Mew Zakuro came up behind the red-haired girl and spoke quietly. "Ichigo, what's wrong?"
Ichigo turned to the older girl. "Hey, I'm fine," she said. "I'm completely recovered, really. I'm as strong as ever..."
"And you're scared to death," Zakuro interrupted. "Or you're horribly nervous about something. Trouble with Aoyama-kun, or with the family, maybe? Or worried about the Sailor Senshi?"
Ichigo turned away, not wanting to face those deep sapphire eyes. "It's just fine with Aoyama-kun, and I'm on better terms with my parents than I've been in years. And yes, I'm worried about those Sailor jerks, and you should be, too. You never know when they might attack, or where they might attack, or whom they might attack."
Zakuro took the red-haired girl by the shoulder, turned her around, and stared into her eyes, trying to read her soul. "They are our enemies, Mew Ichigo. But they have fought us honorably. They have not struck unfairly, or shot us in the back." That was not exactly true, Zakuro thought, given the way that Ami had tried to steal those pendants. Ami had lied - no honor in that. Still, there had been no cheap attacks. "They have given us no indication that they might strike at our loved ones, or something else as dastardly as that."
Ichigo looked at the clock on the wall. It was just past 11:30; they would open in half an hour. Soon they would be putting the "Open" sign out. Soon, soon...
Then the front door opened, and in strode Sailor Moon and her two loyal supporters, mighty Sailor Jupiter and brilliant Sailor Mercury. They were already transformed, and they stood there, arms crossed, with Sailor Moon standing slightly in front of the other two. And Sailor Moon pointed her finger, and spoke in a clear, commanding voice: "Mew Ichigo! Come forward! In the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"
So that was it, Zakuro thought, as she kissed her pendant and chanted "METAMORPHO - SIS!" Ichigo had been so nervous because she knew this was coming, or at least expected it. One final battle, probably to the death! Ichigo had been so close to dying last time; it might not have been surprising that she was frightened this time. But Zakuro knew Ichigo. She was always so brave! Why was she so afraid, now?
Fully transformed, Zakuro took her place in front of her leader, to protect her. Mew Lettuce and Mew Pudding took their places beside her, while Mew Mint slipped a bit off to the left for a different angle of attack. Zakuro's eyes searched the room to see if there were any other Sailor Senshi sneaking up to attack; there were none. But Aoyama had appeared, coming out from the kitchen. What was he doing there? He wasn't supposed to be working that day.
And Ichigo had not transformed. She stood rooted to the floor, seemingly paralyzed with fear. Perhaps she could not, Zakuro thought. Maybe she had lost that ability, due to nearly dying! That would explain her fear, Zakuro thought. But no; she had transformed in the hospital room. Then why had she not transformed, now? If she did not transform, she would perish very quickly in any battle. But then why would she not run? She was staring at Aoyama, who was nodding. They were saying no words, but he was telling her something. Finally, Ichigo nodded, and turned toward their enemies.
"Mew Mew Strawberry, METAMORPHO - SIS!" she shouted, and spun herself up into the air, turning quickly into their cat-eared champion. So she can transform, Zakuro thought. Then what was going on? Ichigo reached out, and took her Strawberry Bell as it appeared. Then she gently pushed Zakuro aside. "Stay here," she whispered.
And Ichigo stepped forward. Holding her Strawberry Bell before her, she advanced on their enemies. And she advanced alone, one tentative step after the other. Each step seemed to be a greater burden to her, but Ichigo was nothing if not brave. And finally she stood before Sailor Moon.
There, she stood as if paralyzed, though her entire body was shaking, and her breath was coming in gasps. She seemed so small, so insignificant, before the glowing, taller form of Sailor Moon. Still, she was staring full into the great shining blue eyes of the Moon Princess, and she stood straight and proud, no matter how much she was shaking.
And then she lowered her proud head, and she fell to her knee, and she laid the Strawberry Bell on the floor at Sailor Moon's feet.
She was weeping now. The room was silent except for her sobs, and they could all hear them. Mew Lettuce took a step forward, as if to attack; but Zakuro stopped her with a touch of her arm. They all were waiting upon the glorious, glowing Sailor Moon, and on the insignificant, cat-tailed girl in pink that knelt before her.
And Sailor Moon spoke, loudly and clearly. "Mew Ichigo, do you accept me as your Princess?"
The room was silent; and then, a tiny voice: "Yes."
The Moon Princess spoke again, even more clearly: "Mew Ichigo, do you pledge yourself and your followers in service to me as your Princess?"
In a weak gasp, Ichigo responded, "Yes." She was shaking so hard that she was nearly falling over.
A third time Sailor Moon spoke. "Mew Ichigo, turn your face up and look me in the eye!" The girl in pink did so, and the Princess demanded: "Mew Ichigo, will you kiss my fat butt?"
For several seconds, the entire room was silent, and then Ichigo's voice shrieked: "NO!"
And Sailor Moon laughed, and shouted, "Good!" And she took the cat-eared girl by the hand and raised her to her feet. And they all breathed again.
And then, suddenly, Sailor Moon fell to her knee before Ichigo, still holding her hand, and gasped: "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" And she laid her head against Ichigo's body and burst into tears. And Ichigo suddenly said: "You guys want some cake and ice cream?"
And they all laughed. And, at least officially, the Mew War ended there.
It was later that Mew Zakuro cornered Ichigo, and thinking them alone, asked her, "Why did you kneel before her? How could you swallow your pride like that?"
"Because she is a Princess," Ichigo said, simply. Yes, it could be that simple to Ichigo, Zakuro thought. But as she turned away, she saw that they were not alone. Sailor Moon had come up behind them. And Zakuro looked into Usagi's clear eyes, and asked, "And why did you kneel before Ichigo?"
"Because she is a Saint," Usagi answered, just as simply.
Zakuro turned to walk away. If only she could see life in such simple terms as those two! But she could not. She turned back, and said: "Sailor Moon."
The Moon Princess turned back to her. Her glowing blue eyes were huge even for an anime girl's, and Zakuro stared straight into them. Zakuro's voice was not loud, but it was very hard. "Just remember, I am not the saint that Ichigo is. And I will never forgive the Sailor Senshi for what they did to Ichigo."
And Usagi responded: "It is good, then, that your leader is a far better woman than you could ever be." And she turned and walked away.
The verbal slap had stung, but Zakuro's face showed no emotion. She knew that the rivalry between the Mews and the Sailors would not end over cake and ice cream. Still, she would follow Ichigo's lead, and Ichigo was so noble. And perhaps, if Ichigo remained noble, then Sailor Moon might, too. Perhaps, for a while, there would be no fighting, and no killing. Perhaps...
As she turned away, she saw Mew Lettuce and Sailor Mercury facing each other. Each was holding a small plate with cake and ice cream, but the eyes of each were hurling daggers at the other. Zakuro wondered if one would shove the cake in the other's face, and the fighting would begin again. Lettuce was such a sweet, gentle soul; and Mercury had the same reputation. But they clearly hated each other. Why? Perhaps they were too much alike. But then Lettuce turned away from her rival. That was good; no fighting yet! Zakuro would have to have a talk with Lettuce. Soon...
No, this rivalry was far from over. Against the far wall Zakuro saw Sailor Jupiter standing alone, seemingly quite tense. Zakuro watched her eyes; the girl's eyes were following Sailor Moon, who was bouncing around the room, seemingly enjoying the Mew Mews as if they were all best friends. But Makoto was still worried, and she was standing guard, lest anyone hurt her Princess. Her faithfulness was exemplary, Zakuro supposed; but the war wasn't over for her, yet, either. No, not yet...
Still, if the war was not really over, at least for now, the fighting was done. Zakuro was thankful for that. And, she thought, it was far better to follow a Saint than a Princess. And if all did not seem right in the world, at least for a moment, Zakuro smiled, a rare thing...
But then her sharp wolf ears heard something: Mew Mint's voice, muttering something to Mew Pudding in some far corner: "Weakling... Coward!"
Zakuro sighed. Some things never changed, and Mint was one of them. Just one...