A/N: …Please don't eat me? I'm sorry, it should have been up a long, long, long time ago. But I had major writer's block for this. I've written flat-out all day, hoping to get this up. And it's an especially long chapter to make up for the wait.
Chapter dedicated to Tomoyo Kinomoto for being my 100th reviewer for this story! Also dedicated to Cherrie-Sakura for graduating!
I'm pretty sure you don't want to listen to my rambling any further, so I'll shut up now.
Disclaimer: I don't own TMM. Nor do I own Hello Kitty.
Doom in Dress Sense
Why was it that Ichigo's luck always seemed to run out before she was ready?
Like right now, for instance. She was currently sprawled across the floor, arms stretched forward and legs kicking about in mid-air. Well, they were kicking - now, however, they seemed to be frozen stiff. Her whole body, in fact, was motionless, save for her black, fuzzy cat ears that had popped out at the sudden noise. They twitched and they strained, listening closely for another indication that what she thought she had just heard was not a figment of her imagination.
And surely enough, the quiet tap-tapping of footsteps echoed outside the room, growing louder and more ominous with each passing second. Darting her eyes wildly to and fro, Ichigo realised that she needed to move. The room was a mess still, and she was laid in the middle of it. Whoever was coming would surely presume she was up to something. Which was when it hit her. It could be Ryou.
Scrambling to her feet, Ichigo grabbed a handful of things and chucked them under the bed in a desperate attempt to make the room look tidier, and not as though she had been thoroughly searching it. Then, dashing off again, she stopped and stooped, snatching up several books and hastily shoving them back on the long shelf that ran along half of one wall.
One last glance around, and Ichigo was far from satisfied. Nothing was really where it was supposed to be. But there wasn't much she could do about it, especially since the footsteps seemed to have halted outside the door. A gasp escaped her lips as the handle turned, and she winced, bracing herself for the yelling she was about to receive from her blonde boss.
She squeezed her eyes shut, clenching her hands into fists at her sides. A tooth managed to find it's way to her lip and she bit down hard, as the door swung open and the person entered.
"What are you doing?"
Confusion swept over Ichigo's face, the tension in her body disappearing. She raised her head from its slightly tilted position, blinking several times as she stared at the newcomer.
"Yes, it's me. Who'd you think it was? Santa Claus?
"Well, no, but… it's you."
The young alien sighed. Clearly someone was having a hard time thinking today. Folding his arms across his chest, Tart began to inspect the room, as Ryou had ordered him to. Normally, he wouldn't listen to anyone, but this task had the added bonus of bossing the catgirl around if she had failed to clean the room to a good enough standard. He smirked, noting she hadn't. But as he opened his mouth to announce this, a black, square object on the bed caught his attention.
"What's that?" he asked, cocking his head to one side. Ichigo whipped her head around, trailing his line of vision. She gasped. The black file! She'd forgotten to re-hide it.
"Um…nothing!" she replied quickly, waving her arms in front of her face and slowly backing up to the bed. Tart merely raised an eyebrow, not buying it for one second.
"So if it's nothing…" he began. She paused, gulping, knowing what was about to come. "…why are you trying to grab it before I do?" With that he disappeared, reappearing beside the bed where the file lay.
"Tart! No!" Ichigo cried, driving forward and landing on the bed. But she realised, to her dismay, that the alien had reached out and taken hold of the book before she had the chance. She let her head fall onto the duvet. Groaning, she mumbled something incoherent, on the verge of giving up. Things couldn't get any worse, could they? A rattling above her head drew her attention back to Tart. Propping one arm up and leaning her head in her hand, she sighed.
"What are you doing?" she asked, not bothering to look up.
"Trying…uhn…to get…urrgh…into this thing!" he replied, panting slightly. Puzzled, Ichigo turned to face him, and found herself having to suppress a laugh. He was heaving on the back and front of the book in an attempt to get it open, his face reddening with the effort. The file wasn't giving though, even as he strained, pulling the ends apart as far as he could.
But Tart caught sight of the look on Ichigo's face - a cross between a smirk and pure joy - and his own features darkened. He growled, before yelling. "What?! You think you can open this?! Go on then, you old hag, try!!"
To say the red-head was taken-aback by the outburst would be an understatement. Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung agape. Sure, he shouted at her sometimes, but he never… exploded at her before. He noticed this, a sudden feeling of guilt washing over him. A faint blush covered his cheeks at the thought of apologizing. He didn't really want to, pride getting in the way. Instead, he just shook his head, muttering, "I'll go ask Shirogane to open it."
Ichigo was startled out of her shock, crying, "No!"
Tart halted, hovering in the middle of the room. "And why not?" he asked, suspiciously.
Ichigo instantly realised her mistake, racking her brains for some sort of excuse. "B-because! I bet he's super busy, and he won't want to be disturbed!"
"Oh, if that's the case, why did he send me to check on you? And why did he ask me to go back and see him once I had?" He stuck his tongue out.
"Yes, but… oh, I've got nothing. Just please don't, Tart! I don't think I was supposed to find that in the first place." She bowed her head in defeat, silently praying that the small alien would let her off this time. No such luck.
"Hmm…nope. I'm going to Shirogane." As soon as the words left his lips, he faded, teleporting out of the room.
"Tart!" she cried, in a last effort to stop him. Sinking to her knees, she groaned again, her eyes scanning the chamber. Well, if she actually tidied the rest of the mess, then maybe he wouldn't be so mad.
The sun had long since set when she eventually finished. Wiping sweat from her brow, Ichigo gave a catish yawn, flopping to the floor in exhaustion. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, not resisting the urge to fall into a peaceful slumber. A smile tugged the corners of her lips, parting slightly to release a relaxed mew.
However, her face creased with disappointment at the sound of the door opening and someone entering the room. Remaining where she was, she waited patiently for the other to speak, intent on keeping her eyes shut. But a sudden yanking on her arm caused them to snap open and her head to shoot upwards, colliding with whomever was above her.
"Ow!" she exclaimed, rubbing the spot that had been hit.
"Who knew you had such a hard head, Strawberry?" said a voice above her, with a pained moan. She immediately directed her gaze upwards, staring in horror at the blonde boy.
Gulping, she dared to speak, "Um…hey Shirogane. What's up? Eh heh heh…"
He stared back at her, confused at her behaviour for a moment, but simply shook it off. Straightening himself, he extended a hand and she took it, albeit a bit reluctantly. He was acting normal, but Ichigo couldn't shake the feeling that he knew. Has Tart really gone to see him about the black file?
"So… you've actually done a pretty good job of this room. I didn't expect that from you," he said, chuckling.
She scowled, hissing, "Jerk!" Her hands flew to her hips, and she stuck her tongue out childishly. Ryou raised an eyebrow and turned away, continuing his surveillance of the room. He nodded his head, more to himself, rather than her, noting she had indeed done better than he had previously thought. So, it seemed as though her next task would have to be less humiliating. But not by much.
"Did you just come to see how I was doing with the room?" Ichigo asked, drawing Ryou's attention back to her. She sounded somewhat nervous, though about what, he couldn't place.
"No," he began, pausing a moment. "Keiichiro finished making dinner, so I came to fetch you."
"Fetch me? Since when are you so nice?" she asked, confused.
He chuckled again. "Oh, I'm not Strawberry. I'm not." This only proceeded to puzzle her further, her nose scrunching up like a rabbit's would. Naturally, Ryou felt he had to do something to lift her confusion, so he strode into the hall returning seconds later clutching a black bag.
He kept walking, stopping short as he reached her and held out the bag in front of him. She took it cautiously, both of their hands grasping the object for a little longer than necessary. Finally, he let go, backing away from the girl and making his way, once again, out of the room.
"Don't open it until I'm far enough away!" he called as he crossed the corridor and headed for the stairs that would take him back to the others.
"Um, hello? Shirogane? What am I supposed to do with…whatever it is?" he heard her yell from inside the chamber. He chuckled, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"You'll know when you see it, Strawberry!"
For a moment after, everything was silent. Ryou presumed she had spilled the contents of the bag and was now staring, dumbfounded, at it all. Then, she would cock her head to the side cutely, trying to figure out his intentions. After that would be when she'd be getting some form of intelligence back, piecing two and two together on what he was implying she needed to do. And now would be about the time when she screamed…
Just as he'd predicted. A sadistic laugh escaped him and he began his way down the stairs, ignoring her cries of protest and the several banging noises, which he guessed she was making. Now dinner was going to be especially interesting...
Retasu sat silently at the dining table, arms folded politely in her lap, not wanting to join in with the fickle chit-chat of her friends. Truth be told, she didn't entirely know what to say; currently, Minto was expressing her love for a new fashion line that would be coming out in the autumn, whilst a normally indifferent Zakuro listened with a pained expression. Obviously, she already knew all about the subject. Either that, or she really didn't want to be sat next to the eager, blue-haired girl for more than an hour while they ate. On the other side of the table, Tart was being harassed by an overly-hyper Purin, her constant grinning and glomping getting the better of him. His face was bright red, though if it was out of anger or humiliation, Retasu couldn't tell. Kish was sniggering to himself as he watched the two of them, Ryou shaking his head at the alien's actions as he entered the room, immediately taking a seat at the left hand-side of the top of the table. Keiichiro was still somewhere in the kitchen, applying the finishing touches to his edible creation, and Ichigo was most likely still upstairs. So it seemed to Retasu, as she glanced around, that Pai was the only one whose whereabouts escaped her.
She sighed, and not having anything better to do, started taking in the appearance of the dining hall. Three of the walls were a dark, polished wood, leaving the other as a single, enormous pane of glass, through which Retasu could see a sparkling pond, filled to the brim with shimmering, sapphire water and darkened koi fish. Many bunches of reeds protruded from the water's edge, standing tall against the lower level of grass. The sky was now a deep navy, almost ebony, the moon being the only outdoor light source she could see.
On the other walls of the room hung portraits and pictures, beautifully painted with what appeared to be, from the distance the intellectual girl sat, high quality paints. Which would also make them quite expensive. She cringed slightly, her mind briefly considering as to what would befall them if one of her younger friends were to get a hold of them. Or if she herself managed to clumsily stumble and knock them off their hooks. The thought wasn't a particularly nice one, so she quickly shook her head, before continuing with her observation.
Small light shades were attached to each corner of the room, turned upwards so the light was directed at the ceiling. They were dimmed, leaving only a faint glow to linger inside. Several candles were laid on the table, providing another light source, though she guessed the flames would be put out before long, no-one really trusting Purin or Tart not to burn themselves.
The long table sat in the middle of the rather large room, a white cloth placed upon it and everyone seated around it. From the top left sat Ryou, then Kish, Purin and Tart. A space was left at the bottom end of the table, then it rounded back up with herself, an empty seat, Zakuro and then Minto. The top of the table had also been left empty.
Retasu bowed her head to her lap, as there was nothing more to the dining hall. Instead, she was plunged into her musings as to who of the missing three would be positioned where. However, she was abruptly jolted out of her thoughts when she felt a tap on her shoulder, and she whipped her head around to see who it was. She gasped when she saw Pai looming above her, and without realising it, edged to the end of her chair, causing her to lose her balance and almost fall off. She flailed about a bit, attempting to regain her balance, when a pale hand shot out and grabbed a hold of her wrist, clutching it tightly so she didn't tumble off. Retasu looked up, blushing a little at Pai's grip on her, before stuttering a thank you and forcing herself back upright. His expression remained indifferent as he moved to her right and took the empty chair. The scarlet that tinged her cheeks burned brighter as he turned to her and she found herself having a strange fascination with the carpet to avoid meeting his eyes.
"Anou….why are you here, Pai-san?" she asked nervously. Talking had never been her strong point, and making conversation with the elder, even more intelligent alien was more than nerve-racking for her. She just never knew what to say that, she thought, wouldn't make her appear to be a babbling idiot. Little did she know, her friends considered her otherwise.
As he opened her mouth to speak, however, there was a commotion at the door. Seconds later it burst open to reveal… Retasu slapped her hands to her mouth, stifling both a gasp and an oncoming fit of laughter. That…It couldn't be…
Ichigo stood in the doorway, glaring daggers at the occupants, though the effect wasn't felt. In all honesty, not even a monkey would take her seriously whilst she was dressed in that. A neon yellow top adorned her torso, the words 'Shirogane rules my ass!' written in royal blue. From her hips hung a bright cyan tutu, striped tights in pink and green and a pair of slippers on her feet. Only the slippers were children-styled ones, with huge Hello Kitty faces attached to the top of each shoe. A pair of gloves in the shape of a cats paw hung over her hands, a pair of glittery fairy wings protruded from her back and a cat collar wrapped around her neck. But, the thing that finished the look off completely, was the huge sombrero that was placed atop her head, the sheer size of it meaning it slipped down and partly covered her face if she didn't push it back up.
The smirk that tugged at the corners of Ryou's lips only angered the catgirl more. But it was the sudden eruption of laughter that really threw her over the edge. Her cheeks went a deep crimson as she watched all her friends double over. Kish had fallen off his seat and was now rolling on the floor, clutching his stomach, Tart close to doing the same. Tears were streaming down Minto's cheeks, and even Zakuro was laughing freely, her head tilted back slightly in amusement. Purin's face was acquiring a pink pigment due to the effort of laughing so much. And Retasu and Pai were chuckling to themselves.
"It's not funny!" she whined, clenching her pawed hands into fists at her sides and stomping her foot childishly.
"But Koneko-chan! It is!" exclaimed Kish in a miraculous gap between his howls.
Again, Ichigo attempted to glare, but found she couldn't pull it off. Instead, she pouted and made her way to the empty seat at the bottom of the table.
"Baka Strawberry! You're chair is at this end," Ryou called. She swiveled around, opening her mouth to argue, but seeing him simply raise an eyebrow, she saw no point. At the moment, she didn't feel like arguing. Just getting this humiliation over with as fast and painlessly as possible. Which she knew, with her friends, wasn't going to happen. But there was always hope.
"Oh my gosh, Ichigo, couldn't you have dressed any better for dinner? Or did your wardrobe get switched with a clowns?" Minto snorted amidst giggles.
…Or maybe all hope was already lost.
She trudged to her seat, plonking down on it and folding her arms across her chest huffily. She closed her eyes, but could still hear the snickers. She felt something move down her forehead, and opening her eyes in alarm, found her vision obscured. Suppressing a growl, she raised a hand and pushed the sombrero back up. Why did Shirogane have to make her wear this? And why did it have to be at least two sizes too bigfor her. Fortunately for her, Keiichiro chose that exact moment to enter, walking into the room balancing several plates up his arms.
He circled the table, stopping at each person to place a plate laden with delicious food in front of them. Ichigo sniffed, mouth instantly watering at the intoxicating scent. Once everyone was seated, they began to eat.
Which was when it all began…
"…I can't pick up the fork with these gloves on," Ichigo stated, frowning.
"Why not, Ichigo-san?" Retasu asked.
"The paw-thingies are stopping me! I can't eat my food with them on!" she whined. "Shirogane, can I take them off?"
"No," he said simply, ignoring her pleading eyes.
"Please? I want to eat!" she begged, clasping - or trying to clasp - her hands in front of her chest.
"You're that hungry?"
"Yes, I am!"
"Then use your mouth."
"Your mouth, baka. Don't you understand that? Dip your head in and eat it with your mouth."
"I am not going to shove my face in this!"
"You are if you want to eat."
"Ryou, isn't that a little harsh?"
"No, quite frankly Keiichiro, it isn't. She's the one who promised…"
"Oh great, nya…" The idea wasn't tempting, however, the grumbling in her stomach made her reconsider the offer. Giving in, she bent her head forth, grimacing before placing her mouth into her rice and scooping some up.
"I honestly can't believe you just did that," Minto said, a look of disgust crossing her features.
"I didn't exactly have a choice," Ichigo replied, glaring at Ryou, who merely shrugged in response before picking up his fork and starting to eat his own food.
She sighed, muttering, "Jerk." Then, she dipped her head once more, trying to eat again. Only this time, the sombrero caught some of the rice, and as she raised her head, it flicked up and onto Tart's plate.
"You just threw food at me!"
"No I didn't!"
"Your hat did!" Tart yelled, jumping up to his feet atop his chair and pointing accusingly at her.
"Anou…technically, it's a sombrero," Retasu corrected tentatively.
"Whatever it is, it chucked food at me!"
"Then chuck some back, na no da!"
Everyone's eyes immediately turned to Purin. She grinned back, clearly not seeing the same horror in her suggestion as the others did. Tart, on the other hand, smiled evilly, grabbing a handful of noodles from his plate. Taking aim, he pulled his hand back, before rapidly bringing it forward and launching the food across the table. Ichigo looked up just in time to see the airborne noodles heading straight for her…
A/N: I kinda lost it at the end. Sorry that it wasn't very good, but at least I got it posted, right? I actually had fun writing most of this, though! Which means I've gotten over my writers block! Hopefully…
Anyway, I want reviews if you want this story updated! A fair exchange, wouldn't you say? Review and the next chapter may get posted sooner. Well, definitely sooner than about six months.