A/N: Tentatively named for Jump5's newest album. It really kind of fits since Tokyo Mew Mew is so colorful and the Mew Project was Professor Shirogane's (and Ryou's) dream. I also make a lot of references to dreams. (Thanks Alysa-chan for mentioning that song "Just a Dream", or else my fic would still be title-less. :bows:) This takes place after Tokyo Mew Mew ends (based on a combination of both the anime and the manga, with a lot of my own little ideals thrown in). Shirogane Ryou is telling the story, so there's a lot of back information on him to start out with, but it should pick up from there. TMM does not belong to me, it was created by Mia Ikumi and Reiko Yoshida. Nya. Enjoy.

Preface - Waking from the Dream

My eyes flew wide as I shot up in bed. Bringing both hands up in a failed attempt to smooth down my blond hair (it had matted itself up during the night), I turned to stare at the lime glow from the alarm clock. 4:15. Too early to get up, that was for sure, but at the same time going straight back to sleep was impossible. Not after the dream I had just encountered. It had been a restless sleep. Shrugging off the covers, I reluctantly allowed my feet to brush against the cold surface of the floor. It was enough to convince anyone to burrow under the covers again and forget it, but I forced myself up anyway. I padded down the hallway, descended the spiraled stairs and felt my way to the kitchen. I snagged a bottle of mineral water from the refridgerator and started downing it in several long swallows.

'What was that?' I asked myself silently. It wasn't the first time I had met with a dream of that nature. Nightmares were becoming commonplace for me. Some of them were completely jumbled and irrational, but others, like the one I had just had, were alarmingly realistic.

It had been a little over three years since the Mew Project had come abruptly to an end. Those days seemed like a fantasy. I could remember everything very clearly as if it had happened yesterday, and yet, it seemed to have never happened at all. It had happened. I had managed to realize my father's wishes, the wishes that have become my own wishes. The Earth had been saved, the aliens had taken a fragment of the Mew Aqua back to their home planet, and the five "super ladies" were once again enjoying normal lives. And here I was, alone. Totally and completely alone. Sometimes the silence kills me. The cafe has been closed down, but opens on occasion for weddings and holidays and the like. I still live above in my bedroom and maintain a teaching job at a local highschool. My goal is to become a professor at Tokyo University, but despite that, most scholars still see me as a kid.

I sat down the bottle and slid a chair off the top of one of the tables and sat it upright on the floor. I sunk down onto it heavily and took another swallow of the clear liquid. I hadn't heard much out of the girls, and most of what I had heard was gossip. Zakuro was hosting her own television series in America, Mint was trying to get into a distinguished private dance academy, Lettuce had a part-time job as a lifeguard while trying to finish up highschool, Pudding had been seen performing in the park on weekends a few months back - she'd still be in junior high. And Keiichiro was off in Egypt studying some strange heiroglyphics in one of the pharoah's resting places. The only person I hadn't heard a thing about was Ichigo. Ichigo. She had left with Masaya for England a few months after the final battle. I didn't expect her to call. I know she wouldn't.

I tossed the empty bottle at a trash can, made it on the first attempt, and then retraced my steps back to my bed and under the warmth of the covers.

"I knew it had to end somewhere..." I murmured before drifting off to sleep once again.

Chapter One - Return to Before

Back then I was 10 years old, sitting silently in the passenger's seat of a very attractive red car, my sandy hair blowing lightly by the air flooding in the open window. A young boy of about 16 with a long brown ponytail was driving. He had just gotten his license a month ago, and had come rather excitedly to me and announced that he would be driving me to and from school from then on. I, however, couldn't really share in his enthusiasm. My mother had always driven me to school, and I had been hoping that my father might take over that tradition. I idolized my father. I had been secretly hoping that this would mean we could discuss DNA extraction and replication every morning... but no.

"I'm happy to be able to drive you to school, Ryou. What with your mother finding out that she's pregnant, I think it will be good for her in the longrun," my chaperone spoke up. I couldn't exactly argue with that. It was true that my mother should have a break so as not to overexert herself, but I still wasn't too happy with this setup.

"We've been thinking," he continued, "that perhaps you'd be happier in a university, Ryou. You seem bored with your studies, and this would give you the opportunity to talk to different people. You might learn a few things."

That was a little bit better, but my thoughts were still focused on my father. Right after he had returned from Egypt, I had made a point to browse through my father's research log daily. I found his ideals absolutely fascinating. So fascinating that one rainy day, I had boldy announced to him that I would also become a scientist. I rested my chin in my palm as I stared out the window. All of a sudden I heard a loud sound which signaled an explosion as the car squealed to a stop and then we both lurched forwards, luckily restrained by our seatbelts.

"What! Keiichiro, what was that noise!" I asked frantically, my eyes darted towards the horizon to see a huge column of smoke rising. Rising from the very location where the mansion stood. In this time my usually sharp mind felt as if it was getting foggier and foggier. Things were slowing down. They weren't making any sense. At about that time Keiichiro shouted that we had better hurry and floored it.

I have to hand it to the guy, he can really put on the speed when he needs to. The car lurched again as Keiichiro slammed on the brakes and I leapt out the door and ran to the edge of the property. Before my eyes everything I had known was being consumed by demonic flames. I stared ahead dumbly.

Finally my mind began to work again. It was so hot it hurt to breathe, but I knew what I had to do. I took a step forward, testing my voice, "Papa? Mama?"

I felt someone grip me in a strong hold. It was Keiichiro. "Papa! Mama!" I yelled louder, "Let me go! I have to go to them!"

"Ryou, you mustn't..." he said through gritted teeth.

"No! Let me go!" I screamed, "LET ME GO!"

Suddenly the flames parted and a figure emerged. She glowed like an ember but she looked like the devil himself. Her body was that of a dragon, long. Her upper half was that of a human. Her nails extended into long claws and a wicked horn crowned her head. From her shoulderblades stretched a pair of raven wings. The thing I will never forget was her face. Her face was one that inspired nightmares. It was a face like death, with eyes that burned like the flames did. I stared. The truth was I was terrified, I couldn't bring myself to look away as her gaze bore down on me, suffocating me more. Finally she let out an ear-splitting roar and vanished into the night.

At about that time, Keiichiro broke down and started crying. I knew that he thought a lot of my father. I wouldn't accept this. No, I refused to! I knew that my parents surely must have made it out. Or else the firemen would come in time to rescue them from the firey prison. But no. Three hours later, my house had burnt completely to the ground. I had watched it fall. It did not collapse heavily, but seemed to disintigrate. Like dust.

Keiichiro pried me away from the ashes and drove me back to a hotel, promising that we could return in the morning if there was a need. To try to get some sleep. I could hear him sobbing every now and then throughout the night, but he finally fell asleep and his tears were replaced by soft snoring. I, on the otherhand, didn't sleep a wink.

The next day we returned to the wreckage. Indeed, it had all burned flat. My shoulders sagged.

"It's all gone..." Keiichiro commented sadly, "Everything..."

"No!" I interjected, "It's not all gone. My father's notes. I remember them..." I shook my head, "I do remember!"

"Ryou..." Keiichiro whispered.

At that moment I could no longer take it. Something inside me snapped. My vision blurred as tears came to my eyes and cascaded down my cheeks. I tried to hold it in, but ended up choking out a sob. From that point on I totally broke down into a crying fit.

A week later we held their funeral. Lots of people attended from as far away as Japan and Australia. I sat on the front pew of the church and watched as people came up and spoke about my father and how bright he was. There was story after story about what he could have done with his talent. Then they talked about my mother and how kind and selfless she was, and what a shame it was too, after she had just found out she was pregnant with another child. It was suggested that I go to the front and say something, anything at all. I sat there with my head down, staring at my lap. I shook my head each time I was asked. How could I say anything? None of these strangers would ever understand the people my parents really were. My mother was practically a saint. She never said a bad word against anyone, and she had never blamed me when I came home from school with a black eye. She had trusted me. She would always take care of me whenever I was hurt or sick, always willing to listen, and speaking to me with gentle words. My father was my hero. He embodied everything that I wanted to be. Sometimes he would take me fishing on weekends or even to the zoo. My father was full of scientific wisdom and fascinating stories. And I had lost that. I had lost that and it would never ever return to me. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

-

"C'mon, Ryou, we're going to be late," a hand shook my shoulder as I laid there on my stomach, still half under the covers.

"Go away..." I muttered pleasantly.

"Ryou, we're going to be late. We need to catch the first flight over, you know that! Let's get up now," Keiichiro yanked the covers off and opened the shades, nearly blinding me.

I moaned a bit in protest, but dragged myself from the bed and into the bathroom to get dressed and brush my teeth and hair.

Forty-five minutes later I was walking along beside Keiichiro, clutching a novel in one hand and a light backpack across my shoulders as we boarded the airplane that would take us back to Japan. I had lived there for three or so years when I was younger, but my memories of that time were vague. The flight was long and I finished the novel well before we arrived and even managed to start on another one. The rest of the time I spent staring out the window, lost in my thoughts. I always got the window seat because Keiichiro had a problem with flying. Looking out the window, seeing how high up we were, always made him ill.

After what seemed like forever, we arrived in Japan. It was dark by then and the city glittered with lights, looking much like its own galaxy. We grabbed our luggage and then called for a taxi to take us to the apartment complex where we would be spending the next few months.

The apartment was a bit cramped. As I flicked on the lights I was greeted by a relatively small living area with a television and a few chairs. To the right a doorway led off to a bedroom with two twin beds, a fairly large closet, and two sets of drawers, off of that was a small bathroom with a shower. My spirits dropped even more as I realized there was no balcony anywhere. To the left was another closet with an ironing board hidden inside and a full kitchen. Ofcourse. A kitchen.

Keiichiro walked past me into the bedroom and sat his laptop down on the bed furthest from the bathroom. I guessed he had already chosen his bed.

"I know this isn't what you're used to, Ryou, but I hope you can make it your home, atleast temporarily..." he offered kindly.

"This isn't my home," I muttered, "My home was with Mama and Papa. I'll never be able to call anywhere home again. Not now. Never."

"Ryou..." he said softly.

"Just stop with the pity party. I don't need it," I sniffed then looked off abruptly.

Keiichiro sighed, then let me alone. After a night of restless sleep, I awoke before him and stalked outside, down the stairs, and into the sunlight. It made me feel a lot better to see that sun shining. I took in my surroundings. There was nothing to look at really, but Tokyo was most certainly noisey. I let out an annoyed sigh and sat down on the sidewalk, hugging my knees to me.

I was getting used to the constant hum of traffic when I heard an unfamiliar rustling sound coming from a small clump of bushes to my right. I turned in the direction of the noise and crawled the few feet over to the opposite edge of the curb, snatching up a stick and poking it slowly into the bush. There was a soft sqeaking noise. I almost lost my balance and fell backwards.

"Nani?" I wondered, poking into the bush again, swifter this time. Whatever it was on the other end grabbed hold of the stick and must have latched onto it.

"Hey!" I protested. I yanked the stick away from it, and a furry gray ball came pouncing out of the bush.

"A cat?" Finally noticing me, the thing's eyes widened in surprise and he began backing off slowly.

"It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you," I reached out a hand slowly that the kitten cautiously inched forward to sniff, letting out another squeak.

I leaned over and picked it up. The little cat squirmed in my grasp, kicking at my arm in attempts to escape, "Nyu!"

"I said I'm not going to hurt you, neko," I repeated, stroking the area behind his ears. The kitten must have finally realized this and looked up at me with bright green eyes. I continued to pet him until he eventually curled up in my lap and dozed off. My hands brushed across the back of his neck, finding a collar there.

"Ofcourse you would have a home to go back to..." I sighed, knowing the apartment complex didn't allow pets in the rooms anyway. I turned the collar around and studied the name tag. It glinted a bit in the early morning sunlight, proudly reflecting the charcters: A, ru, to, and his owner's address.

"Never heard of a name like Aruto before..." I commented to the sleeping kitten.

Around noon Aruto woke up, stretched, and bounded off quickly. I returned to the apartment, feeling a bit drowsy from the sun, and found Keiichiro cooking something or other. No surprise there.

He looked up and saw me, offering a kind smile, then returned to what he was doing, but not before speaking, "Ryou, there's something we really need to talk about."

I rested my arm against the doorframe, "Like what?"

"How serious are you?"

"How serious am I...?" I wasn't quite getting where he was going with this.

"...About completing Professor Shirogane's 'Mew Project'?"

I felt myself stiffen, "I will complete my father's project, Keiichiro! I don't care how long it takes, even if I have to do it alone, I w-"

"Alright," he said, stopping my outburst, "First things first, though. I think your parents would have wanted you to complete school. That comes first. In the meantime..." He walked over to the table and picked up the classified section of the newspaper. "There's a very nice piece of property at the other end of the city. It's close to the park, but still isn't too far from things. We can't really expect to accomplish anything in a cramped apartment."

"We?" I took the newspaper from him when he offered it, skipping over the price and focusing on the size of the piece of land, and the location. It seemed pretty much perfect.

"Ryou, I'm sure you can do this alone, but I want to help you. I was your father's apprentice after all, perhaps I could be of some service..."

I stared up at him, "Keiichiro?"

"Yes, Ryou?"

"How soon can construction start?"

"Pretty much immediately, would be my guess."

"And, Keiichiro?"

"Yes, Ryou?"

"...Thanks."

Within the next couple of months, things began to move swiftly. Nobody else had inquired about the property yet, and after counting the number of zeroes after what we were willing to pay, the land holders quickly agreed to sell.

"We need some sort of cover..." Keiichiro was saying.

"What does that have to do with anything?" I asked, swinging my legs over the edge of the kitchen counter as I took a bite from an apple.

"You know you aren't supposed to be up there..."

I shrugged.

Keiichiro let out a sigh, "I mean, we need a connection so that we will find the 'super ladies' more easily..."

"I wonder why Papa's experiment has to involve girls..." I muttered, making a face.

"Who knows? Aren't you supposed to be working on your studies?" he cocked an eyebrow at me. That guy didn't miss a beat, but did he really expect me to put off the actual project for another three years?

"What about some type of a shop?" I offered.

"Hmm... we could open up a cafe... I could cook and you could take orders and do dishes," Keiichiro murmured thoughtfully.

"What? That has me doing twice as much as you!" I protested, "And aren't there laws about that?"

"Cooking takes more time and we aren't in America anymore," he replied.

Now I was sure he didn't miss anything.

"Any objections?"

"No... as long as the whole basement is a lab..."

"Great! I think it should be pink."

"What!" I nearly fell off my perch on the counter, "No way, Keiichiro! Pink's for girls! Make it blue..."

"But pink will attract more people. Groups of people will probably come in after school. Who wouldn't want to order some teas and cake from a cute pink cafe?"

"I wouldn't," I said matter-of-factly.

I sighed again, "Guess it doesn't really matter, I won't have to live there."

A/N: Well, I think that will do it for the first chapter. It seemed like a good ending point. The next chapter will focus on the finalization of the Mew Project. I've had some ideas about what it's really like for Ryou and would like to insert them into this fanfiction. I think I might take up a whole chapter for that, but afterwards we'll skip the flashbacks and return to the present where stuff can actually happen. I honestly get stuck easily, so if you have any comments, complaints, or suggestions, please let me know. - Thanks and I hope you will join me for "Chapter 2: Taking Responsibility". ((SPOILER WARNING))