Well, last chapter. I hope you've all enjoyed it.


Sakura Kyouko supposes that, when she was born, God took a step back and decided to let the Universe shape the course of her life instead. This was, of course, a pretty bad decision on God's part, because we all know that while God is loving and benevolent, the Universe is a cruel, sadistic bitch. She supposes that's why her life feels like such a sick joke most of the time.

Take, for instance, Kyouko's relationship with one Miki Sayaka. Kyouko hadn't believed in stupid things like friendship since she broke company with Mami. After all, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there; Kyouko can't afford to care about anyone or anything but herself. She fought only for herself, cared only for herself, and the rest of the world be damned. It had already abandoned her, after all.

Then, for reasons Kyouko would rather not get into, she was forced to move shop to Mitakihara Town. And she met Sayaka.

Okay, she didn't like her at first. Really didn't like her. Kyouko felt and still feels as though she's known a thousand Puellae Magi like Sayaka: horrible fighters who spout off contrived, uninspired, arrogant lines a mile a minute, convinced of their own superiority and righteousness. They tend to die early. Those girls all looked at Kyouko the same way Sayaka did too: like she's an abomination. That really didn't help on the "wanting to violently maim and murder Miki Sayaka" front.

But then, though her opinion of Sayaka as a fighter was still disdainful at best, Kyouko's stance on how to treat her did a complete one-eighty. Kyouko can't really articulate why she suddenly wanted to befriend Sayaka instead of "violently maim and murder" her. If she had to guess, she'd probably say that it had something to do with the sense of solidarity she felt with her fellow Puellae Magi after they found out exactly what Kyubey had done to them, so sudden and out of the blue that Kyouko's stills startled by it.

And, of course, as with everything else important that's ever happened to her, the Universe just had to have a vicious sense of irony about how it played out. It just figures that, when Kyouko actively tried to befriend someone for the first time in years, the person she tried to befriend would be too self-righteous and caught up in her own pre-conceived notions about how the world was supposed to work to accept. That she'd feel that it was her right to talk down to her and tell her that everything about her life was immoral and, that if her choice was to either steal food or go hungry, she ought to go hungry.

(Of course, Kyouko figures that last part could just as easily have been for the whole "break his legs to make him rely on you" thing.)

So Kyouko figures that the fact that she's still looking for Sayaka with the intent to "save her life and murder Homura if need be" just proves what she's always suspected about herself: that she's a huge glutton for punishment.

Kyouko keeps telling herself that Homura isn't the sort of girl to drag it out, that if she wanted to kill Sayaka she already would have done it and she would have done it back at the place Kyouko had tracked them to. C'mon, she tells herself bracingly. You know that Homura chick. She'd just shoot her Soul Gem and be done with it. She wouldn't do something like carry Sayaka off to some secret place and hang her up by her ankles. She wouldn't bleed her like a pig or skin her alive or…

And Good God, why am I having these thoughts?

Oh yeah. These are all things I've wanted to do to people.

The redhead grimaces and moves on.

She really hopes it doesn't come down to a fight. Homura's "standing in one place one second and another the next" powers are pretty useful for the little girl, but Kyouko gets the suspicion that it would make a fight really unpleasant for her. And even when you take away her powers, from what Kyubey's told her, Homura fight with guns. Very real, very lethal guns. So the basics of a fight between Kyouko and Homura basically boil down to what hits flesh first—the bullet or the spear tip? Kyouko knows how that would turn out. She does not want a fight with Akemi Homura.

Plus, Kyouko's pretty sure she wouldn't be allowed to sleep at Homura's apartment anymore if she tried to kill her. That would be bad.

Kyouko's about to pass beneath a bridge when she spots someone walking up top. Someone with long black hair and a Mitakihara Middle uniform. "Homura!" she shouts. The girl pauses, and Kyouko can indeed see that it's her host. And she's alone.

Unsure whether to be reassured or just more deeply suspicious than ever because of this fact, Kyouko wastes no time in getting up on to the bridge with her, narrowing her eyes as she looks over Homura, who seems just as smooth and unruffled as she usually does. "Yes?" the schoolgirl asks quietly.

"Where's Sayaka?" Kyouko demands brusquely, readying herself to transform and leap into combat if she has to—though she still really doesn't want to.

"I sent her home," Homura replies evenly.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Yes, Kyouko knows she's crossed the line into paranoia now, but for all she knows "sending her home" could be a metaphor for death or something.

"It means I put her on a train and told her to go home. She's been declared missing by the police; the girl needs to learn how to manage her life a little better than that." Homura casts a sidelong look at Kyouko. "Sakura Kyouko… what did you think I was going to do with her?"

Kyouko shrugs, unable to fully mask her relief that Homura didn't decide to take "drastic measures." "Eh, something violent, I guess. Which train station will she get off at?"

"The one nearest to her house. If you hurry, you'll get there about the same time she does." Kyouko starts to head off towards her new destination, her relief making her smile, when Homura calls her name. "Kyouko? Do you still have the Shadow Witch's Grief Seed?"

Oh boy, what is it now? Kyouko fishes about in her jacket pocket, and pulls it out for Homura to see. "Yeah, I've got it."

Homura nods, her face unreadable. "Good. You may need it."

Deciding she doesn't like the sound of that at all, Kyouko figures she'd better hurry.

-0-0-0-

A feature of the trains in Mitakihara Town is that, thanks to the system that keeps too much sunlight from filtering into the cars during the day, passengers on the train at night will notice that the light takes on an eerie, muted, gray look. Colors become washed out; the surroundings almost seem as though presented in black and white.

Incidentally, the color scheme happens to fit Sayaka's present mood perfectly.

I… I'm so useless. Her lip quivers, but Sayaka makes no sound and lets no tears escape from her eyes; she doesn't even feel ears prickling at her eyes as she would have had she expressed such a sentiment a month ago. Instead, all there is to her is a bleak heaviness and the unshakeable knowledge that she is completely, totally useless.

Sayaka had come into her profession with the best of intentions. Mami had shown her a way to be what she had always dreamed of being—a heroine, a champion of justice who would be able to protect her loved ones and, indeed, the whole world, from the forces of evil. She was going to right wrongs, crush despair under her heel and put those two immoral Puellae Magi in their place. She was going to be better than sadistic Kyouko, better than apathetic Homura. She was going to live up to Mami's legacy. She was going to be a Puella Magi just like Mami. A strong and righteous champion of justice.

But that didn't work out. Instead, her failures play past her eyes like a movie reel.

She ought to have been strong enough to beat Kyouko and Homura. She ought to have been able to make them see the error of their ways. After all, Sayaka's the righteous one, isn't she? She has right on her side, doesn't she? The champion of justice always prevails over villains and anti-heroines, doesn't she? But Kyouko and Homura both wiped the floor with her, and neither show any sign of having "seen the error of their ways"; they haven't changed at all. Sayaka knows that even heroines must face adversity, but she hasn't even the consolation of a won fight.

(Her Soul Gem darkens, just a bit.)

Then, she discovered that in order to heal Kyousuke's arm and become a Puella Magi, Kyubey made her into a zombie. Her… Her soul's been ripped out of her chest and put in a container for… for storage. For safekeeping, Kyubey says. She can hold her soul in her hands, watch it glow and feel it pulse. Sayaka will never regret having healed Kyousuke's arm, but her very existence is a crime against nature. She's no longer something that could even be called human.

(Her Soul Gem darkens a little more.)

Yesterday, Hitomi came to her with a revelation—that she too likes Kyousuke—and an ultimatum—if you don't confess your feelings to Kyousuke by the next day after school, I will. Sayaka can't tell Kyousuke how she feels. She's a dead girl, an animated corpse being controlled by a little blue stone—how can she ever have a normal relationship with anyone? Who would ever want to date a zombie? Who would ever want to kiss a zombie? But the idea of seeing Kyousuke with another girl still kills her, and how, how could Hitomi do this to her? Sayaka can't bring herself to acknowledge that if she had been more open with her, Hitomi would have been more understanding.

She regrets saving Hitomi from the Box Witch, and is disgusted with herself.

(And a little more.)

And now, now, she's said such horrible things to Madoka. Just as a Witch spreads suffering and despair, she's tried to infect Madoka with all her doubt, all her frustration, all her despair, all her self-loathing. How could she do such a thing to Madoka, her closest friend who's always stood by her? I don't deserve such a good friend. How can she ever face her or talk to her again after being so cruel to her? It would be easier if she hated me.

(And a little more.)

And something else, something even more agonizing, has just occurred to her.

Sayaka does not readily heed, believe, or take seriously anything that comes out of the mouth of Akemi Homura. That girl is just as immoral and what a Puella Magi shouldn't be as Kyouko. She waited until Mami died to kill the Witch with the dessert barrier; she may as well have killed her herself. But she saw a different side to Homura tonight, a side Sayaka never imagined existed. It's made her a bit… confused as to how she should view the girl. But that's not the devastating thing. No, it's something Homura pointed out during her rant.

Her parents. Sayaka completely forgot about her parents.

Sayaka resists the urge to scream aloud. She sold her soul to become a Witch-killing warrior who could be killed at any time, and not once did she ever spare a though for her parents. She could so easily be killed and to them, she would have just vanished—they would always wait for her to come back, never knowing what had happened to her. I'm such a horrible daughter. Who does that to their parents?

I just wanted to protect everyone, and look what happened.

And soon, even that resolve is called into question.

Sayaka catches strains of a conversation between two young men, the only other passengers with her in the car.

"She keeps asking for more. More of my time, more of my attention. She oughta be happy with anything at all from me, but no… She always wants me to talk to her, get things for her. This time it was some coat she said she needed. Man, I was so stupid, spending my hard-earned money on a woman!"

"And here I was thinking you were talking about a dog."

"God, she might as well be, always yapping about the bills. Soon she'll be talking about settling down, getting married and having kids. She already chews me out when I go see other women, like she actually has a right to get mad! Think of all the fun I'll be missing!"

"So put her in her place. Remind the bitch who's boss."

"Yeah, that'll stop her yapping."

The two men laugh unkindly, and Sayaka stands. Her blood is boiling, but at the same time, she finds herself oddly calm.

People like them, men like them who never got the memo about gender equality, men like them are a canker on society. Scum of the earth. These men, who encourage violence and injustice and bigotry—it doesn't even have to be sexism—they… Sayaka hates them. No matter what form they take, she still hates them. She hates them so much…

The train cars are soundproofed, and they are alone in the car. Sayaka's glad for that.

"Hey." She goes to stand in front of them, looking down upon these two shadowy forms. She doesn't see faces when she looks at them, but then, these aren't really people; they're just caricatures of human beings who don't deserve the name. She doesn't know their faces, doesn't know their names, but it doesn't matter. "Tell me more about this woman you were talking about," she says softly, addressing the Ungrateful Boyfriend.

She can't see his face, but from the tone of his voice, she can guess that the Ungrateful Boyfriend is a little startled. Not that Sayaka cares what a caricature like him thinks or feels. "Little girl, aren't you in middle school or something? Didn't your parents tell you not to go out this late at night?"

Don't act like you actually give a damn when it's obvious you don't. "She obviously cherishes you, if she wants you to be faithful to her," she goes on in that soft voice. She works hard, and tries her best to make you happy. Aren't you thankful for that? And yet you compare her to a dog. You don't thank her for all her effort. You think that she needs to be "put in her place"," Sayaka spits out, knowing just as well as they do exactly what that means. "Why does she love a man like you?"

The Ungrateful Boyfriend exchanges a glance with the Poisonous Friend. "You know this chick?"

"No," the Poisonous Friend responds. "Maybe she's a friend of Aiko's or something. Listen, you're just a little girl. You don't understand. When you grow up, you'll understand why things are the way they are."

Personally, if understanding means bowing to the whims of men like them, she hopes she never understands.

Sayaka shakes her head, a marauding coldness seeping through her bones and blood. She fixes them both with an icy stare. "Is there any meaning in protecting this world? What have I been fighting for? Tell me. Tell me quickly." They stare at her uncomprehendingly, but the choked noises that come from their throats a second later tells Sayaka they understand. Good.

"If you don't…" Sayaka smiles, a wide, mirthless smile "…I don't know what I'll do."

-0-0-0-

Sayaka emerges from the train car alone, not entirely sure what she's just done. Her bones feel as though they're made of lead, and it's almost unbearable just to breathe now. Living has no more appeal for her. She collapses into a chair outside the halted train car, and waits for the end to come.

Someone else comes instead.

Sayaka is vaguely aware of the metallic sound of someone running up the escalator instead of just letting the machine do it's job. She doesn't look up, but she's also vaguely aware of someone walking over to her, and flopping down in the seat next to hers with a gusty sigh. "Finally found you."

Kyouko.

The girl opens a can of Pringle's and goes on between bites, "How long are you gonna keep blowing off your friends?"

If she was a little more normal at the moment, Sayaka probably would have taken exception to Kyouko implying that she was one of Sayaka's friends. As it happens, she doesn't care about that right now. She doesn't care about much right now.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Sayaka responds, much too quietly, much too mildly. But like she's made clear, she doesn't care about that anymore.

She doesn't think she cares about anything anymore.

Kyouko casts a sidelong glance at her. "What's up with you? You're not acting normal." She doesn't sound all that concerned, but there's an edge to her voice that indicates that she realizes something's not right with this situation.

Sayaka takes a deep, jagged breath. "I… I just don't care anymore. About anything." Not her parents, not Kyousuke, not Madoka, not Hitomi, not Mami, not Kyubey, not Kyouko, not Homura. None of it matters at all. "What's important? Nothing. What have I been protecting? Nothing. What have I been fighting for? Nothing."

She opens her hand to reveal her Soul Gem. Beside her, she hears, as if through a filter of water, Kyouko gasp aloud to see the state it's in, and she supposes Kyouko should be surprised. Her Soul Gem is nearly black.

"The balance of hope and despair always comes back to zero. That's what you said, wasn't it? I… I think I understand you now," Sayaka says softly. And she does. She understands what Kyouko meant when she said that there wasn't anything in this world worth protecting. She was right. There's not. "I've saved a lot of people. But then, I felt resentment and pain take hold of my heart in return. I wanted the very people I saved to suffer." And now, I just want my suffering to stop. "I've come to realize—"

She's come to realize that her Soul Gem's just been snatched out of her open hand.

The next thing Sayaka knows, the heaviness, the bleakness and the worst of the despair lifts from her shoulders. It's like a fog's lifted from her mind and eyes, and she can see the world clearly again for the first time in years. She looks over to her left, and sees Kyouko holding her now quite-bright Soul Gem in one hand, and a very-full, very black Grief Seed in another.

And the first thing Sayaka realizes after this fog's been lifted from her mind, is that she's pissed.

"Give that back!" she shouts, practically launching herself on Kyouko in the attempt to retrieve her stolen Soul Gem.

"No way in Hell!" Kyouko retorts, holding Sayaka's Soul Gem firmly in her hand, her arm sticking straight up. "You obviously can't be trusted with this thing!"

"What… the Hell… is it with you people?! First Madoka, then Transfer Girl—"

"Is that what we're calling her now?" Kyouko interjects dryly.

"—and now you! That's mine! That's my soul you're holding there! Give it back!"

Kyouko narrows her eyes. "You gonna take proper care of this thing from now on? No more letting it get so black you can't even tell it's blue anymore?"

Of course, under these circumstances, Sayaka would probably agree to anything. "Yes, yes, of course! Just give it back!"

The redhead smirks, and pops another chip into her mouth. "Sure thing, newbie." She holds out Sayaka's Soul Gem, and Sayaka immediately swipes it out of her hand, scowling and letting it revert back to ring form so it won't be so easy to steal the next time someone decides to get grabby.

"Anyway…" Kyouko swallows her chip and starts munching on another. "Aren't you feeling better now?"

Sayaka's scowl deepens. Rather than actually admit that, yes, she does feel better, Sayaka's eyes settle on Kyouko's tin of Pringle's, and she decides to totally disregard Homura's past advice. "Stolen?" she asks acidly.

The smirk vanishes from Kyouko's face. She holds up a fist menacingly. "You want another fat lip?" she counters.

Given the circumstances, Sayaka decides that it would be best to let the matter lie.

And, oddly enough, so does Kyouko.

"So what was eating you this time?" she asks conversationally, finishing off her can of chips and deftly tossing it into a trash can roughly twenty feet away from them. "More love troubles? Or was it something—" she stops, the lazy smile vanishing from her face. Kyouko looks sharply over at Sayaka. "I smell blood."

Sayaka cringes, and resists the urge to curl up into a ball.

"Sayaka, what did you do?" Kyouko demands.

Her eyes tight shut, Sayaka responds in a "This is gonna suck" sort of voice, "I may or may not have just killed two people."

Kyouko snorts. "Welcome to the club."

The schoolgirl glares at her companion. "Unlike you, I don't happen to take a whole lot of pride in being a member of the "Yes, I've killed people" club."

Kyouko shrugs as though this doesn't concern her a whole lot. And given that it's Kyouko, it probably doesn't. "Whatever. Hey, you didn't sound like you were all that certain that you'd actually killed them. Where are they?"

"In the train car."

Brushing the crumbs off of her lap, Kyouko hops to her feet. "I'll go see if they're still kicking." She peeks her head into the compartment, and sticks it back out again smirking. "Hey, Sayaka, were your victims two guys in their twenties whose clothes and haircuts just scream "total douchebag"?"

Sayaka's brow knits. "Yes…"

A faint cry of "Help us!" comes from within the car, and Kyouko grins. "Very much still alive." She takes a sniff of the air and winces. "And boy, does this car reek! Those stains'll never come out of the seats!"

"What, from where they've bled?"

"That and from where they've pissed their pants."

At this, Sayaka starts twiddling with her skirt uncomfortably. Yes, these two guys were total bastards, but in a state of mind that actually approaches clarity, Sayaka has to acknowledge that however horrible human beings they are, they're still human beings. "Shouldn't we call a hospital?" she suggests weakly.

Still hovering by the open door to the train car, Kyouko shrugs. "That depends. Why'd you go nuts on 'em?"

Another cry of "Help us!" can be heard.

"Shuddup!" Kyouko snaps. She turns her gaze back to Sayaka. "Well?"

Sayaka's eyes harden as she remembers. "They were talking trash about one of the guy's girlfriend."

"And?"

"It was implied that he was going to beat his girlfriend when he got home."

Eyes like chips of ice, Kyouko nods decisively. "Well that settles it." She sticks her head back in the compartment one last time. "Guess what boys? You get to sit where you are and think about whatcha done, until somebody else finds you!" And without further adieu (and ignoring the desperate cries that arise in response to this), she slams the door shut, and goes back to sitting besides Sayaka.

For herself, Sayaka buries her face in her hands. "I am the absolute worst," she groans.

"What?" Kyouko doesn't seem to believe that. "What makes you think that? You stopped some bastard with an entitlement complex from beating up his girlfriend!" She laughs suddenly. "You struck a blow for gender equality everywhere!"

Sayaka slumps in her chair and rolls her eyes. "Somehow, that doesn't exactly fill me with reassurance. Guess that just goes to show you can't get anything right when you're a zombie," she mutters.

"Hey." Sayaka looks over at Kyouko, brow furrowed, to hear the girl's unusually serious tone. Kyouko stares at her with such intensity that Sayaka actually feels uncomfortable. "We're not zombies."

I fail to see how. "Oh?" Sayaka curls her lip, expecting something crass and callous from Kyouko, as usual. "Then what are we supposed to be?"

Kyouko's answer is immediate. "We're damned souls trying to fight our way out of Hell," she replies confidently, still wearing that intensely serious look. "And the only way we can make it out is if we actually believe we can win."

Sayaka stares at her, unable to articulate a response. That was the exact opposite of what she had expected out of Kyouko; she'd expected her to say something crude, and instead said something actually rather profound. Then again, Kyouko's been doing and saying a lot of things lately that Sayaka didn't expect from her. And maybe if she was actually capable of seeing change in people without it hitting her upside the head, she'd see this as a sign of change in her somewhat-rival. Alas, her getting to that point… That's gonna take some more work.

Apparently hungry again, Kyouko starts fishing through her pockets and comes up with a box of Botan Rice Candy. She pops one into her mouth, wrapper and all. "Listen," she says thickly, swallowing. "Me and Homura are going over our game plan for when this Queen of Witches Walpurgisnacht shows up at her place. She hasn't mentioned you, but the way I figure we could use all the help we can get. Wanna come?"

For a long moment, Sayaka says nothing.

If this is another one of Kyouko's attempts to "befriend" her, Sayaka has to say, she's not any more convinced by this one than she was by the last one—and she still thinks that making her an accessory to theft was a lousy way to try to cement a "friendship." But at the same time, the fact that Kyouko's still trying…

Well, maybe there's something more to this after all.

Sayaka smiles slightly. "Sure."

-0-0-0-

Kyouko leads her to a part of town Sayaka doesn't go to often, the part of town redevelopment never touched. In any other town in the world, this sector would look modern enough, but next to Mitakihara Town's most advanced, sparkling, state-of-the-art architecture, this place comes across as a bit of a dump.

The redhead stops in front of what appears to be a large apartment at the fork of a road, and knocks on the door. The door opens a fraction to reveal Homura. "Back so soon?" she asks, an odd note in her voice.

"Yeah, yeah, lemme in."

Homura opens the door wider to let Kyouko in. Kyouko waltzes in as though she owns the place; Sayaka follows. When Homura spots Sayaka, she frowns deeply. "I thought I told you to go home," she addresses her crossly.

Under that icy stare, even the bravest of girls has to wilt a little. "Heh… I guess I got a bit sidetracked."

The brunette sighs gustily and waves her in. "Oh, just go sit down. I'll call your parents."

Sayaka steps inside Homura's apartment, and finds herself just a little slack-jawed. In place of what one would call a normal apartment, there is instead a vast expanse of white. There are multiple couches and ottomans for guests to sit on; upon the far wall there are floating texts and illustrations, no doubt information about this "Walpurgisnacht" witch. She's also pretty sure that Homura's apartment is bigger on the inside.

Kyouko smirks at Sayaka's gob smacked expression. "Pretty weird, huh?"

"Walk in a straight line and only sit on one of the innermost couches," Homura tells her authoritatively. "The innermost couches are the only ones that aren't projections and if you don't walk in a straight line you'll probably walk into something. Now what's your home number?"

After being told the numbers to dial and waiting for one of Sayaka's parents to answer her cell phone, Homura casts a glance over at Sayaka. "You can come back tomorrow. Well, that's if your parents ever consent to let you out of their sight again."

Despite that gloomy prognosis, Sayaka can't help but smile.

It's nice to know she's needed.

-0-0-0-

This time around, things went better.