Jisu (friendshipbeam) wrote in expandedtaste,
Jisu
friendshipbeam
expandedtaste

Chapter Two

"Is she still asleep?"

"Well, it is Sunday, dear."

"I don't think we should wake her up. I have a bad feeling about
this, you know."

"Shin-chan, they've been dating for five or six years! You worry
too much."

"But Sakura..."

"Come on, let's wake her up, and we can have the whole day to
ourselves! There was a nice fashion show I wanted to see."

"All right, you can't be wrong..."

Ichigo's parents slowly opened the door to her room, her father
complaining under his breath as his wife convinced him to go on.
The bed was empty, its sleepy occupant twitching in a ball on
the floor.

"Nyaaa."

-

Sana Jisushi

and

Her Laptop, Makoto

present

[Expanded Taste]

Chapter Two: [Reheated]

Tokyo Mew Mew, all cast and concepts (c) Ikumi Mia, Yoshida
Reiko, Kodansha, Studio Pierrot.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, all cast and concepts (c) Ryukishi07,
07th Expansion, Studio Deen.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, all cast and concepts (c) Takeuchi
Naoko, Kodansha, Toei Animation.
Soukou no Strain, all cast and concepts (c) Studio Fantasia.
Suzumiya Haruhi, all cast and concepts (c) Tanigawa Nagaru,
Kadokawa Shoten, Kyoto Animation.

Written by Sana Jisushi, using her laptop Makoto.

Special thanks to Saica, official beta reader, and Satou and
Masume, official naggers to update.

(c) 2008 all of the above.

Each chapter of Expanded Taste is accompanied by a "Notes and
Extras" page. These segments are not necessary to understand the
story, but are trivial supplementary material to be read if you
wish.

-

It was going to be my last return before I came back for good.
That would have been memorable in itself, actually. I got to see
everyone I knew and liked to be around. I got to see her smiling
again. And then, well... then came a monster destroying things.
Just like old times.
-

"Not agaaaaaaiiin!" Ichigo sprinted down the streets of Tokyo,
carrying a lunchbox in her arms. She vaulted over a fruit stand
and landed perfectly on her feet, attracting stares. A blush
arose on her face and she quickly started running again. She
tried to put out of her mind the knowledge that she was leaving
a bunch of gaping people in her wake. The last thing she needed
was to become embarrassed enough to --

Yes! A crowd, straight ahead! At least she could hide from the
people looking at her in the midst of a hundred-some faces on
the bridge. Ichigo clutched her lunchbox close to her chest and
took a deep breath before rushing in.

"Aaand now, the draw for the shiny, brand new car!" The strong,
energetic voice from the makeshift podium in front of the crowd
made people shiver and jump. Ichigo squished through, holding
tightly onto the food she'd made. The shopping district was
holding a celebration all week long, with draws, sales and other
contests and promotional events. Since it was such a big city,
lots of people turned out for these kinds of things. Squeezing
between crowd members, Ichigo progressed toward what she
guessed was the end of the bridge. Because of the people around
her, she couldn't see which way she was going.

She took a deep breath, flinched and reached a hand out to feel
where she was going. It touched a metal bar. She grabbed it and
pulled herself through the people, her soft red ponytail - she'd
forsaken the pigtails for today - rubbing against the people
that were squishing her in. Breathing again, this time in relief
at a little more freedom to move, Ichigo looked around.

"Nyaaa..." she sighed. She hadn't left at all; instead, while
she had reached the edge of the bridge, she was only just above
the middle of the road. There was still a little over half to go
before the end. And from there, how long would it take to get to
the airport? She began to move forward, keeping close to the
railing of the bridge.

"The winner iiiiiiiiiiiiis..."

The crowd erupted into applause at the announcement of the name.
Someone beside Ichigo waved his arms in excitement.

"I won a car! Will you look at that! I won a car!" His arm flew
back, knocking Ichigo sideways.

And over the railing.

"Nyaaaaaaaaa!"

She tumbled in the air, falling slowly, at least she thought so.
Her cat ears stood on end before she realized that they'd come
out in the first place.

[I'm gonna die! I can't believe this! After everything that's
happened, I'm going to die before I can get there, I'm going to
get hit by a car and--]

HONK

"Huh?"

Ichigo blinked. She looked around. She was considerably higher
up than the road, and a lot less squished than expected. The
crowd of people on the bridge was now staring and cheering at
her as she moved further away.

"Did you see that? That girl fell off the bridge!"

"She landed right on a semi!"

"She's not falling off! She's holding onto the bars and her
balance is just about perfect!"

"Did you see that she was wearing cat ears? That must be a
pretty tight headband, not to fall off when she fell!"

"She's probably just that good! I wonder if she's a champion
gymnast or something."

"Probably! She'd win gold medals for sure!"

Ichigo's eyes widened, and her face got redder and redder. She
cringed and carefully turned forward, in the direction that the
semi was taking her. A large tree branch, covered in the morning
frost, towered above.

"Nyaaa!" She breathed, shut her eyes tightly and jumped straight
up. Her arms and legs instinctively wrapped tightly around the
branch, and she clung for her life as the semi drove past. She
hesitantly opened her eyes, shivered, and noticed that all four
limbs were clinging to the tree.

"Oh, no! The lunch!"

Ichigo looked down, still holding on tightly. Another crowd had
gathered at the base of the tree, looking up and whispering to
themselves about this amazing gymnast that had jumped off of a
truck. The pink lunchbox that she had worked on all morning had
tumbled to the ground, hit a root and opened. A dog sniffed it
and began to eat her hard work.

She moaned, retracting tail and ears. "I never should have
gotten out of bed today..."


-

In space, no one can hear you complain. At least, the man in
grey facepalming at his computer screen wished that were true.
As it was, his comrades had been whining for the past two hours,
seventeen minutes and thirty-seven seconds about how the heater
on their ship was breaking, it was cold, the food tasted bad,
and there was really nothing interesting to patrol so there was
no practical reason that they should even be there anyway. He
himself was counting down the seconds until his usually calm
exterior was broken down by the pure force of annoyance, and
wondering why he didn't just get new partners.

"Come ooon," Kisshu groaned, leaning against a pillar on the
bridge. "Can't we just skip out and go to Earth or something? I
want to see Kitten again..."

"I thought last time we went, 'Kitten' almost broke your skull
with that pink bell thing," Taruto smirked.

"Shut up, brat," the elder glared.

"Make me!" snapped the younger. "And quit calling me that! I'm
not a kid anymore!"

Pai groaned. He was going to get an ulcer at this rate. "I would
like to remind the both of you of the task at hand. We have been
officially assigned to patrol the surrounding area after the
recent sightings of a small fleet of flying objects around our
planet. Your irresponsibility has a 73% chance of leading to
what may be utter disaster--"

"Boooring," the both of them sighed.

"Imbeciles," he muttered.

The screen beeped, and all three looked up. Before their ship
floated a strange robotic figure that looked almost like a
person - it head a head, arms, legs and a torso. Its back was
turned to them, and it seemed to be looking straight away from
their ship.

"What's that thing supposed to be?"

"If we knew, we wouldn't be looking for it!"

"How do you know it's what we're looking for?"

"Oh, now you're saying we! I thought you wanted to go play hooky
and ditch the mission!"

The eldest of the three rubbed his forehead and tried to tune
the others out. "A humanoid design is largely impractical for
most military use, as its balance would be highly compromised.
However, this does not determine the purpose and origin of the
craft in front of us..."

He stopped. The mech started to turn towards them, seemed to
hesitate, and then vanished.

"What was that?"

"What do you mean what was that? It's gone, obviously!"

"I know it's GONE, runt! Where is it?"

"Don't call me that, and how should I know?"

Groan. Migraine setting in. Just why had those two managed to
stay in the military? "There are more pressing matters than your
dignity. That construct that we saw was about half the height of
our own ship, and proportioned like the body of a person. It is
impossible for something of that size to be teleported very far.
For that matter, even for races such as ours that are capable
of instant teleportation, the start and end points must be in a
radius much smaller than the average planet. However, there is
no sign of that craft anywhere in the surrounding area."

"So where is it?"

"I do not know..." He looked forward at a few floating scraps in
the space in front of them. "Perhaps it is best to investigate
what its pilot appeared to be looking at."

-

It was good to be home. Winter vacation had just begun in his
last year overseas, so this would be the second last time that
the teenage boy stepped off the plane into this airport, and
the last time that would require a return trip to where he had
come from. Seventeen-year-old Aoyama Masaya brushed the hair
out of his eyes and followed the rest of the passengers down the
stairs to the lobby. He looked down below them at the people
looking up, waving their arms at those they were waiting for.
Just as he stepped off the stairs, the front doors of the
airport burst open and a red-haired girl stumbled in, panting
and clinging onto an empty pink lunchbox.

He smiled. "Ichigo!"

"Wah!" Upon hearing her name, she straightened up, blushing and
looking around shakily. He waved and walked toward her.

"What's wrong?" He frowned upon seeing her quivering. She had a
nervous habit, that much was true - she'd been like that for
years - but today she was shaking more than usual. She ran and
clung onto him with a tiny wail.

"I'm sorry!" Ichigo sniffed. "I always do something wrong. I
made you a lunchbox, I really did, but I dropped it and a dog
ate it, and I was almost late, and..."

His laugh rang out and he petted her hair, smiling. "You know
I don't get mad at these things. I'm sorry I missed your lunch,
but believe me, everything will be perfectly fine." He hugged
her and beamed. "Hasn't it always?"

She took a few breaths before smiling a little. It had, hadn't
it? They'd been a couple for years and years, even though some
really terrible things had happened to them - much worse than
dropping a lunchbox from a tree. The only problem now, though,
was the distance when they were going to school in different
countries, and that was easy compared to the monsters that used
to rampage through the city...

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!"

The couple's heads shot up and they instinctively turned toward
the noise. The conveyor belt on the luggage carrousel spun
faster and faster as it made strange noises. Its mount began to
slouch forward, snapping off the wall. People around it backed
away and moved quickly toward the doors, as they had trained
themselves to do years ago in situations like these. The metal
machine clanked, zipped, compressed and expanded until it shaped
itself into a large metal person, its conveyor belt looping
around its shoulders like a race car track. The monster let out
a deep metallic growl.

"Nyaaaa!?" Ichigo's cat ears and tail rose up. "What's that!?"

"I've never seen anything like it..." Her boyfriend frowned and
assumed a defensive position.

"Wait!" She held out an arm. "You don't even have your powers
anymore! I can get rid of something like this, even if I'm out
of practice!"

The machine roared. Masaya shook his head, but stepped back. If
his girlfriend ever got defensive and confident like that, he
knew she was serious. She didn't do it often. It was something
she'd learned from him. "All right."

The redhead cracked a smile and pulled something from her purse,
whispering a thank-you that she'd never had the heart to remove
it. "Mew Mew Strawberry Metamorphose!"

Transformation items might get old and sit unused for long
amounts of time, but, so to speak, they never get rusty. A pink
sparkle of light emitted from the palm-sized pendant in Ichigo's
hand as easily as if the item were brand new. Black cat ears
grew out of her head as human ears merged into it, her clothes
changed into a fluffy pink mini dress with red accessories, her
strawberry red ponytail undid itself and became high pigtails in
sugar pink, and a tail emerged with a bright red bow and bells.
Mew Ichigo posed, arms up and batting at the air, like she had
so many times before.

"Let me serve the future of the earth -nya!"

She paused, blinked and looked over herself, her wrist twitching
instinctively. "Hey! This dress still fits!" A happy blush arose
on her face. The monster, predictably, roared and snapped her
out of her state of awe and wonder. "Oh, right!" She glared with
pink eyes at the luggage machine creature.

It twisted down at her, its conveyor belt collar spinning. She
jumped away as its hand struck out and landed a few meters away.
It slowly twisted, and she jumped backwards onto the top of an
ATM.

"Wait, how do I do this again..." She thought back to her old
routine. After so many years of doing nothing, Ichigo hadn't got
everything right at hand anymore. At least the monster, now
straightening up, was too slow to pose much of a threat...

"NYA!"

Mew Ichigo jumped straight up into the air, barely missed by the
luggage case that was now embedded in the ATM. She landed on her
feet and looked up at the monster. The conveyor belt around its
neck was moving faster and faster, and it was spitting luggage
out of its mouth and onto the belt. As the luggage spun around
and around, some of it flew off in the catgirl's direction.

"Nya! Hey! Aah!" The pink catgirl dashed left, right and forward
in her attempt to dodge the flying suitcases, with clothes and
toiletries dropping out of them as they hit the walls. She gave
a shudder as a pair of men's underwear fell onto her head and
vigorously shook it off, making a face. Her monstrous opponent
gave another mechanical roar and sent more coming. She shut her
eyes tightly and bit her lip.

[What am I doing flailing like this? This is easy!] Ichigo told
herself, moving forward. [I've done much more than this! If I
make a fool of myself now, or worse, lose, then I'm letting
everyone down!]

She opened her eyes and ran at top speed toward the monster.

[If I lose after this, then that means my confidence was a lie.
That means...]

The creature grunted and looked down at her quizzically with
blinking flash monitor eyes.

[That means I let you down!]

Mew Ichigo sprung high into the air, her jumping capabilities
still top-quality like they were years ago. They were, after
all, ingrained in her like everything else. She faced the metal
thing in front of her, knowing she could do this in the few
seconds that she'd be that high up.

"Strawberbell!"

The bell on her tail glowed and disappeared. A heart-shaped item
appeared in front of her, which she grabbed and twirled with,
passing it in front of her wrist.

"Reborn... Strawberry... Check!"

A blast of pink light shot forward from her weapon and hit the
luggage monster straight in the face. Mew Ichigo held on tightly
to the two sides of the Strawberbell and landed slowly and
gracefully on her feet. The robotic monster clanked and slowed
and compressed, a black aura appearing around it for a moment
before it turned back into the luggage carrousel. The suitcases
strewn around the airport disappeared, returning to wherever
they were stored before they went out on the conveyor belt. Mew
Ichigo let out a sigh of relief, returning the Strawberbell to
the bell on her tail.

"Yes!" She giggled, jumping a bit. "I knew I could still do it!"
Her cat ears twitched, hearing someone behind her, and she spun
around. "Aoyama-kun, did you see-"

The other person giggled a bit, almost nostalgically. "I'm
sorry to disappoint you."

Mew Ichigo's eyes widened. "I-!" She covered her mouth quickly.
It was the woman from yesterday! The owner of the cat! "Um,
h-hello, nya!" she managed, not knowing what else to say without
blowing her secret identity.

The blonde woman smiled, pushing back one of her pigtails and
looking at her. "Good job," she said, pointing to the luggage
machine that had once been a monster.

"Eeeehhh?" The pink-haired girl blushed and jumped into the air
in a panic. How much had she seen?

She laughed. "You're Mew... Ichigo, right? I've never actually
seen you before. I'd like to stay and talk with you, but-" Her
blue eyes flashed to a clock and widened a bit. "Oh, I've really
got to get going!" Cordially, she bowed and swished around,
running out the door. The catgirl blinked and tilted her head.
She turned back around as her boyfriend came up behind her.

"The civilians are all okay outside," he said, and blinked. "Who
were you just talking to?"

She sweatdropped. "I really have no idea..."

He thought for a moment. "It looked like that representative
that the news has been talking about. What did she want?"

Ichigo shook her head and detransformed. "I don't know that
either, or what that monster was. Nothing's happened around here
for years!"

"Well," came the reply, "you still work at Shirogane's cafe,
right? Talk to him about it."

"Yeah..."

Down the hall, two sets of eyes glowed. Like the eyes of the
couple on which their stare was fixed, one pair was blue, and
one was strawberry red.

-
_Next Episode_

It's nice to see everyone again for this vacation! But I don't
know if the calm will last, if there are monsters running around
the city again. I'll need to train, since I can't use magic.
Ichigo, your dojo's open, right? Wait, you're all going
shopping instead?

Next episode: [Gathered Ingredients]! It can't be helped!
Tags: chapter, chapter two
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