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Rekindled

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Suggested Listening: "Taenia memoriae", Puella Magi Madoka Magica OST

O/o\O

Rekindled

Stark white garlands strung atop marble pillars, platinum table cloths folded around the seats of smooth white pine chairs, and a glowing, glistening white cake that towered over it all.

Yes, Mami smiled, this was exactly how she hoped to have her own wedding one day. She made a mental note to thank Hitomi for the chance to help organize the event and to cater; as difficult as the job had been, the chance to run some trial and error for her own future plans definitely offset the additional stress. Though, not necessarily the guilt; using a friend's wedding as a guinea pig for your own wasn't considered thought, now was it?

She shook her head, amused with her own benign duplicity. Elbows rested well on the balcony's railing, she took in the night, watching as the filled reception hall bustled with levity, light and laughter, eagerly soaking in the positive rays wafting through the massive hall's windows with every available pore.

Even with that boost, though, her cheerful mood didn't necessarily last. Oh, she kept the façade up; she was an expert with the kindly eyes and the good natured smile mounted on her face. But the genuine feeling of relief never seemed to stay all that long.

Her eyes accosted the floor and slowed like molasses when they found an unruly mane of red hair. Though she was often to deny it vocally, deep below she still felt sparks percolating in the recesses of her heart every single time she looked at Kyoko. The wildfire had been such a catalyst in her life, a savior of sorts, that it would probably be impossible to shake every ounce of romantic affection still coiled inside of her.

Mami watched as Kyoko stalked the desert table, descending upon the well-carved cake like a raptor, razor fangs barred just as a wave of sage hair stepped beside her. Hitomi's more refined form sought the same prey; the largest carving of cake, and also the last with a white chocolate flower on top. Mami stifled a chuckle as the two shared challenging stares; one hungry and ravenous, the other haunting and daring, like a banshee waiting to curse an unlucky traveler.

Knowing that an altercation might occur, she began to push herself off the railing, only to have her action rendered moot as a swath of blue and green burst onto the scene to ensnare the unruly redhead.

"Kyoko!" Sayaka snapped, struggling against the thrashing 'entrepreneur', "Kyoko, that's the last flower, let the bride have it!"

"Listen to her Kyo!" the smaller, green girl piped up, yanking at Kyoko's arm opposite of Sayaka. "You're being rude!"

Kyoko sent her girlfriend a nasty glare, "Yuma, it's an all you can eat buffet, which means first-come, first-serve! Guess who got here first?!"

"I think that would be in debate," Hitomi noted, her smile still crooked and her gaze still hooked firmly into Kyoko's skull.

The shorter girl sneered, "Oh please, show me proof you got here first. Hell, I'd be willin' to look at the security cameras!"

"We're not doing that, Kyoko! Bride gets to go first, even if its seconds," Sayaka growled, hoisting her girlfriend closer.

Kyoko twisted and looked Sayaka in the eye, leering. Mami couldn't make out what the redhead said in such a hushed tone, but it apparently was enough to make both Yuma and Hitomi turn crimson.

Sayaka, though, was unphased, "Yeah? And if you don't start behaving, I won't for a whole month. You got that?"

Kyoko blanched at the rebuttal, her movements freezing; prey caught by a much, much larger predator.

"L-l-ladies! P-please! Can we remain… polite?" Hitomi flubbed, eyes jostling inside her head. Kyoko slowly slid out of Sayaka and Yuma's grasp just as Hitomi claimed the small desert plate.

Yuma perked up, blinking, "Uh… Hey, guys…where'd the flower go?"

Hitomi, Sayaka and Kyoko all glanced down to the slice, now conspicuously missing it's crowning garnish. It was then that all of their gazes, Mami's included, were drawn to the opposite side of the desert table, where a very self-satisfied duo stood.

One was a girl, very clearly on the verge of her adult life. She stood a hair's width shorter than Kyoko and mirrored the girl's fiery locks, thought they were braided in a low ponytail instead of an unkempt mane. The other was a boy edging close to pubescence, with a cherubic face and a soft, shaggy head of brown hair. The two were mid-high five, their whitened lips still freshly coated, when they were finally discovered.

"Momo…" Kyoko growled.

Hitomi's voice matched, her eyebrow twitching, "Tatsuya…"

Momo turned, giving the two a softer rendition of Kyoko's signature grin before turning on her heel and pushing Tatsuya towards the nearest doorway, "Run TsuTsu, we've been had!"

The boy gave a proud thumbs up, his tenor voice carrying quite eloquently, "It was delicious, Miss Shizuki!" before he scampered off to Momo's prompting.

"Get back here you twerps!" Kyoko snarled, chasing after her sister.

"It's Kamijou! Miss Kamijou!" Hitomi called, her voice suddenly more concerned with the improper name calling than the flower itself.

Yuma trailed after them, "Momo! No fair! Why didn't you tell me!"

The quintet of comedians filtered through the door as an enraged train, the bushy umbrella of Hitomi's dress bobbing just behind everyone else.

"They're really a bunch of clowns aren't they?"

Mami raised her brow, turning to face her new, rather tall, companion.

"This says the woman who wanted to wear white and pink polka dots to a wedding…" the blonde snarked, finally releasing some of the built up laughs through a good natured prod.

Nagisa pouted, locking her gangly arms at the joints as her fists balled, "I looked good in it, though…"

Mami rolled her eyes, "Yeah, when you were twelve maybe. Now it just looks too… eye catching. Rule one of a wedding; don't show up the bride. Besides, it's not just your taste in dresses; if that were cheesecake, you'd be right up there with Kyoko. It's why I made it a red velvet cake instead…"

"Okay, okay, that was one time where I kinda went overboard!" the teen groaned, grabbing her forehead.

"Three times. I'm not as blind as you think I am, and I'm sure there were more from what little I have seen," the blonde chuckled. She peered up at the taller girl, the back of her mind still reeling at how sudden the petite girl's growth spurt had been back when she was 16, but keeping that line of thought subdued to transmit a calm, accepting eye to her housemate. "It's fine, though; you wouldn't be you without those odd cheese cravings…"

Nagisa blushed and looked away, scratching at the back of her neck, "Geez, make me sound like some kind of monster, why don't you?" The younger girl rolled around to look out over the distant city lights, elbows on the railing. Her face, if only for a split second, became more pensive. "Would… would you make me cheesecake for when I… before college in the fall…?"

Mami had to struggle to keep up her smile.

The wedding had allowed her to forget, if only for a moment, the issue that had been drilling itself into the back of her head since. Nagisa, her constant companion of four years, was going to be moving out at the end of summer, striking out on her own for the first time in an accelerated languages program in America. Alone. Just as Mami would be.

"Yes, I believe that's more than doable," Mami replied, doing her best to maintain her mask. She deepened the smile just a touch, even going so far as to close her eyes, "Just promise me not to make a mess, okay?" The words left with a light chuckle, one so feathery it'd be hard to tell how forced it actually was.

Nagisa, however, did not seem amused, her long platinum hair falling over the straps of her pressed-white dress. "…You don't have to hide it around me, Mami…" the taller girl said, her face falling sour.

Mami twisted to look out at the city herself, though less to sight-see and more to save face. "You're not the only one here…" Mami replied, letting her tone slip a little bit lower.

Nagisa just gave a light 'hmmm' in response. The two sat there, quiet, letting the festivities behind them drown out the night in both sound and light. Mami wracked her brain for a number of conversation topics, something to lighten both their moods, but each time her predicted playout ended with them on the same depressing topics, the same disheartening dialogue. She was about to excuse herself when she noticed Nagisa's knuckles whitening on the rail.

"Mami, I love you."

The blonde locked up, her spine chilling while her heart beat ever faster. Her eyes flew up to the younger girl's, the taller figure shivering and shaking, arms locked stock still and her face wet with the first traces of fearful tears. She wanted to respond, but any inkling as to how didn't come quickly. She settled on turning away, looking pointedly in the opposite direction to let the heat rising to her cheeks and ears subside.

"No…" she finally said after a prolonged pause, "No, you don't…"

Nagisa hissed, jerking to look at her older friend. "Y-yes, yes I do!" she snapped back, "Don't speak like you know how I feel!"

"Nagisa," Mami twitched, "I'm more perceptive than you give me credit for. Don't think this is a surprise to me… I kinda had a thought that this might be coming…"

The platinum girl let her jaw sag, teeth limply trying to clench and only making half the journey, "You knew?"

"Since you were sixteen," Mami replied. "And you're just… Nagisa, it's a puppy crush, okay? I know what it's like. I had a crush on the lawyer that helped me out when my parents died… It took forever for that to go away."

Nagisa's eyes narrowed, "You've known I've felt this way for two years and never said anything?"

"Of course not," the blonde rolled her eyes, "I didn't want to burst your bubble and break your heart."

The platinum girl persisted, "You've known for two years and you still think it's some kind of 'puppy crush'?" That gave Mami pause. She had forgotten to take into factor how much faster time seemed to be moving for her now that she was older. She was about to respond when Nagisa continued, "Do you know why I didn't tell you? Two years, and you think I wouldn't have admitted it to you in that time?"

Mami shrugged, finally looking her friend in the eye again, "I just thought you were embarrassed!"

"Well… yeah, okay, it was partly that…" Nagisa relented momentarily, scratching her reddening neck. She recovered quickly reaffirming her rather stolid stance, "But-but-but, I also knew you'd just think I'm some kind of kid. I know how you think Mami, I wanted to wait until you were comfortable, especially since you're so anxious about being the older person in a relationship!"

Mami narrowed her eyes back, snorting, "Now who's making assumptions, Nagisa? 'Don't speak like you know how I feel', right?"

Nagisa stomped, "You've been my role model for four years Mami, you've been my guardian, I would like to think I've picked up on a few things about you!"

"Yes, and maybe you should take that into consideration; I'm like family to you at this point," Mami retorted, letting some of her exacerbation bleed through, "You're practically asking out your older sister… hell! You're practically asking out your mother!" The words left Mami's mouth before she could even comprehend how they could be interpreted.

Nagisa froze, amber eyes widening in surprise, droplets of hurt searing into the corneas. This was closely followed by actual droplets of saline. On reflex Nagisa's arm jerked to the side, hand clawing as though she were about to slap Mami, only for the girl to stop her arm mid-reel, a rather pointed and physical effort on her part. She sucked in a breath, hissing through her teeth as she did so.

"Don't… ever… compare yourself to my mother…" Nagisa seethed. "You might have taken me in, you might have cared for me, but you have never been a replacement for her; am I clear?"

Mami was taken aback. Normally Nagisa was a sweet, caring young girl, rivaled only by Madoka with her optimistic attitude and positive disposition. To see her… angry was scary, let alone unsettling.

"N-Nagisa-a?"

"No!" the younger girl snapped. "My mom… She always told me to look for the best in the world, even when it's unfair… Always told me to hope, to pray, and to work towards the world I want… She never talked about failing so bad you give up, she never talked about letting go of what you love, and she never told me to back off when I feel sad; those were all things you've told me. Don't compare yourself to her… Please…" The last plea was made with an exposed heart, a fresh wound unplastered.

"Nagisa… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… That was callus of me…" Mami stuttered, her eyes growing heavy. Her eyes flowed back to the ballroom and found a number of eyes peering out at the rather vehement conversation; not all the eyes, but enough that Mami was beginning to feel self-conscious, "This… Maybe we should talk about this all later…"

Nagisa shook her head, "You'll just run again. You always do when you have to face something like this…"

Mami cringed, knowing that, while true, the statement did nothing to relieve the number of people looking at them, "Really, Nagisa, this isn't the time…"

"'This isn't the time', 'It's just a crush', 'I'm like your mother'… Do you realize you're the only one here making excuses Mami?" Nagisa asked looking up to the sky as her face finally unclenched from its infuriated wrinkles. Mami felt the words land like a physical blow across her cheek and the other girl persisted, "If you really don't like the idea of giving me a chance, then why don't you just say you don't like me like that? Why do you have to keep making excuses?"

The blonde stayed silent as Nagisa faced her, tears flowing freely now, "I… This is one of the last nights I have my chance to ask you… I've got about a week to ship the last papers in to get all of the scholarships before I'm locked in to the university. I… I want… I want something, a reason, to stay… I need one Mami… I don't want to go, but if there's nothing here for me…"

Nagisa fell forward, Mami barely raising her forearms in time to catch her. The younger girl pawed at the silken shawl around Mami's shoulders, eyes staining the smoothed fabric, hicking, "I'm an adult now Mami… I… I'm old enough to know what I want. I love you, so please, please, please… Tell me if I'm right or if I'm wrong… do you want me to stay or do you want me to leave?"

A knot twisted in Mami's chest, the words leaving her breathless. Every demon in her life, her anxieties and fears, slammed into her like a cannonball to the gut and she was left unable to even respond. It only took a moment for Nagisa to glance at her and know, to understand, that Mami couldn't respond.

Nagisa furrowed her brow and backed away, folding her hands genially. Then, without a word, she sped towards the archway at the end of the balcony, exiting out onto the stone pathway that led out towards the garden which in turn led out towards the local village center.

It was only when Nagisa was at the tree line that the numbness entrenching Mami in silence began to subside, but even then the feeling was swiftly replaced by a newer numbness more intense than before. The platinum girl vanished behind the wall of leaves and foliage leaving Mami very much alone. One of her hands fell limply against the granite rail beside her, the warmth of her hand shriveling against to the cool stone masonry.

And all at once familiar pangs began to echo from within her chest, and old companion of ill repute that she had come to terms with years ago, a transitory curse made eternal by the passage of time. The realization of what she had done, through her inaction, began to sink in. The edges of her vision began to warp, the grass, blackened in shadow, became less than even the inky blur it ought to be, the moon a lifeless disk without face, the stars but specks instead of gleaming gems.

Mami inhaled, closing her eyes and focusing.

She was okay. She was scared to lose Nagisa; she knew this, and she knew this well. Be it physically, emotionally, or both, that fear was ever present in her life, a crude anxiety wedged after incidents gone by. But in times of such strife she reminded herself; there would always be Kyoko, there would always be Madoka and Homura and Sayaka, there would always be Hitomi. She had friends. She was never really alone, and to know that restored the world to its rightful contrast, with sharp edges and twinkling stars. Another lesson learned hard but well earned that helped her function normally on the day-to-day.

Even still, with her technique, the world did not completely return to normalcy, and something still felt decidedly missing without a certain bundle of energy nearby. To even know they were at odds was almost painful.

"Yeesh…"

Mami blinked, having been stuck in a stupor of emotional discontent for who-knows how long. She turned to find the Sayaka's svelte form draping itself over the railing behind her, seafoam dress wrinkling at her waist as though ocean waves. She looked over at the blonde, her cerulean stare deadpan and tired.

"How did you ever live with that woman…" Sayaka groaned, rubbing her eyes, "I might as well keep her on a leash at this point with the way she acts…"

It took Mami a moment to realize Sayaka was referring to the earlier incident with Kyoko and the cake.

She tried a smile, but it was so leaden with unrelenting emotion that she didn't need to glance in a mirror to know it looked painfully fake, "Yes, well, she wasn't quite as… uh… feral back when I first knew her…"

Sayaka huffed in acknowledgement, seemingly ignoring Mami's emotionally sorry state, "Ain't that the truth? She seems to get more rambunctious every year… Then again, that's also kinda what makes her great, I guess… I mean, I'm also one of the few people who can reel her in, and that's sort of feels really vindicating…"

"What was it you threatened her with back at the table anyway? I didn't quite hear what she'd originally threatened…" Mami asked. It probably wasn't the best time to continue this particular conversation, talking about couple life with Sayaka that is. It only served to compound the lonely feeling she was so desperately waging a war against inside herself. Were it not for her general curiosity and some small delusion that keeping the blue girl talking would distract her, the conversation would have stopped dead almost immediately.

"Oh, that?" Sayaka laughed. "She threatened to not put out for a week. I threatened to quadruple that." Somewhat forced, though still from somewhere genuine deep below, Mami managed a chuckle. The blunette continued, gripping her shoulder and letting her smile fall to some pleasant, distant place, "Though, not quite sure how well I could have held that up… I might have a way to pull her back, but she… she always seems to know how to make me cave right in…"

Mami put up a better smile this time, "That sounds rather romantic… You balance each other out, I suppose. Not many people are quite that lucky…"

Sayaka nodded, letting her smile fall, "Then why did you turn her down?"

The blonde clenched in place, her muscles clamping still.

She turned away, back to the night, "That's none of your concern, Sayaka…"

Sayaka groaned, rolling her eyes as she slumped against a nearby flowerpot, one of the many flourishes bequeathed on the 'main' pillars of the railing. "I've said those same words… like… four billion times at this point and all it winds up meaning is 'I don't want to talk about it because I'm confused'…" the blunette huffed.

Mami allowed her brow to twitch, a graciously gifted visible hint for Sayaka to change the subject. But, the cerulean gaze leveled at her did not stir, and thus the blonde found no other recourse than to retort the statement, "Not everyone has the same defenses, Miss Miki, do not make assumptions so blithely."

The blunette hummed, not directly replying to the curt words. Instead her eyes glazed over to one of the few well occupied tables. Mami followed the gaze, finding herself trained to a fluffy ball of pink and her sharply dressed companion, both sitting quietly and giddily sharing a slice of cake between them. Madoka dabbed a piece of frosting to Homura's chin before kissing it off, an act that was followed by a hearty laugh from one of the table's other occupants, a rather boisterous violette and her much more sober husband. Realizing they had an audience, the young couple recoiled, blushing, only for Homura to boldly grab her fiancé by the chin and pill her into a deep, amorous kiss, one that from this distance seemed to settle Madoka's nervese.

"God Madoka's such a nerd…" Sayaka chuckled.

"Yeah, they certainly are…" the blonde sighed. Mami's verbal reaction, however, didn't quite align to what she felt. Each section of the saccharine act had been borderline painful to watch, to see that jovial face be tied to someone other than herself. To know the two were betrothed was just a nail in the coffin and it had quietly been driving the baker mad for months.

Noticing Mami's mental withdrawl, Sayaka smiled softly, her eyes alight with mischief.

"You're still crushing on her, aren't you?" the blunette posited, leaning forward to get beneath Mami's chin.

On reflex, Mami recoiled a step, blushing and raising her hands.

"I… no, that's… that's none of your concern!" the baker chattered. It took a moment for her own words to really resonate with her mind, by the time she realized what she'd said it was too late.

"Bingo," Sayaka smirked.

"What 'Bingo'?! There aren't any games at play here, Sayaka!" Mami asked, clenching up. She knew perfectly well where Sayaka's devilish plan had been going. But what surprised her is that Sayaka's smile melted from her Machiavellian grin to a Guineverian beam.

"I know what that's like," she explained softly, sidling closer. There was still a respectful distance, nothing becoming of a come-on, but it was definitely a show of intimacy that Sayaka and Mami rarely ever expressed with others. "It becomes reflex," she continued, letting her frown dip, "It's hard to get rid of it, to open up, especially when you fuck up a lot like me… But I promise you Mami, just open up a little okay? I'll listen… or if not me, then Kyoko, or Madoka or even Homura… We're all here for you, okay?"

Mami gripped her biceps and squeezed, feeling her junior's concerns lord over her. Eventually though that tension had to give, and finally Mami released a breath.

"It's… This is really hard, I guess…" she groaned, "Usually if I have a problem I talk about it with Nagi…. But with something like this… I don't know how to deal with it."

"What would the harm be?" Sayaka asked. "I mean, it's not like you've put yourself out there the last four years, why not just give her a shot?"

Mami tightened up a bit, but forced herself to stay open conversationally, "I'm… scared. We're more than just friends already, we're anchors, and if we were to have a relationship and break up… that'd fall apart on me… And even then, my track record with the ladies in my life seems to always wind up in disaster… Why even try at this point…?"

"Because you're lonely?" the blunette returned, "There's some phrase in English, something like 'Man cannot survive on bread alone'. You might be alive, but are you really living if you keep giving into your fears like this?"

The blonde shrunk, "I… I guess you have a point there. Things stopped really settling well with me when I started suspecting she might… you know, have feelings for me…"

"Well then, that begs an obvious question; do you have feelings back?"

Mami paused, breathing just a moment to compile her thoughts. But as she sifted through her memories and feelings, she realized something; she shouldn't have to. With the impulse in control, she responded, "Yes. I think I do."

The blunette cocked her head to the side, "So then why don't you accept her feelings?"

This too was an impulse response, though one that had certainly spent more time ruminating in her mind, "Because I'm terrified I'm just going to screw myself over again… or that life might screw me over again…" At this point Mami was shaking, the words not quite resonating so well with her mind, but certainly resounding within her chest and along her spine.

"We've all been there," Sayaka grinned earnestly, "Believe me."

"You're awfully perky about all of this," Mami noted, eyes narrowing at the giddy girl.

Sayaka huffed and leaned back, "That's because at this point I know it gets better…" Then, rather suddenly, her mood morphed again, once more soft, though with an extra tender edge. Whereas her look of concern a few seconds ago had been more along the lines of a welcoming blanket, this one conveyed a much more exposing initiative; a baring of her soul.

And indeed, that's what the blunette did, in a sense. She slowly pulled a small velvet box from the folds of her dress, running her thumb along the golden trim of the case with care.

"It really does get better Mami…" Sayaka repeated wistfully.

Mami's eyes widened as she reached forward to clench down on Sayaka's hands, "You and Kyoko are-?!"

"Not engaged yet, I'm still working up the courage to ask her. That, and right-time, right-place, y'know…?" she shrugged. She pocketed the ring case. "I can't fall behind with the love bugs over there showing me up. I got an edge because I'm fairly certain Kyoko and I'd be willing to get married out of the country, but Madoka caught the bouquet, so my plan to propose on the spot got shot in the foot pretty quickly…" The girl chuckled, looking back to the sky. "I guess the wedding didn't help me feel any less pressured to join the bandwagon…"

Sayaka sucked in a breath and stood up straighter, looking Mami dead in the eye.

"The point I'm trying to prove here… eh… sort of…" she fumbled, scratching her cheek, "The point I'm trying to prove is that we've all been to that place, where we're all scared to move forward with life. But things get better. Madoka used to be living at home lost in a daze, now she's one of the best damn bartenders in the city (probably) and engaged to the girl of her dreams!" At this point Sayaka became more animated, waving her arms in the air, "Homura apparently pulled off some Rambo shit just to get back to her, and look now; a comfy life as an author with a creampuff like Madoka hanging on her arm! And…" she slowed down, fingers resting over the surreptitious pocket containing the velvet box, "Kyoko saved my life… And yeah, it sucks being in middle management, but that's what schmoozing up to Mrs. Kaname's for. And we always have enough to eat thanks to Kyoko's food cart. Life can always be worse, but if you push for it, if you believe in it, it gets better!"

By the end of Sayaka's babbling Mami found herself fighting a fit of giggles, "I think Madoka's rubbing off on you. You're way more optimistic than I remember…"

Sayaka flashed her teeth, "Hey, I've always been optimistic; just because I was a smart ass doesn't mean I wasn't trying to stay positive!"

"If only that worked as intended for me…" Mami sighed. She glanced in the taller girl's eyes, suddenly wishing for Madoka or Kyoko at her side just so she wouldn't feel so dwarfed by the two girls she'd talked to this evening. "You know, you stumbled there at the beginning but the rest of that was really… smooth. More smooth than normal… Was that rehearsed?"

Sayaka blinked, reaching back to scratch her head as a blush flashed across her face, "Uh, well… y'know… The rest of us kinda saw this comin' a mile away… We all agreed to come up with something just in case we could help out…"

"'Rest of us'?" Mami asked, brow drawing, "So there was a conspiracy behind this?"

"Nagisa doesn't have a clue, believe me," the blunette replied with a sheepy grin, "If things ever went south, we've got some speeches prepared for her too… Madoka even looked up a nice cheesecake recipe for her…"

Mami stared at the girl in disbelief, eyes flickering between the blue bomber and the two shorter girls seated several dozen meters away.

And then she laughed. A chuckle at first, but it quickly devolved into a guttural chortle that almost seemed to rock the ballroom. It took Mami a moment to come down from the fit, and though she was hot and embarrassed from the attention leveled at her by the other guests it had felt more than good to crack a genuine smile.

"You said that Madoka was a dork, but you're all dorks," Mami giggled, wiping a tear from her eye.

Sayaka knocked her own forehead with one of her knuckles, sticking a tongue out during a protracted wink, "Guilty as charged, I guess."

Mami released the last remnants of energy from her laugh in the form of a gentle sigh, looking at one of the intricate chandeliers drifting overhead. As her eyes lazily traced the bends and twists of thickened tensile and glistening glass, Sayaka spoke again, this time with a question.

"So, what are you going to do now?"

The blonde let out another sigh and looked to the flute of champagne that she'd abandoned near the start of the evening, still sat on the railing, unattended and awaiting her return. She grabbed it, gave it a momentary glance, and downed it in one take. Setting it down, she responded.

"Either ruin the one relationship I could depend on the last four years, or make the best decision of my life," she stated resolutely, feeling the bubbles burn down her throat, "Jury won't know until I do the crime…"

"Well, we're here for you; both you and Nagisa," Sayaka replied, giving a gentle thumbs up. "Now go get'er, Tiger!"

Mami smiled and took her own stroll towards the archway. Conflict or not, she wasn't going to let her nerves stop her from taking a decisive action.

O/o\O

Suggested Listening: "Her New Wings", Puella Magi Madoka Magica Rebellion OST

O/o\O

"You know… you chose a lousy time to confess…"

Mami watched as her words made the mousy girl perk, platinum locks floating, displaced in the air as she stumbled to her feet. The half-Russian was speechless as Mami sidled up to her, heels clicking against well-worn stone. Just as she was about to speak the blonde pushed a small crepe into her hand, catching the younger girl off guard.

"Really ran out the clock on this, didn't you?" Mami continued, her feet finally reaching the steps. Below came the lights and sounds of a distant festival, with tents and stalls lined up neatly on the sprawling terrace at the end of the stairway the two lauded over. The near, yet seemingly distant festivities waved over Mami's skin like a warm breeze, fond memories buzzing up from the back of her mind. Or perhaps that was the alcohol from her champagne finally sinking in. Regardless, she'd have to thank Hitomi for holding the wedding over Golden Week; be it for the simplicity of Mami's work schedule or be it the calming effect the proximal crowd had on her in such a confusing moment of her life.

"I… I'm sorry, Mami…" Nagisa sighed. She looked down at the crepe and blinked, "Uh… Blueberry…?"

Mami blinked in turn, looking down at her own crepe and smiling sheepishly, "Uh… sorry, mixed them up… This one was yours…" She held the raspberry-filled desert out for her housemate to take, smoothly trading the sweets between them. The blonde motioned for them to sit on the highest step, and as they bent down she began to talk, "Jeez, I try to swoop in here and be the 'older, wiser' mentor figure and I'm too lost in my thoughts to get my left and rights straight…"

"I know what you mean…" Nagisa nodded, taking a nibble of her crepe, "I've been… out of it all day."

Mami hummed, nodding as well, "I can imagine you've been building to this for a while, haven't you?"

"If only you knew…" the taller girl sighed.

The blonde rolled her eyes, "I do think I have a rough idea…"

"Right, right…" came the rueful response.

The moment settled into silence as the two snacked on their sweets, both nervously biding time before the real conversation came their way. But eventually the pastries dwindled down to crumbs and all that was left was silence.

Well, and wrappers, but mostly silence.

"Nagi…" Mami finally breathed out, "You were… right that I was just trying to avoid the subject. But I'm not lying when I say I'm…" The baker pulled herself into a hug, her knees bunched to her chest, "I'm just… scared, okay? Terrified. I never even considered looking at you that way until I figured out you had feelings for me… But… Even then…" She looked up to the stars, hoping the words she so desperately searched for would be spelled out in celestial lights, "When Kyoko and I got together, she saved me from a lot of really dark places. And after that, Madoka helped me stay afloat, even before we were a couple… And every time I find someone I can trust in, that I can rely on… That I can fall in love with, something terrible happens to them, or to me, or to both of us and I just… I gave up on love." At that, she sucked in a sharp breath, letting it out through her teeth, "But… your mom wasn't wrong when she said not to give up on things… I was being a coward…"

She turned and met Nagisa's eyes, eyes staring at her both knowingly and with mildly sad amusement. The platinum girl shrugged with a deprecating chuckle, "Yeah, you kind of were."

Mami pursed her lips as the oppressive feeling in her chest began to take flight, her fingers reaching forward to curl over the taller girl's head. Yet, that painfully present descriptor flew in to frustrate her once again.

"You're too damn tall for me to ruffle your hair…" Mami muttered. In response, Nagisa plopped a single, jovial hand on top of Mami's crown, bringing no small amount of irritation to Mami's face. The blonde's eyes narrowed further, "Don't push it."

Nagisa snickered but swiftly removed her hand, allowing Mami to recompose herself.

"So what are you saying," the younger girl finally asked. Those amber eyes sparkled down on her, tears preemptively collecting across the lids in preparation for some heartrending negative… or perhaps some earth-shattering positive, judging by the hopeful gleam reflecting off the girl's irises.

"I'm saying, that without you, I'm going to be lonely," Mami replied. She hissed again, bracing herself for the more damning words building on her tongue, "In fact, without you, I'm going to be more than lonely. Nagisa… I… I don't want you to go…"

Her golden gaze fell in line with those vibrant orange eyes just as a beam overtook the younger girl's cherubic face. In a flash Mami had been tackled to the ground by the excitable platinum girl, face smothered into boney shoulders and tufts of glistening hair.

"H-hey! Careful Nagisa! We still have to look presentable back at the reception!" Mami shouted. Admittedly, the laugh that accompanied the shout didn't quite help her case, but there was little she could do about that. Nagisa nuzzled deeper into the blonde's side, cheeks warmed with tears as they finally came to be shed.

The student pulled back, looking down on her longtime mentor and friend with a conflicted warble in her lips.

"S-So… does… does this mean…?"

Mami pursed her lips and let her eyes shy away from the taller figure, her mind still pleading for her to back out while she still could while her chest was left in a flurry of emotions that couldn't even begin to be deciphered.

"I… I'm not saying it'll work out Nagisa… I'm not one-hundred percent on where I sit with all of this," the blonde began, resting her forehead against the scrawny shoulder. "But… but I wasn't being fair to you early, especially because there isn't not something there…" She gave a weak smile, "If you're okay taking the risk of dating me… Then who would I be to reject such kindness?"

Above her Nagisa was quiet, her bottom lip tucked tightly beneath her upper teeth. Despite her height, despite her own evolutions in maturity, despite all of the struggles she went through in her life, the girl still absolutely resembled a child, especially when her emotions finally got the better with her. Nagisa sniffed, trying to hold back a flood of tears that would probably rain down on the woman below her.

"…Can… Can I kiss you?" she asked.

It was innocent, almost innocuous. But in this position, pinned beneath her, Mami felt powerless, which was not how she wanted this relationship to start. They'd be standing on even ground.

"Not… Not like this… Let's stand, okay?" she pleaded, raising her brows in apology. Nagisa nodded and leaned off, allowing the two to finally rise again. It was then that Mami realized that 'even ground' really meant very little to a girl that stood at least a full-head taller than herself. Nagisa shuffled awkwardly in place, fingers playing in front of her dress. It was rather obvious the girl was in need of some direction, though she also seemed rather eager to be the one to initiate. "Um…" Mami started, looking the girl up and down, "Maybe you should go down a few steps…"

Nagisa blanched and nodded, shuffling down a few tiers of the staircase to where she was only a few inches separated from the blonde. Satisfied with the differential, Mami looked her in the eye and quietly nodded, allowing the platinum girl to proceed at her own pace. The taller girl swallowed, her gangly fingers reaching out to cup at Mami's jawline. Then, gently, ever so gently, she pulled the two of them together and… bumped her nose against Mami's. She recoiled at the contact, inching backwards only for the blonde to grip the hand at her jaw and give it a comforting squeeze. This time Mami reached out and cupped the other girl's face, and together the two finally pulled their lips into one embrace.

It was clumsy, at least by the practiced Mami's standards, but they could work on that, she supposed. Drawing away, the baker caught a glimpse of a bright streak sailing into the sky; the start of the night's firework show and the end of festivities for the night.

"Good timing," Mami giggled. "I guess some people take the phrase 'sparks fly' pretty serious…"

For her part, Nagisa was too emotionally overwhelmed to respond, instead reaching forward to pull Mami into another desperate hug, this one seeking not necessarily affection but instead peace of mind. It was only mildly effective, but the touch was not unwelcomed by the blonde.

It was only then that familiarity really started setting in. Standing there, holding someone she cared for deeply… the same cobbled path, the nearby rustic shrine; this had been where she and Kyoko had confessed all those years ago. And in that time, so much had happened, so much had hurt her, and beaten her, and tortured her.

Yet, it was only because of how much good had entered into her life that she could suffer that abuse; for every positive came a negative and for every negative, a positive. In a crystallizing moment, there was no malevolent force keeping her from happiness; only the balance that surrounded them all. She was sure that some tragedy would become her again in the future, she knew that was an eventuality. But now? No, she could stand a little suffering in the future if it meant she could spend the next few precious moments of her life in an embrace as sweet as this.

As she sat there, arms wrapped around Nagisa, watching as fireworks lit up the sky, Mami smiled.

It was days like today that made her wonder why she was so lucky.