Behind The Shroud

by KeiiyakoMinto

A/N: I have so much to say on this!

/The original version of this fic first made its appearance in 2009 (Crystallized Memories), but was taken it down after a few chapters because I wanted to work on it more. It basically still has the same storyline.

My initial plan was to finish the whole story, then publish it so at least there will be more consistent updates. That didn't happen however- and I'm actually ashamed to say that this fic was just as neglected as the rest of my account. Whatever full chapters I had written was deleted after 's 60 (now 90?… I can't even remember what the old deadline was anymore. Maybe it was 90 all along...) day deadline, and I figured I'd never get around to posting this if I carried on with my original plan.

I have the events roughly remembered in my head, and will be writing as I go.

Let me know what you think?

Chapter one

The alarm clock on the table read 2:15 p.m.

Articles of clothing rained to the floor in a mad shower before Ichigo Momomiya pulled out a top from her closet. Hastily, she put on her top together with matching shorts, brushed her hair to mere satisfaction, and descended the steps while halfway tying a ponytail, which almost resulted in her tripping and getting a concussion.

A few moments later and she had left the house, running like mad with her sling bag bouncing annoyingly off her hip.

Ichigo was going to be late, again.

It wasn't really her fault. Ichigo had been sleeping when she got a flurry of missed calls from Ryou and her fellow Mews, and had conveniently woke up at 1:45 p.m. to the message The aliens are coming. Be here ASAP received from Ryou little less than half an hour ago.

No doubt she had already succeeded in stepping on all the blonde's ten toes even before she even stepped through the cafe doors.

It was the fifteenth day since her parents had left for the countryside to take care of a sick aunt; leaving her to an empty house for an indefinite period of time. While Ichigo wished the recovery of her distant relative, she was also inwardly thrilled and relished the new found freedom she got.

Life had been undeniably difficult to cope with the past few months, but Ichigo had survived it all to get where she was today. There were still cracks, of course. Unpicked pieces, sore spots, uncontrollable thinking, and sometimes Ichigo would wish...

-Those were all unavoidable. Understandable.

Ichigo was okay for the most part, but when she wasn't, she kept a front to keep her friends and family from worrying. Convincing her parents had been a particularly uphill task, but it paid off since they trusted her enough to leave her alone.

All in all, she was glad that she no longer had to put on a front of fake smiles and false enthusiasm once she stepped outside her bedroom.

Briefly, as she ran, Ichigo Momomiya wondered if the aliens' arrival had meant that she had really caught sight of Kisshu one week ago. The thought of it merely being a case of mistaken identity had already grown doubt in her mind. Nobody -not even Keiichiro and Lettuce- had believed her then.

She remembered the next morning of her sighting before work, when she tried further to convince Mint. On that rare occasion, the two were early: Ichigo had reached ten minutes before and joined Mint, who was already seated at a table.

Ichigo had the wildest thought that the girl was about to feel her forehead when she insisted her point, but instead, Mint had settled for a sip of tea.

"You have to believe me," Ichigo tried again. "There was someone with him. A girl-..."

Mint wrinkled her nose. "It's not that I don't want to believe you, Ichigo. But do you know what you're saying? It's hard for anyone to you seriously."

Ichigo resisted the urge to flare up. "I'm sure it's him. Why won't anyone believe me? I-"

At this time, Pudding burst through the cafe doors, calling out, "Good morning, everyone!"

Behind her, Lettuce deposited her bag into a nearby chair. The monkey girl bounded up and surveyed both their faces. "What's wrong? Are you okay, Ichigo?"

Mint cut in just as Lettuce reached their table. "No, she's not. Ichigo's still convinced she saw Kisshu at the fair yesterday."

Naturally and as expected, Ichigo did try to convince them when she finally found them at a tree a little far off from the crowd the day before.

Pudding's eyes had sparkled when she enthused, "Really? Is Taru-taru here as well?" To which Ichigo replied with a "no". In general summary, the topic was lightly dismissed then quickly forgotten when the rest of the gang joined them a little while later.

Fast forward to the current recounting at the cafe one day later, Lettuce sounded both worried and doubtful when she asked, "Are you sure you really didn't mistake someone else for him? After all, if they did come, wouldn't they have contacted us first?"

To which, words had died on Ichigo's tongue. It did make sense. If the aliens had really descended on Earth, the settlement at the final battle would've at least resulted in a notice, if not a drop-in visit. Ichigo knew that Taruto -true to his word in the aftermath of the final battle- had came back to visit Pudding occasionally in the first two years before he got really busy.

Kisshu and Pai, as Taruto had mentioned -albeit unwillingly- were swamped with work and meetings and all that he was lucky to avoid because of his age and slightly lower status. Not that Taruto didn't have work- it just wasn't so time-consuming as what the other two had.

So if Kisshu really was here, why didn't he make contact? Ichigo could not say. Nothing also explained Kisshu's mystery 'female companion'.

Perhaps, she reckoned, the heat and noise of the festival had gotten to her. The most she could remember of that day -with exception to the 'supposed encounter'- was the squeezing through boisterous crowds and the contagious energy of festive air.

But now, a week later; now that the aliens were here, perhaps Ichigo wasn't mistaken after all?...

The basement door was thrown open with a loud bang.

It took Ichigo great willpower to prevent her throbbing legs from giving out on the grey concrete, her weight supported by pressing her hands to her knees.

She wheezed, straining to look at the arrivals. "Sorry I'm late!"

"What happened to you?" Distain was recognizable in Mint's voice.

"Why didn't you answer your calls?" Pudding called out. "We called you so many times!"

Ryou simply said,

"You're late."

"I came here as fast as I could," Ichigo replied between breaths, clutching the handrail for support. "I'm sorry."

"Don't worry, they're not here yet. Come and take a seat Ichigo," Keiichiro said as Ichigo lumbered down the stairs and collapsed onto a chair near him. She was the last to arrive with exception to Kisshu, Pai and Tart, and apart from her and Keiichiro, everyone else was standing facing them, with Zakuro leaning slightly on equipment.

"I am so excited! I wonder what Taru-taru looks like now!"

"How much have they changed?" Lettuce wondered.

"I hope they're doing well..."

"I'm actually more concerned with what they want from us," Mint's voice was slightly low, mistrusting and uncertain. "I mean," she tried to explain as everyone looked at her, "this is so sudden. After so many years. Is this going to be really nothing more than a friendly reunion?"

"I agree," Ryou added seriously, his arms crossed. "When I received the short transmission from Pai, it didn't seem like they were coming for vacation."

"Well Pai-san has always been the more serious type." Pudding declared light-heartedly. "But if this was true, maybe they need our help! Then we can work together like friends and I'll get to transform again! I really miss transforming!"

A slight smile crossed Ichigo's face. That was true. They had not transformed much after the final battle, and after clearing out all the leftover kimera anima they had ceased to transform altogether. It would be blatant lying to say the Mews hadn't missed the old days. In fact, they had reminisced fondly about it time to time, but who knew if they were still up to par as they had been three years ago?

"Did they say when exactly they'll be here?" Zakuro asked.

Ryou glanced at the clock on the wall.

"Pai only said afternoon, probably around two," he answered. "Should be anytime now."