat off his back, she hears music.

It's only when it's over and the light has disappeared, that she turns around to lift her eyes to the sky.

She looks up to where it had been a few moments before, and, from the way she gazes at it, it's almost as if she can see what had happened there. But the only thing reflected in her eyes is the golden bask of the setting sun, and a bird flying, drawn like a moth to a flame, into the light.

Author's Note

The wind simile at the end is a reference to one of Aesop's Fables, The Wind and the Sun.

Okaa-san, Otou-san: mum and dad, respectively

Onee-chan: informal way of addressing a sister or a girl older than you

-kun: a title for someone quite close to you, usually used for male friends, but it can be used for females too

-san: a respectful title, used for someone not so close to you, or when you're being polite.

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