Four: "The Tenth Year", or, "Acceptance"

I had always feared this day, from the moment I made my contract, I had always seen this day staring at me over the horizon. For the last ten years, I had feared and hated the thought of this day arriving, contemplating how I would finally end... and more importantly, what would be waiting for Mami and I in the afterlife... would the Goddess once known as Madoka truly uphold her promise?

We had heard nothing from Kyouko in the last four years since she fled Mitakihara. We fought for those four years with only the four of us, Alysha, Licca myself and Homura. There were others, sure... other Puella Magi in Mitakihara but... secretly? Licca, Homura and myself didn't want to go out and meet them... we couldn't bring ourselves to meet more people who would just die. It... was horrible to think that, I knew... but we've all got to die eventually, right? Puella Magi don't live forever. Hell, the fact Homura and I lived this long was a miracle. Twenty five... probably the oldest Puella Magi in history.

Heh... I won't say that... that might be a bit of an overstatement. Maybe in recent history, but I'm sure there are others who have lived longer then us.

We never forget those we lost... either to the Demons or to distance. Mami and I... we most assuredly never grew tired of each other's company. Every night I would come back from fighting Demons, and I would be greeted by a woman weary from a regular job, but always the same smile... the same hug and kiss... the same 'Welcome home, Marisa.' It was just the dash of normality, just the dash of humanity I needed to keep going. She always smiled, always loved and always cared. I wanted to keep coming home to that.

Mami and I married on the last year. My idea. I wanted to make our love official before I... you know. She looked so beautiful in her dress, her hair all made up into a beautiful braid across her shoulder. A powerful woman turned blushing bride... I couldn't be happier. She had made me smile every day for the last ten years, and I wanted to return the favor. Mami never mentioned it, but I had a feeling that she knew that I was on my last legs... though she never once said anything about it. Neither did I, come to think of it. I had told Mami about my 'expiration date' of kind, and she always said that one day with me was all she needed to die a happy woman... but I can guarantee that she was just saying that. She'd love nothing more then to be able to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary when we were old and gray.

"Binbou-san, behind you!" I heard Homura shout, knocking me from my reverie. Turning around, I rose my sheild in time to block a sword blow from a Demon. "Sneaking up behind a woman? That's unprofessional." A pink arrow sliced through the Demon's head, causing it to explode into small white squares. The blow, while relatively weak, hit my shield in just the right kind of way to cause me to loose my footing.

"!" Falling over, I kept my shield at the ready, prepared to block any Demon who tried to take advantage of my disabled state. My sword flew from my hand, lost in the throng of white, faceless figured.

"Marisa!" I heard Alysha cry, the black-haired girl rushing to my aid. I reached up with my free hand, the orange-clad Puella Magi pulling me back to my feet in seconds. "Are you alright?"

"Worry about yourself. I'm fine." I answered to her with a nod. Looking to the direction my sword flew, I held my hand out and concentrated. What the hell, it worked in Star Wars. C'mon... c'mon, don't do this to me... White starbursts in the distance heralded the return of my blade, slicing through Demons as it returned. Whaddaya know. I guess the Force does exist. My sword landed in my hand at the right moment for me to turn around and bury it in another Demon's chest. "Okay. Alive again." I mused, flourishing my blade.

"Marisa-san... Akemi-san... I think we're winning!" Licca cried, a giant smile on her face as she sliced into another Demon.

"Hell yea!" I heard Alysha respond, throwing her spear out towards a Demon and ripping it through around the back. Something slammed into my back, sending me onto my face. Reacting, I rolled onto my back and drew my shield up once more, the blow from the Demon glancing off, landing hard on the concrete beside me. Bashing the sword from it's hand, I scrambled to my feet and eviscerated it with my own sword.

Before I knew it, the Miasma had lifted, the thick fog lifting from around us. I sheathed my blade as my combat armor vanished. Opening my hand, I chanced a look at my Soul Gem. Still beautiful and green... It was a point that made Licca and Alysha jealous. In all they've known me (and in all honestly, as long as I've been a Puella Magi) my Soul Gem had not gotten even a shade darker, always a brilliant emerald. It was something unique to only Homura and I, I think... maybe because we both know the Goddess... or maybe because we're both fighting for someone instead of something.

"Binbou-san." Homura's voice stopped me. "May I speak with you for a moment?" Her own combat uniform vanished in a purple flash, the girl's long black hair flowing behind her as she moves.

"Sure thing, Akemi-san. What's up?" The girl's usual flat-faced stare was marred by a strangely sweet smile.

"Tomoe Mami asked me to pick up some things and bring them over, but they're too heavy for me alone. I figured you wouldn't mind giving me some help." I smiled at her and shook my head.

"Of course not, Akemi-san! What did she want you to get?"

"Beer, flour... some sugar. Pretty normal stuff." She turned curtly on her heel and walked towards the local convenience store.

Which, as it happened, was owned and operated by another of Mitakihara's Puella Magi, who's sole concern was the safety of the store. The bell rung as we entered, the blonde girl across the counter (red butterfly costume and bow with it) saluted us gently as we entered. I... can't for the life of me remember her name...

"Akemi-san. Binbou-san. Evenin'. Miasma gone for the night?"

"Aye." I answered smiling. The girl gave a sigh and nodded, her costume and bow disappearing in a red flash.

"Good. I can stop looking stupid. What can I get for you tonight?"

"Picking up a few things for tonight." Homura responded. Dammit... what the hell was this girl's name, it's on the tip of my tongue, I just can't remember it.

"Planning on partying the night away?" The girl asked with a little smile in her voice.

"You could say that. Just helping a friend for the night, she's had a rough day at work."

"Ah, yes. I can't imagine anything rougher then fighting those damn Demons, but I suppose even non-Puella Magi have rough days, eh?" What. The hell. Was her name?"

"Indeed. So, we'll just pick up a couple packs of beer, a pack of flour and be on our way. Promise not to bother you too much, Kagagiri Ayumi." AYUMI! Ayumi Kagagiri! That was her damn name!

"Bother me? Nah, I enjoy when you two come in. Just don't get drunk and do something dumb, alright?" Homura and I went down the few aisles they had and picked up what we needed, Homura holding a twenty four pack of beer in each hand. What the hell does Mami need with forty eight cans of alcohol?! That's enough for the pair of us to last two months at least. I, in the meantime, grabbed a five pound back of flour and a five pound bag of sugar, walking up to Ayumi to pay. Scrunching her face up and shaking her head, she smiled. "Forget about it. Just get out of here." She smiled. "Consider it my way of saying 'thanks for putting your asses on the line, while I protect my investment'." It was no lie that Ayumi was more concerned with her store then the safety of others, but if she was needed, you could bet your ass she delivered.

"Thank you." I bowed to her as Homura started for the door.

"No problem, Marias-san. Have a good morning."

"We will." Homura and I started towards our house, Homura hefting the beer under her arms easily. "This is a lot of alcohol, Akemi-san... why would Mami need this much?" I heard her laugh a little at the question.

"You'll see." She answered, stepping up to the door, putting the beer on the ground as she took a key from her pocket.

"And when did you get a key?" She opened the door, the lights off inside. I stepped in ahead of Homura, the girl shutting the door behind me as she entered. Suddenly, I was blinded by a sudden flash of light as a chorus of 'Happy Birthday, Marisa!' assailed my ears.

"Akemi-san, you turned the lights on too quickly, you blinded her!" I heard a voice, which I thought was Licca, speak as I tried to blink the flash away. As sight slowly returned to me, I had seen exactly why Homura needed so much beer. Our moderate sized house was full with a whole group of our friends, Licca was there, as was Alysha and Mami, of course. Homura was behind me and the strangest sight befell me.

"Sakura-san?" I asked, in disbelief that it was even possible. From behind everyone came a young woman, her fire red hair tied into a neat ponytail, dressed in a long flowing skirt.

"Heya, Poor-chan." She smiled.

"Well... this is awkward..." I answered with a weak smile. "Last I saw you, I punched you in the nose."

"Last I saw you, you were punching me in the nose." She smiled in return, giving me a hug. "Happy birthday, Poor-chan."

As the morning wore on, I spoke with all of the guests, Kyouko especially, finally pulling the girl aside for a personal chat.

"Listen... Sakura-san..." I started, wringing my hands nervously. "About the last time we met..."

"I was out of line, Marisa." She answered. "I... spent a long time hating you after that but... about a year ago I realized that... life is too short to hate you for only trying to protect me... I realized Sayaka wouldn't want me to toss my life away, and for being there for me? Thank you." I smiled to her and nodded.

"Of course, Sakura-san. Any time."

"Hey, I'm gonna be in town for a few days still before I head back, I've already asked Homu, and she thinks the group of us going out hunting Demons tomorrow night is a good idea. You on board?"

"Of course!" I was happy that Kyouko was back in her right mind, and we all spent that morning drinking to each other's health and enjoying our company. Kyouko kept her word, and the five of us did, indeed go hunting the next night.

Kyouko died that night.