Disclaimer: I remember a time when I was new to fanfiction and always wrote witty disclaimers, but now the way is familiar and my sense of humour deserts me. Suffice it to say that I do not own Tokyo Mew Mew. I watch the anime on youtube and read the manga on . That is my life.
A/N: OK, so when I set off on my holidays, this was not the completed chapter I was expecting to bring back with me. In fact on the whole I have failed to build up a backlog of chapters to post while I've been away – I was too lazy in the evenings and busy the rest of the time. Quite frankly, I prefer fanfiction when it's shoehorned in around lessons and clubs and killer exams OMG and important stuff. But of course the fanfiction is most important because it stems from the heart and so forth. But anyway, Essence of Gold, the slave-driving beta without whom nothing would ever get done on this fanfiction account, found this half-a-oneshot languishing abandoned in my fanfiction folder and insisted that I finish it for tidiness' sake. So I did. And that would explain its rather rushed and fragmented nature. So, just to prove that I didn't totally forget you all during the holidays, I give you...
Lettuce was hurrying along the street towards her school, rummaging in her bag as she went. With hindsight she couldn't believe that she had agreed to do Aya's homework for her again, but the other girl had seemed so forlorn, and asked so nicely…she had been off sick for two days, and missed a lot of explanations…maybe this time, she would be grateful. Lettuce had even gone to the trouble of writing brief explanations beside her answers, so she wasn't helping Aya cheat, she was helping her catch up –
'God, Lettuce, how long do you take?'
Lettuce realised too late that Aya had appeared in the road ahead of her, and now it was too late to avoid her and she hadn't managed to locate the right books in her bag, which meant she would have to stand and search for them while the others waited. Aya was flanked by her two cronies, and the three girls formed a menacing line in front of her, blocking off her path.
'Hurry up, it's only ten minutes to the bell and there's someone I've got to meet,' Aya said, checking her watch. This meeting must be important, Lettuce reflected, as she flipped open her bag properly and began to dig down inside it. Aya was scarcely bothering to be truly cruel, just giving her orders swiftly, clearly keen to get away. Lettuce located the correct book and handed it over wordlessly. Aya flipped quickly through it, her lips pursed, and then turned her gaze on Lettuce.
'I'd better get an A on this if you do, Miridokawa-san,' she remarked. 'I wouldn't want to see you slacking off just because it's not your work. Do as you would be done by, and all that!' She turned away. 'Come on, girls, lets – Kaname-san!'
A scruffy but extremely handsome-looking boy had just emerged on the scene, followed by a crowd of mates. He grinned and returned her greeting.
'We were just on our way to meet you!' Aya squealed, while her friends blushed and tittered behind her.
The dark-haired boy grinned lazily. 'I know, but I couldn't wait to see my favourite girl, could I?' he said, shifting his gum to the side of his mouth so that he could peck her on the lips. She giggled and tipped her head back, playing the part perfectly, and there was an outbreak of cheers and wolf-whistling.
Lettuce stood on the edge of it all, trying to fade into the background and yet disappointed when she succeeded. She had got over truly fancying Kaname long ago, but it still hurt that none of them understood her, none of them bothered to look her way, and she would never share such a competent, perfect kiss and be the envy of all. Of course she could see that the kiss wasn't perfect and to admire that kind of thing was silly and shallow anyway, but did she always have to be so high-minded? Couldn't she dream of being pretty and popular once in a while?
'You know, Aya-san, you really should try and get caught up on your own next time.' She hadn't decided consciously to speak the words, they just came tumbling out. 'I've made notes in the margins that will help you to learn the work,' she made herself continue, trying to hold her voice steady.
Kaname was looking at her with a half-amused, half-baffled, "what is this curious specimen?" kind of a look, one arm wound loosely round Aya's waist.
'Sorry, Lettuce, darling, what was that?' Aya enquired, raising an elegant hand to her ear.
'Never mind, I must dash!' She and Kaname turned and set off towards the school, both their entourages falling into place behind them.
Lettuce made her way into school on her own, trying not to be too miserable but downhearted all the same. She couldn't believe that she'd caved in to the whole homework scam again, but that wasn't the chief source of her mood. It was more the way they all looked through her, not liking her or hating her but simply treating her as background. Like someone who wasn't there. She wasn't even worrying about the boys in particular. They could wait. Just a girl who understood her, sat with her at lunch and actually preferred her company would be enough. Her fellow Mews were all nice enough to her, but often Lettuce wondered how much they would really miss her if she wasn't there. Probably they would get on just fine. As she sat down at her desk for the first lesson of the day, she felt deeply lonely.
'Please take out your textbooks and turn to page 142,' the teacher instructed. Lettuce bestirred herself, lifted up the lid of her desk and stopped. Inside was a small bunch of violets, neatly tied, their petals still damp with morning dew.
Lettuce's mouth fell open. She sat hunched over her open desk, perfectly still, staring wide-eyed at the deep purple flowers. Then the teacher began to speak – she couldn't make out the words – and she hastily slammed the desk shut. Aya was right behind her. Nobody could see this…
Lettuce, you're overreacting, she told herself sternly. Most likely somebody got the wrong desk by mistake, or got given them and hid them there, or…
Or someone wants to give you flowers, a small voice in her mind suggested quietly.
Well, they were probably just trying to be kind. Or playing a prank. There's no need to get so…so…
Numbly Lettuce opened her textbook and stared at the list of questions without taking anything in. Her stomach kept flipping over, and she gulped, her mouth dry. Flowers, in her desk. Flowers. Why?
Oh, please, God, let them be for me.
She glanced around. The whole class were sitting with their heads bent, working quietly through the exercises set. Lettuce forced herself to focus for a moment, found them to be simple enough and quickly worked through five, to give herself something to show if the teacher came round. Then she quietly opened her desk once more, and, on the pretext of getting a fresh ink cartridge, palmed the violets and transferred them to her lap.
Nobody seemed to have noticed. She did a couple more exercises, then reached into her lunch box for her water bottle.
She pulled a paper tissue from the pack in her pocket.
She dripped a little water into the palm of her hand.
She soaked the tissue then wrapped it round the stems of the violets.
Finally, biting her lip, she slipped the flowers into the inside pocket of her school cardigan. She rearranged them several times before she was sure that they would not be crushed, and then she carefully tugged the side of her cardigan a little way away from her body and bent over her work once more.
Lettuce almost jumped out of her skin as her teacher appeared suddenly, bending over her desk.
'Well, Lettuce, you seem rather distracted this morning,' she said. 'Let's see how much you've done.'
Lettuce kept her head down and her hands clasped in her lap as the teacher flipped through her work. She paused over a couple of answers, nodded slowly and then raised Lettuce's book and called to the rest of the class:
'Well, everybody, Midorikawa Retasu has finished the first two pages already. Is everybody else past page one?'
There was a low, negative mumble, a lot of mutinous shuffling and even a snigger or two. The teacher placed Lettuce's book back on her desk and pointed to a question.
'Be careful when balancing your equations. You mustn't rush these questions, they're harder than they look. But on the whole, very well done.'
Lettuce sank back in her chair as she walked away. Normally she would have sunk through the floor at an exhibition like that, but today she couldn't even make her mind stay on it. All she wanted to do was get out of this class so that she could look more closely at her violets.
At morning break Lettuce hid out on the tennis courts, leaning against the wire mesh fencing, far away from the school buildings where nobody ventured in the cold early spring. She unzipped her pocket and peeked inside, reaching in with one finger until she brushed a soft, clinging petal.
Her heart squeezed. Carefully she fished them out and cradled them in her hand, holding them close to her face to examine them. That colour, so intense and powerful…they were beautiful. Could they really be meant for her? But if someone had wanted to send her flowers, they couldn't have chosen better ones. Violets. They seemed to suit her, and she loved the minimal, poetic beauty of such a small posy. They were perfect.
But if they were intended for her, and it wasn't a prank, who could possibly have given them to her?
She was no nearer to an answer when the bell sounded for the end of school. She walked home slowly, the flowers in her hand now, gazing into their purple depths. Her mood was drifting towards melancholy. Would she ever know where they had come from, or with what intention? Was this brief flare of romance destined to fade back to normality, like all the other times she'd felt this way? Lettuce shook her head, then looked up suddenly as she heard footsteps ahead of her. She saw that her front door was open and that her mother was stepping out into the road. That was odd; she didn't usually come out to meet her.
'Lettuce,' her mother called, 'there's something here for you!'
'Nani?' Lettuce exclaimed, breaking into a jog. Her mother caught her hand as she reached the door and drew her into the house.
'They arrived in the middle of the day, addressed to you,' she said. 'Do you have any idea…?'
Lettuce didn't answer. She couldn't speak. Her mother was holding out a bouquet, a dozen magnificent tiger lilies with glossy, dark green foliage and flawlessly curling petals. Flame-coloured, deep red, apricot shot through with pink, their flared throats mottled like polished enamel. The arrangement was as stunning and extravagant as the violets had been subtle.
'I don't know who sent them,' she said shakily. 'I…I guess I must have a secret admirer.' She drew breath to mention the violets, but stopped. Somehow, they were too private. She reached out and took the lilies hesitantly, gripping the stems as their top-heavy weight settled in her hand. 'Ano…I guess I'll go put these in water.'
'Hmm,' her mother mused. 'And you really have no idea who it could be? It's nowhere near White day.'
'I expect it's somebody from school,' Lettuce said, though she wasn't sure at all. 'I really can't guess who.'
Late at night, Lettuce continued to mull the question over as she tossed and turned. Who were they from? None of the boys at school had ever shown the slightest interest in her before. What about somebody outside school? Suddenly her heart did a back-flip. Shirogane? He might have sent them. But how could he get into her desk? Lettuce rolled over onto her side, gazing at the shadowy shapes of the flowers on her desk. The violets were floating in a smaller bowl right by her bed. She reached out to touch them one more time before she fell asleep.
In the morning the spell was broken. She gave the lilies a cursory, admiring glance, avoided looking at the violets, which would not be dismissed so easily, raced down the stairs and out of the house and nearly broke her neck over a pink box sitting on the doorstep.
So maybe the spell wasn't broken after all.
Heart pounding from her near miss, Lettuce stooped to retrieve the box. Inside, folded between leaves of tissue paper, she found six exquisitely iced cupcakes. She gazed at them for a moment, completely nonplussed, hesitated and then closed the box and tucked it into her schoolbag. In her perplexity she wandered right past Aya, who stuck out a leg and chided her for her lack of observance. Lettuce didn't even mind.
At break time she selected the green cupcake, nibbled off a crumb of icing and found it tasting sharply and juicily of fresh lime. They wouldn't improve with keeping, so she ate two, the green one and a white one sparkling with translucent, coloured sugar. The sponge was light and perfect. She thought she could see a little of Keiichiro's style in the icing. This was looking more like Ryou by the minute, but why go through all these theatrics? He didn't seem like the type. Why not say? She bit her lip in puzzlement. Maybe it wasn't Shirogane-san after all. But it seemed ungrateful to be disappointed by something like this, and soon her regret vanished in the face of a fresh wave of excitement.
There were chocolates in her desk the next morning, filled with raspberry mousse, and almond nougat the day after that. There was a day when nothing came, and Lettuce fretted, but then a small, reassuring bunch of blueish-purple pansies appeared in her locker. She wanted to be pleased with them, but her sensible side was growing uneasy. Who was it who knew where she lived, had access to her desk and locker, and didn't want to declare themselves? Was this some sort of elaborate prank, or something more sinister? She couldn't see any way to find out except wait, and she didn't like that. It made her nervous. But the next day a possible way was revealed. Instead of flowers or sweets, her admirer had left her a book.
There was a note tucked into the cover.
I thought, this time, a more personal gift. I've noticed that you spend a lot of your time reading, and so I hoped that you might enjoy this book as I found it interesting myself.
P.S: Don't feel that you have to read it, though. It is rather heavy going.
She flipped the book open. It was Watership Down by Richard Adams, something she had always meant to read but never got round to. It was a literature lesson, and they were supposed to spend the first ten minutes reading. She hesitated for a moment, then settled down into her chair and opened the book.
It was excellent. Not the sort of thing you could devour inside twenty-four hours, but even so she made short work of it. And while she was reading it an idea came into her head. Her admirer had left her a note, so surely she might reply without offending him? And even if she couldn't immediately find out his identity, she would prefer to have some idea of his character, and maybe...just maybe, if she had something to go on, she could do a little detective-work later. Lettuce smiled a little, sitting at her desk in her bedroom, grabbed a pen and paper and began to write.
I hope you won't mind my writing back to you, but as you left a note this time I assume it's OK. I don't like accepting things without being able to say thank you, so thanks.
I'm also feeling very curious. I'm sure it's no good asking you who you are, otherwise you would just have addressed me in person to begin with, but I will ask – why? Why are you giving me these presents, and why are you being so secret about it?
Please reply. I don't like getting things from someone I don't know, but if you write to me we won't be strangers any more.
She was impatient all day after leaving the book and note in her school desk, knowing that she would have to wait until the next morning for an answer. As soon as she arrived in school she threw her desk eagerly open. Watership Down was still there, but her note was gone. There was another book as well. The Hound of the Baskervilles.
She seized the new book and shook it open. A sheet of paper fluttered out. Lettuce grabbed it and read:
Of course I don't mind being written to by you. On the contrary, it was a pleasant surprise. In answer to your question, I sent you these gifts because I care for you. As for why I don't just approach you face to face, the answer is simple: I am much too afraid to do so. Please keep the book if you liked it; it was intended as a gift. This next one is very different, but I enjoyed it and I hope you will to. Tell me what you think?
Lettuce was elated. She got through the book as fast as she'd ever read anything in her life, and spent some time considering her response.
Technically it was very clever, she wrote, but I can't help feeling that Watership Down has more true talent...and more soul. I felt that The Hound of the Baskervilles was toying with me as a reader – which, stylistically speaking, is a good thing, since it's a detective novel – whereas with WD the writer was really inviting me into his world. A braver book. But I did enjoy Baskervilles, it was very accomplished. Would you like to read something of mine? It's a very different, though still dog-related, mystery.
I'm confused. Why on Earth would you be frightened of me?
She scanned along her bookshelf, pulled out a book entitled: 'The Mysterious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' and slipped her note inside it.
Don't you ever feel frightened at the thought of approaching a boy? I promise you, it works the other way round as well.
This is a very challenging book, isn't it? But ingenious in a different way from the other two. Like Watership Down, it has that courage you described. Here's another detective novel for you. I managed to guess the ending this time! I've been reading quite a few, searching for a good one to pass on to you, and I suppose I am 'learning the ropes' of the genre.
Lettuce finished reading her note and then folded it in her lap and frowned. Frightened? Now she came to think of it, there was no reason why boys shouldn't be just as shy as she was, but she'd never noticed it in any of the ones she knew – not towards her anyway. She scanned the room. Two boys were tussling quietly over a pencil case. Another at the front was bent over his work, chewing his pencil. As she reached Aya's boyfriend he glanced round, saw her looking and winked. Lettuce ducked her head, blushing furiously. Surely not!
I never thought of that, she wrote. I suppose it must be the same for boys and girls. But I've never noticed anyone in my class seeming the least bit shy when they talk to me.
Well done for guessing; the ending took me completely by surprise! I nearly kicked myself when I found out though. In a way it was so obvious. I was up until two am last night trying to finish it, and I have a biology test the next day. Do it for me?
Maybe when I've read a few more detective novels – learned the ropes, as you so aptly put it – I'll be able to guess the endings too. I know it's unusual, but I spent more time reading non-fiction. History fascinates me, and I've always liked looking at travel guides too, as I find the photographs very beautiful. Most people think it's a little odd, a 'bright girl' reading things that are mostly pictures, but I don't see why not. What are your favourite genres? Are these mystery novels your favourites, or have you only started trying them recently? Please don't tell me you're a fan of James Bond.
It is true that you are not conventionally 'scary,' but it's different for me because I care what you think of me. You speak of the boys in your class not being shy when they talk to you. The ones who dare to speak to you at all, that is.
I have now read a couple of James Bond books and can reassure you that I do not like them. I thought the plots were overly simple and full of holes, and as for Bond himself, it strikes me that he has no appeal at all as a character. He can only be despised by any person with a shred of discernment, and envied by those without. In short, he surely cannot be liked or admired by anyone. The detective novels are a fairly recent development, but they are also a favourite genre of mine. Maybe I like to be mentally taxed but not emotionally challenged...? That is why I was particularly intrigued by the Dog in the Night-time.
I'm sorry about your late night. Were it feasible, I would gladly come and help you, but I'm sure that you will do very well. Good luck!
Ugh, I agree with you about Bond, but as to your harsh criticisms of the author's style...well, remember that he did it first. All the other thriller writers since then have had his mistakes to learn from.
Were it feasible...
First of all, let me assure you that I wouldn't really make you do my test. But...interacting in general. Would you tell me who you are?
The reply was brief.
I would much rather not, for the moment.
It came tucked inside another book. Lettuce barely spared the book a glance, tossing it onto her bed and beginning to scribble a reply.
Why not? What you said about being frightened...well, we know each other a little now, don't we?
It's true that I'm unsure of how to talk to you – I have always expressed myself better in writing than in words. But the main reason is that, if you knew who I was, you could not possibly love me. So until you demand to know who I am, it's better this way.
Lettuce stood behind the door of the cafe changing room, not exactly hiding, but out of sight, and read the bleak words over again. She bit her lip in puzzlement. Who could it be who would have so little hope? Surely any boy at school, no matter how unpopular he was, would think he had some chance, especially after the letters they had written to one another? And this seemed to rule out Ryou as well. Even if he was so oblivious that he hadn't noticed her crushing on him, she thought he had a higher opinion of himself than that.
Maybe it wasn't a boy her age at all. Lettuce's hand tightened unconsciously with anxiety, crumpling the note. What if it really was somebody who couldn't approach her, somebody who shouldn't rightfully be doing this at all? A teacher? Some stranger on the streets? What if they were some kind of stalker? Maybe she had been stupid in starting up the letter-writing without telling anybody. She turned the paper over and continued to read. The writing here was more erratic, the characters hastily formed, and there was still plenty of space on the first side of the paper. It was as though her admirer had finished the first section of the letter, then grabbed the sheet and written the next part in a rush, not caring which side of the paper they used.
Lettuce, it read, please don't be alarmed. The other day – don't worry, I do not follow you. Our paths just happened to cross – I saw you transform.
Lettuce gripped the paper convulsively. Somebody knew her Mew identity? Shaking her head to clear it, she read on.
I don't wish to pry or to know anything about who you fight alongside or against, or what your motives are...but I cannot stop worrying. This is a foolish request I am making now, since I am sure that you are already as careful as you can be – but please, be careful. I know about the creatures that have been sighted in the city. I hate to think of you fighting against one of them. Take care. For me.
Lettuce shook her head again, her heart pounding. This was too much. Her first impulse was to take the letter straight to Ryou and warn him that their cover was in danger, but she ignored it. Instead, she sat down onto a bench and tried to think. When had she ever transformed in public? Never; only on deserted side-streets or areas evacuated and ravaged by Chimeras. Of course, it was possible that someone had been around, and had seen her transform...in which case she couldn't rule out the idea of somebody following her. It seemed like too much of a coincidence otherwise. But that thought was too scary, so she set it aside, and instead tried to work out a list of all the people who might know that she was Mew Lettuce, without having seen her transform, and who might have made up the explanation in the letter as a cover.
Akasaka-san? she thought. Possible. He would be afraid to confess because he's older than me...and there were those cakes, too...and flowers and things seem like his style...but would he make a move at all? Wouldn't he try to conceal his feelings completely, if he fell in love with a teenage girl? Lettuce frowned as she realised how little she really knew about the pastry chef. Well, he might be hiding his feelings; who knows? She moved on in her mind. Shirogane-san? It really doesn't seem like him at all, but he does have sudden sweet moments...but no. She shook her head ruefully. Even if he did like me, I'm sure he'd say.
Oh God, Aoyama? Ichigo's Aoyama? Could he be sending me these gifts anonymously because he's afraid I'll despise him for losing interest in Ichigo? Her brow furrowed. Somehow that hypothesis seemed very far-fetched. It worked in theory, but in all the times she had seen Masaya she had never seen any change in his total devotion to Ichigo. He loved her, Lettuce was certain of it. Then who could it be? she thought in frustration. I don't know, unless...unless...
Suddenly she stiffened, staring wide-eyed at the note in her hand. Factors were building up in her head, one by one, clunking into place to form a picture. Somebody who knew she was a Mew. Somebody who thought she could never love them. Somebody who would send her books and anti-James Bond notes and purple violets...
'It's ZAKURO!' she shrieked.
'What have I done?'
Lettuce whipped round at the sound of the cool alto, to find herself staring straight into the face of the purple Mew. She shifted from foot to foot, feeling her cheeks heat up in the most agonising blush of her life. Not that she had anything against homosexuals as people, but Zakuro...
'Lettuce, are you alright?' Zakuro asked, a little perplexity creeping into her voice.
Lettuce nodded furiously.
'Hai, Zakuro-san, I'm...I...' Through the door of the changing room she could see the other Mews slowing down in their work to stare towards the two of them. Mint began to walk over.
'Zakuro-san,' Lettuce gabbled, 'if...if there was anything you needed...to...tell me, you would tell me, wouldn't you?'
'Well, yes,' Zakuro said, looking genuinely puzzled now.
'Gomen nasai!' Lettuce wailed, shooting out of the room with her arms over her head.
'Lettuce, why are you behaving so strangely towards Zakuro-oneesama?' Mint called as she passed. Lettuce glanced around in confusion, but before she could respond Keiichiro came hurtling up the basement steps.
'I've detected a massive release of energy in the area!' he cried. 'Certainly it's being produced by at least one Chimera anima.'
'Go, Tokyo Mew Mew!' Ryou shouted.
'Lettuce-onee-chan is very quick into battle today,' Pudding observed as Lettuce sprinted from the cafe, already crying her transformation.
'Oh well; the sooner we start fighting those aliens the sooner we'll be done,' Ichigo said, rummaging in her pocket for her pendant. 'I have a date with Aoyama-kun that I don't want to miss.' She and Pudding ran out of the cafe as well.
'Onee-sama,' Mint asked quietly, 'what was all that about? Why is Lettuce suddenly shouting about you?'
'I think,' Zakuro said, heading for the door, 'she just panicked. When one is our age, it can be a confusing time.'
Lettuce ran towards the screams and crashes that she could already hear from further up the street. A huge Chimera anima was rearing and plunging amid the traffic. It looked like a horse to Lettuce, all flared nostrils and powerful, lashing hooves. As she approached it reared up, as tall as the buildings on either side of the street, letting out an ear-splitting whinny. Lettuce crushed her hands into her ears, flinching instinctively away from the sound.
'Well, what do we have here? One little Mew Mew, all on her own.'
Lettuce looked up sharply, craning her neck to look at the figure who was hovering directly in front of the sun. She squinted and recognised him as Kish, his face twisted into a sarcastic leer.
'Well, I'm displeased, human. I was hoping you would be Ichigo. Ah well, I suppose I'll just dispose of you now.' He began to turn an almost lazy somersault towards her. His hands swept to the sides, curling easily round the dragon swords that appeared between them. He reached the bottom of his flip and then, with the speed of a hunting kestrel, dived.
Lettuce leapt to the side at the last second. It was amazing; in her human form she was the clumsiest person she knew, but since she became a Mew the fastest manoeuvres were second nature to her. She spun on her heel, crying:
'Ribbon Lettuce Rush!' and directed an attack straight at him. He deflected the brunt of it with his swords, and by the time he had recovered his balance Lettuce was dashing towards the Chimera.
The monster side-stepped and whirled, bearing down on a couple trying to escape from their shattered car. Lettuce could hear their screams, sounding faint and thin over the bellows of the Chimera. Its hoof came down, but Lettuce was faster. She sprang onto the bonnet of the car and seized the humans' hands, pulling them out of the way. The three of them landed on the pavement, the two people stumbling sand clutching at her hands, she as light and controlled as a swallow alighting.
She turned, and Ichigo was there, boldly facing the Chimera in the middle of the shattered street.
'What are you doing, harming innocent people? Ribbon Strawberry Check!'
The Chimera skittered backwards as the attack hit it in the chest. Lettuce could see Mint, Zakuro and Pudding sprinting in from the sides, and Kish swooping down to engage Ichigo. Lettuce hesitated, wondering where to turn, and then flung herself forward as a harsh voice ripped out behind her.
'Fuu Rei Sen!'
The attack missed her by several feet, but her hands and elbows were grazed where she'd hit the tarmac. Ignoring the stinging pain she rolled to the side and back onto her feet, raising her castanets at the ready.
'Mew Lettuce. If you know what is good for you, stand down now.'
'I can't do that!' she shouted up at the tall alien floating above her, 'any more than you would desert your people!' Even as she spoke, she regretted the comparison. It was bound to have no effect on Pai, and it made it that much harder for her to raise her castanets against him.
'Ribbon Lettuce –'
He shot out of her line of sight and dived straight down at her. Lettuce hurled herself to the side, curling up to protect her head as she landed. She rolled to her feet and straight into a high-jump to avoid his next attack.
'Fuu Rei –'
'Ribbon Lettuce Rush!'
The two attacks met head-on, and Lettuce screamed, disengaging her castanets as the electricity flowed through the twisting spout of water. She landed on her back, bruised and winded. For a moment she lay still with gritted teeth, fully expecting a follow-up attack to grind her into nothing, but when none appeared she slowly unstuck her eyes and sat up on her elbows, taking in the rest of the fight.
Nothing serious seemed to be happening either way at first glance, but after a moment she saws that it was going badly. Kish was hovering in the air above Ichigo, raining blows down on her from his superior height. Tart was zipping back and forth in front of Pudding, not actually harming her but preventing her from doing anything useful. Lettuce ground her teeth, kicking herself mentally as she scrambled gracelessly to her feet. How long would it take her to learn that letting yourself get drawn into a one-on-one fight, while it might look dramatic, was a very bad idea? While she'd been fighting Pai, she'd let the whole battle slide. Speaking of which, where was Pai?
The Chimera had got Mint backed into a corner against a building; even with her powers of flight, she had been unable to evade it. Zakuro was coming to her rescue, and instead of finishing Lettuce off, Pai had dashed to engage her. Suddenly Lettuce wanted to scream. Even the aliens didn't think she was worth bothering with!
She raised her castanets and sent a short, angry burst of energy hurtling across the road. The attack hit Pai squarely in the small of the back, bringing him to a hard and undignified landing on the tarmac behind Zakuro. The wolf Mew brought her foot down on his stomach, winding him thoroughly, and sprang at the Chimera. She flicked her whip dexterously and the thong wound round its forelegs. The Chimera stumbled and fell.
'Now, Mew Ichigo!'
Pudding got one good attack under Tart's arm, forcing Kish up into the air, and Ichigo seized her moment. Diving past him, she raised her bell and screamed,
'Ribbon Strawberry SURPRISE!'
The Chimera disintegrated with a shrieking gurgle, and the parasite went floating away to be intercepted by Masha. The horse that it had inhabited cantered away, eyes rolling, bucking wildly as it went. Zakuro powered down her whip, breathing hard, and stretched, watching warily over her shoulder at the three aliens, who had gathered at the end of the street. Lettuce, watching, felt pleased. She doubted that the other Mews would remember the part she had played in the endgame this time, but all the same, she had made a useful attack which had helped to finish the fight, and that was what fighting in a team was about. Looking across at the aliens, she saw that Pai was looking in her direction, his expression dark. She allowed herself a small smile. He clearly remembered, at any rate.
He'll know not to turn his back on me next time, won't he? she thought. Wait...drat, so he will. Well, I'll just have to be more careful.
The aliens teleported. Turning, Lettuce saw Ryou hurrying towards them with a mobile phone in his hand. Of course, even with the aliens gone, there were still the issues of the damaged cars and a panicked horse loose in the middle of the city to contend with.
Twisting her arm around to examine the bloody graze on her elbow, Lettuce walked over to join her friends.
Her writing pad and latest book were sitting side-by-side on her desk. Above the pad was the last letter from her secret admirer. Someone who knew she was a Mew. Had they been watching today, as she fought against the horse Chimera? Someone at the edge of the battle, cowering behind a piece of rubble? One of the couple whose hands she'd seized, even? Lettuce chewed the end of her pen, wondering what to put. After several minutes' contemplation, she planted the nib resolutely on the paper and wrote:
This is freaking me out.
So far, so true. She continued.
I don't know anything about you, and it seems as though you know everything about me. This feels...she sighed
...horrible, writing in this tone when your gifts have made me very happy, but now it's just worrying me. I need to know who you are, or else I'll get someone else involved.
Do you know the fountain in the centre of Tokyo Park? Meet me there at three PM tomorrow.
3 PM. Lettuce considered. The park was a public place, and in the early afternoon it was full of people. That should be safe enough.
Her stomach lurched. She had no idea what kind of a person she was about to meet, or how this would all end. On the next day, she sat through school in a bundle of nerves, eyeing the clock every five minutes. There had been no way to negotiate meeting times, but she now realised that since school only let out at three, she would have to run if she wanted to reach the park by quarter past at the earliest. She fretted, drumming her pen. Would the person, whoever they were, wait that long? The bell screamed out, nearly stopping her heart, and she leapt to her feet as though electrified and bolted for the door, ignoring her teacher's admonishing shout. If she stopped to listen now, it would mean a five-minute lecture at best, at worst a half-hours detention and no chance of making her meeting.
Ten minutes later she was sprinting through the park, trying to read her watch and pump her arms at the same time. This is ridiculous, she thought, running madly through the park, just to ensure that you're all sweaty and dishevelled when you meet up with this stranger who's most likely either a pranking boy from school or a fifty-year-old man –
Thump. Lettuce hurtled into a tall figure, reeled backwards and sat down hard.
The figure looked down at her in mild surprise.
'ZAKURO!' Lettuce shrieked.
Her fellow Mew's expression turned puzzled. 'Retasu-san?'
'I – you – you – are...why are you here?' Lettuce squeaked, flapping her hands.
'What's with you?' Zakuro asked. She grasped one of Lettuce's hands and pulled her to her feet with surprising strength. 'I didn't think you were coming.'
'I'm sorry for being so late,' Lettuce apologised, too stunned to do more than follow conventions, 'but my school only lets out at three and so –'
'That's fine,' Zakuro said, 'I only just arrived myself. The others aren't here yet; you're the first.'
'Nani?' Lettuce choked. 'Ano...the first?'
'Yes,' Zakuro said, now looking thoroughly nonplussed at her behaviour. 'Akasaka-san and Shirogane-san proposed a barbeque party in the park after the battle the other day – they called around to invite us, but Akasaka-san said that you didn't answer your phone. I was surprised to see that you were able to make it after all. How did you come to hear about it? Did they manage to get hold of you after all?'
'I...' Lettuce faltered. She didn't know whether to be relieved that Zakuro wasn't about to confess her undying love, or panicked about the fact that it was getting later by the moment and her correspondent still hadn't materialised. 'I didn't know...I was supposed to be meeting someone here at three...I didn't hear the phone ring last night, I was...reading a letter...'
'And no-one else was in?' Zakuro asked.
'No,' Lettuce murmured. 'No, I was alone.'
'Well, I'm glad you're here,' Zakuro said. 'It wouldn't have felt right without you.' While Lettuce was still reeling at this unexpected desire for her company, Zakuro continued. 'But what about this person you were supposed to meet? Can you see them? Hadn't you better –'
'Well well well,' a voice drawled in the air above them. 'If it isn't Purple and Green having a téte a téte. I hope you don't mind my butting in, girls.'
'Kisshu!' Lettuce cried, looking up into the air. She squinted; Kish was floating directly in front of the dazzling sun, and she couldn't make out more than a vague outline of him.
Stupid Lettuce. You should be getting out your pendant, not gawping like a –
Lettuce shrieked as Kish cannoned directly into her, pushing her backwards into the hard earth. She screamed again as his dagger flashed above her, and then Zakuro was there, already transformed, slamming into Kish from the side to knock him away from her.
'Lettuce, hurry up and transform!' she barked, whirling to engage him face to face. Lettuce fumbled for her pendant, but as she raised it a new voice sounded behind her, a higher treble hollering a battle cry.
'Zakuro, drop!' she screamed, belly-flopping into the dirt. Twisting her head up, she saw Zakuro react too late. She leapt to the side, but Tart's weapon wrapped itself tightly around her legs, bringing her crashing to the ground. Lettuce jumped up, the fizz of transformation fading from her limbs, and sent a jet of water streaming from each castanet, knocking Kish and Tart backwards away from the helpless Zakuro.
Kish stumbled backwards, spluttering and cursing; Tart backflipped away. Panting from the double effort, Lettuce ran towards Zakuro, who was struggling with the balls, wrenching them free from around her legs.
'Watch your back,' Zakuro snarled. Lettuce took another dive as a blast from Kish's swords shot past her shoulder, singeing her hair. She landed beside Zakuro and scrambled to her feet, pulling her friend up as well. Tart swooped down towards them, laughing, and Lettuce threw up her hands foolishly to cover her face, but he only scooped up his weapon and bobbed back up to hover beside Kish.
Lettuce darted close to Zakuro, raising her castanets protectively in front of her. She could tell that Zakuro was shrinking unconsciously closer to her as well. It was ridiculous to be afraid of even numbers, but her powers felt so much less when they weren't joined by those of the other Mews...
'Ribbon Pudding Ring Inferno!'
Lettuce gave a gasp of relief as the jelloid attack passed over her head, forcing Kish and Tart apart. She heard running footsteps, and her fellow Mews appeared beside her, breathless and bristling with fury.
'Ah, now look!' Kish complained. 'We've lost the element of surprise!'
'Well what are you complaining at me for?' Tart shot back. 'I got in a better attack than you did –'
'Are you going to hang there arguing all day?' Ichigo interrupted. 'Now that you've made us transform and dragged us over here, you might as well fight.'
'The lady's right,' Kish sighed, twirling his swords elegantly around. 'Here I come, kitten!'
He swooped. The other Mews' eyes followed his attack, but in the corner of her vision Lettuce saw Tart raise his hands, and consequently was the only one who dodged when a dozen fibrous roots flailed out of the trees and trussed the other Mews in their grasp.
'You chose the wrong place to pick a fight, Mew Mews!' Tart cackled. 'Now why don't you just lie down and –'
He choked to a stop as Lettuce hit him in the face with a jet of water. She dashed forward and sprayed a full-scale attack against the vines. It worked just as she'd hoped: the water spread wide, a single attack hitting every one, the infected plants writhed and retreated, and her friends were left damp and coughing, but none the worse for wear.
'Arigatou, Retasu-chan!' Pudding shouted, springing forward.
'Hah!' Tart cried, sweeping forward another attack of vines. Lettuce gritted her teeth and dodged. It didn't help that it was such a beatific scene: the blue sky, the lush green trees, the grass studded with white and purple violets...
A tendril slammed into her waist and hefted her off the ground.
Lettuce gave a yelp as she was jerked off her feet and into the trees. Another root came up, wrapping tightly around her arm and twisting it painfully. She struggled without success. And then, even worse, she saw a familiar purple figure swooping between the trees.
'Fuu Rai Sen!'
Lettuce flailed in terror, but amazingly the attack missed her and cut through the vines, freeing her. Stunned at her good luck, she didn't try to right herself, and landed hard and painfully on her side in a large bush. She sprang to her feet and immediately directed an attack at Pai. It forced him to land, and immediately she lunged at him, twisting his fan arm away, wondering vaguely why she was going for hand-to-hand combat when he was clearly much stronger than she was...
As they collided, Lettuce realised that she hadn't factored in the slope of the ground. She actually saw a stone turn under Pai's foot, and with her hands locked around his arms he was unable to correct his balance. Her stomach lurched, and then they were both tumbling over and over down the hill. Lettuce thrashed, got her knees up against his chest and came out on top, seizing both his wrists and slamming them into the grass.
She knew that she probably couldn't hold him down, so it was fortunate that he didn't struggle. He lay still, panting slightly, gazing up at her with eyes the exact same colour as the violets that grew thickly all around them.
Lettuce stared back at him for a long moment, her brain slowly ticking. And then something clicked.
'It was you!' she shrieked.
'Yes! With the violets! And the cupcakes and books and things! It was you all the time!'
'I can tell that you know what I'm talking about!'
He held up his hands and she flinched.
'Alright. Yes, it was me.'
'Why?' she demanded, and realised that she was near tears. 'So you could lure me here and –'
'No, no, no!' Pai protested. 'I had no idea that Kisshu and Taruto would decide to launch an attack. I'm furious. I'm sure they did it out of boredom.'
'Then why tell me to come here?' Lettuce had a feeling that she was tackling the questions in the wrong order, but that was the first one that sprang to mind.
'It was honestly a coincidence.' Pai inched himself out from under her, one hand held out in front of him as though to ward her off, and sat up carefully. 'I thought that you would only consent to a meeting if it was in a public place. I hoped that if I waited in the trees I might be able to avoid being seen by other humans, and catch your attention somehow...but then you were such a long time coming, and then your friend appeared and the moment she arrived you started talking to her...' She had never seen Pai so flustered. He looked quite as awkward as she had ever felt.
'So...' she said slowly, 'you...sent me letters.'
He collected himself a little, and looked at her very steadily. 'Yes.'
'I thought I had already made that clear in my writing.'
'But I –' Lettuce realised that if he was trying to shock her into letting her guard down, he could hardly have done better. She raised her castanets protectively. 'You hate me!'
His expression flickered; the tightening around his eyes could have been pain. 'Retasu,' he said earnestly. 'I don't hate you.' He reached out. Lettuce tensed as he cupped her cheek, then closed her eyes for a moment and tried to breath. The hand rested where it was, pressing gently against the side of her cheek. It didn't seem about to wrap around her throat.
'You sent me all those things...' she whispered. 'All the books...'
'I'm sorry,' Pai said. 'I thought that, by doing so, I could bring you some degree of happiness without betraying my friends. But I think I frightened you.'
'B-but...' Lettuce stammered. 'You were going to m-meet me? Today?'
'Yes,' Pai murmured. 'I had decided to tell you the truth.'
He wound his hand into her hair, pulled her towards him and kissed her.
Lettuce gave a squeak of surprise as his mouth pressed against hers. Tipped forward at an awkward angle, she was too busy trying to balance to even think of responding, but her lips parted against his without conscious decision. Pai pressed eagerly forward, and she gave a gasp and shut them again. He pulled back and gently brushed a lock of hair from her face, looking breathless even at that short contact. Lettuce was reeling too – how many times had she wished to have a beautiful boy pay attention to her, while hovering on the edge of an appreciative circle at school? Could Pai be called beautiful? Maybe so, with those deep purple eyes...she touched his cheek, and he covered her hand with his, closing his eyes, pressing it close, drawing her to him again. Her intake of breath this time had more to do with sensations than with shock. She let her eyes fall shut, placing her free hand on his shoulder. Her mind was scrambling to try and form any sort of sense out of this, but she blushed to the roots of her hair to realise that her body was responding, enjoying the feeling of being warmly and deliciously kissed...
Suddenly she gave a gasp, clasped her hands together and hit him as hard as she could in the stomach. Pai doubled forward with an oof of knocked-out breath, and Lettuce pulled herself quickly out of his reach.
'You're trying to keep me distracted while your friends carry on fighting mine –'
Lettuce felt as though a flood of icy water had been tipped over her head. Slowly she turned round, to see the other four Mews standing in a row behind her, staring. Kish and Tart hovered in the air above them with their mouths hanging open.
'He started it!' Lettuce wailed, wrapping both arms around her head to hide her face. 'I don't – I didn't – I –'
'What do you mean by choosing this day to attack?' Pai demanded angrily.
There was a moment's silence.
And then Kish began to laugh. He laughed until he fell out of the air and thudded awkwardly onto the turf between Lettuce and the other Mews. He lay where he was, clutching his stomach, clapping like a seal when he grew too breathless to express his feelings vocally, and the others watched him.
'Lettuce?' Ichigo called across him. 'Can you please explain what's going on?'
'Um...' Lettuce felt Pai take her hand and squeeze it, and found the courage to speak. 'Well, somebody has been sending me notes and flowers and things, and I arranged to meet them here today...'
'And it was Pai?' Mint said sceptically.
'Yes.' Pai laid his other hand on Lettuce's and pulled them both to their feet. 'Mew Ichigo, I request to be allowed to speak safely with yourself, your teammates and your leaders.'
Kish sat up, hiccoughing. 'I love you, Pai,' he remarked. 'So, I guess we've got a long and complicated set of negotiations ahead of us, huh? Well, Koneko-chan, be happy. This'll leave the way free for you and I.'
As the clearing began to resound with Ichigo's screeches, Puddings jubilations and Tart's wails of terror, Lettuce turned back to Pai. She didn't know exactly what she felt – love, shock, or plain confusion – but she felt that pulling him behind a tree for another of those kisses might help her a long way towards figuring it out.
A/N: So many line-breaks in this fic! Permit me a rant. Fanfiction used to allow rows of asterisks between scenes, and that's what I'd always use to show a scene change, but now it not only edits the asterisks out of all my documents when I upload them, so that I have to go through adding lines, but has removed them from all my old fics as well. So my account is full of fiction that doesn't make sense, because it jumps without pause from scene to scene. Why? WHERE IS THE LOGIC?
Enough of that. Back to the fic. I'd pretty much shown my hand pairings-wise by the end of the title, i know, but I hope that I managed to make at least a cheery pretence of it being Zakuro sending the gifts. Here's a comedy alternate ending that I was thinking of doing when I was flailing around trying to find a non-clichéd last line for this. It comes just after Kish's words to Ichigo.
Ichigo was opening her mouth to retort when Zakuro stepped forward. Her expression was carefully neutral, and her eyes were fixed on Pai. She walked towards him and Lettuce, stooped and took Lettuce's other hand.
'So, Pai-san,' she said, 'it has come to this.' She snapped into fighting stance.
'A fight to the death for Lettuce's hand!'
Anyway, I hope this little (nineteen-page – which seems to be pretty much my standard length for oneshots these days) helping of PaixLettuce fluff has cheered you all up in time for school. Wish me luck in my new sixth form at the Boys' High School tomorrow!
P.S: Oh, and important! Please remember to check out GypsyxSilent's Guess the Author Contest. It's a great fic, but we need more participants!