Authors Note: And I know I promised a quicker update, and I really intended to do that. I'm blaming it on losing this file after getting a new computer. But I guess that just taught me to double check what files I've got on my flash drive.
It had been a few days since Homura had left the hospital now. She was starting to adjust to her new routines too. Homura had grown used to having Ganko around; the kitten followed her everywhere she went in the house and curled up against her when she slept. Sayaka was right, she didn't feel so lonely at home anymore with the kitten to share her space with. It felt nice having such a small creature love her so much.
Her apartment had gained more cat items. She and Sayaka had gone to the nearby pet store the other day and bought several more toys and treats, as well as a little cat play set for her...though Homura was sure all she had to do was get a few boxes and it would be entertaining enough for the kitten.
Sayaka was with her more now than she had before Homura's hospital visit too, which was saying a lot considering the time the two spent together prior to the incident. Not that Homura would complain, she cherished all her time with Sayaka. However, she couldn't help but notice how tired her blue-haired friend seemed to be now. Sayaka would just brush her off every time she asked about it, saying she couldn't sleep, but Homura had her doubts. She wished Sayaka would tell her what's wrong, maybe she could do something to help her, or at least she could listen.
Maybe it was because of Madoka and Mami still. Homura would understand completely if it was because of Sayaka's grief. But even then, she wished her friend would talk to her about it. Sayaka didn't like Homura worrying over her, and she knew that. Didn't mean that she didn't still worry, though; it was hard not to.
Especially now that she felt like Sayaka was hiding something from her.
Heaving a heavy sigh as she lay on the couch, Homura buried her face into Ganko's soft fur as her mind began to drift from Sayaka to other thoughts.
Her phone was on the couch next to her, right where she placed it after her last call, a piece of scratch paper under it with a quickly scrawled phone number on it. Her mother's new phone number.
There was still the harsh sting when she first tried to call Aiko the other day and learned that the number she had was outdated. Homura had to call Wakahisa for the new number, and the doctor didn't seem surprised that the woman hadn't given it to Homura. She dared not try to call her father; last time she had, he'd gotten angry because she interrupted his "work." At least her mother didn't show her anger when Homura called. She instead filled their conversations with lies.
"I should call," Homura said to her kitten, stroking her fuzzy ears, "But what if she ignores my call?"
"You don't know her, Ganko. She's not...she's not the 'motherly' type."
Homura stared at the kitten before letting out a bitter laugh. She was imagining having an actual conversation with her cat. Great. But really, she should call her mother.
"Just...just pick up the phone, and dial the number," Homura murmured to herself, reaching over Ganko to pick up her phone and dragging herself to sit upright, but when her fingers hovered over the buttons she found herself hesitating once again. The chances of her hope coming true were slim to nothing. Her mother would, at best, tell her she's too busy to talk and hang up. Homura could handle that; it was the other side of the coin that Homura couldn't stand. The lies were what she couldn't stand.
Fingers dialed the numbers and Homura pressed the device lightly to her ear as the ringing commenced.
She knew that it wasn't going to end well, but she still had to call. It wasn't that she really needed a confirmation that the dream and hope of being a happy and loving family together was nothing but a dream, probably the last thing she needed from a logical perspective. The only way they could be a loving family was if there were any love between them in the first place.
Maybe, just maybe, she still had some hope. Hope that what happened in the hospital room, where Aiko didn't put up her usual front of lies and false love to maintain a "perfect mother" appearance when her audience had been of Wakahisa and Sayaka (they weren't 'important', their opinions and words didn't matter to her), wasn't just a dream. Hope that maybe, just maybe, with her miracle came another chance to be a family. It was naive, and it was foolish, but she couldn't help but still hang onto that one thread of hope.
She knew reality would be a crushing blow to her.
As the ringing continued, her free hand continued to pet Ganko. It was a small attempt to provide a distraction from her own nerves, to remain calm.
Homura's voice caught in her throat, and she was suddenly aware of how clammy her hands were becoming. "H-Hello? Mother?" Homura greeted, mentally berating herself for the stutter. She knew Aiko didn't approve of her stuttering when speaking to her. Weakness, she said, stuttering was showing weakness. Akemi's hated weakness.
"Ah, Homura dear, it's been a while since we've last spoke!"
Almost a year to be precise.
"You changed your number...I guess the nurses forgot to tell me?"
The nurses were probably under the assumption that Homura knew.
"Ah? Well, I know I left it with them. I didn't think of it to much before, what with your father and I out of Japan on business for some months, but that would explain the lack of calls when we got back."
She never got a call because she didn't want to talk, either from getting a call or making a call. Being out of the country had nothing to do with it. She would have been more than content to pretend Homura didn't exist, and spent these past months doing just that, hadn't she? It wouldn't be surprising if she did, not when she'd at least once denied Homura was her daughter.
"Uh-huh. It's um, it was a good thing Wakahisa-san had your new number," Homura responded, no longer petting Ganko but instead digging her fingers into her leg through her pants fabric. She could feel the nails through the jeans.
"Wakahisa-san? I'm sorry, but who's that?"
This call was off to a bad a start as Homura feared, and it'd only been less than five minutes. She'd already forgotten the name of Homura's doctor. Another not-surprise; she didn't even know the name of Homura's previous heart doctor, one whom she had for years.
"My heart doctor, over here in Mitakihara, Wakahisa Hiro? You met him while I was in the hospital this last month or so."
"Oh! Him. He seemed like a very nice young man."
Her description of Wakahisa was wrong of course. He didn't have a nice attitude, and he wasn't young. It just showed how little the woman retained from the visit, if it could have even been called that.
"Anyways, have you tried calling your father?"
She always tried to push Homura onto her father when she was growing tired of her. That didn't take long for him to come up this time, was she already that tired of Homura? Well, it had surpassed Aikos minute of patience she had for the timid girl.
"N-No...I, he doesn't like me calling him, remember?"
If she called and he answered, it'd just be to yell at her how she's only to call him in "emergencies," and she knew what that meant.
Koji made no attempt to hide his disdain for her when there was no prying eyes around.
"But... how has Father been?"
She could hear Aiko tapping her fingers against some surface. She always did that when her patience ran short and annoyance grew, but she still had to act pleasant. It was either directed at Homura or at Koji; it was hard to tell which. Maybe it was to both of them.
"He's doing the same things as he did before: working, sleeping around, and being a drunken bastard."
Exactly as he was when Homura still lived with them, it seemed, just in a different order.
"Is he still with his assistant, Aihara-san?"
Homura liked Aihara, though she never did learn the womans first name. She was a nice lady by all means and always treated Homura kindly, even helped her with homework if she was around and Homura was struggling. It felt like she cared about Homura more than her own parents did. She'd been family to Homura when she was a child, the elder sister she looked up too.
She never did understand what Aihara saw in her father. She deserved better than him.
"Homura, those two broke up months ago! Now he's sleeping around with some skank half his age! I think she's a stripper from that bar he always spends his nights at."
Her mother's frustration at him was even more clear now. It could have easily been mistaken as jealousy and anger at Koji's infidelity, but Homura knew it wasn't that. Her mother had no love for him just as he had none for her. Her anger was directed at how little discretion Koji put to his affairs. Should the media catch wind of his sexual escapades, well, it wouldn't be good for their company.
At least Aiko was more stealthy when it came to her affairs. Homura briefly wondered if Aiko had broken up with any of her many lovers or gained any new ones since Homura had left home.
Even more, she wondered why the two never got a divorce if they despised each other so. But, she reminded herself of the reasons soon after.
"Anyways, Homura, how have you been?"
"Ah, I've been good. I was released from the hospital the other day. ...You didn't show up..."
"I heard about it, I'm so glad you're okay!"
Are you really?
"We're really sorry about not showing up. But we had something big come up at last minute, and well, we have to put the company first you know."
Of course, the company has always been more important.
"But we're both so glad you're okay."
Liar. Neither of you ever cared.
"Make sure you don't scare us like that again."
You weren't scared. You both made that clear back in the hospital room. You always managed to find something more important than your own daughter, always.
"Homura? Are you still there?"
Homura blinked, realizing that she hadn't been saying anything. "A-Ah, yeah, I'm still h-here, sorry."
"It's alright, but anyways, I've got to go now, bye."
Before Homura could say goodbye back, there was a click as her mother hung up from her end. After a moment of silence, Homura brought the phone down and let out another heavy sigh, fingers finding their way into Ganko's short fur.
"I wonder how much of that is she going to remember tomorrow?" Homura mumbled the question, shoulders sagging in defeat. Her mother would probably just remember that Homura had called; she never seemed to remember what they talked about. Though, talking to her mother always left her feeling...empty. As though all the positive emotions in her were sucked away. It left her with a mind full of bitter questions and angry accusations.
More than anything, it left her conflicted.
Did she want her mother to stop lying to her, and just say what she really thought instead of just feeding Homura these falsehoods to keep up appearances, or did she want to cling to these empty words of love and pretend they were genuine? Being told the truth to her face by her mother, well yes, it would destroy her, but living in a fake world was no better.
At least it this call was somewhat better than the many times she was left close to tears, if not already crying, when talking to her father.
Really, though, she wished she'd never learned how to tell when her mother was lying and showing only fake love. She wished she could go back to when she really believed her hollow words and genuinely thought her mother loved her and was on her side when faced with her fathers rage.
Why didn't she call her grandmother? That would have been less emotionally exhausting and upsetting, and Homura would have enjoyed whatever they talked about, even if it was the elderly woman ranting about something from the latest bingo night she went to. Why did she think calling her mother was a good idea? Why was it she always chose to make the worst decisions?
Snapping out of it, Homura looked down at Ganko, who stared back up at her with curious eyes. Oh right, her kitten was probably hungry, it was well past dinner time and deep into the night. They both could use some food.
"Thanks for reminding me," Homura said, a weak smile as she stood up, the kitten following her to the kitchen.
She sat on the floor by the water dish, watching as Homura paced around, grabbing what she needed and putting away what she didn't. After a minute or two, a bright blue bowl with food was placed down by the dish, and Ganko happily began chowing down.
"I should probably eat, too," Homura murmured, opening the cabinet and then the fridge to see what all was in there. Really, she didn't feel like cooking tonight, but there didn't seem to be any leftovers in the fridge she could heat up. "Maybe I'll just go out and eat...maybe go to a ramen shop." On second thought, maybe not. The shop was across town. There was a convenience store much closer, but still quite a distance to walk.
Then again, a walk would do her good, maybe; the doctors had suggested some mild exercise and fresh air, and walking could help clear her mind, get it off its current track. She could pick something up and come back home. Then when she got home, if she hadn't managed to ease her mind, she could forget about being hungry, curl in bed and wallow in pity.
The streets were mostly empty, as was to be expected this late at night. Generally, she liked times like these, late at night when she could walk in quiet and not be trapped in the crowds during the day. Not have millions of unknown eyes watching her, waiting for her to trip or bump into someone. But she couldn't find it in her to enjoy it this night.
The entire walk, Homura couldn't stop thinking of her parents.
There were things she had always wondered, ever since she was just a small girl. Why did they prefer their jobs over her? Was it because she was born sick? Was that also the reason that Koji and Aiko hated each other, they blamed each other for her weakness, or had they always had that animosity, and Homura's birth was an unwanted accident that just fueled the fire?
These were questions she didn't like thinking about.
It had been a while since Homura had felt this low, not since around when she'd first befriended Sayaka. She thought she was over all of this, over her parents...why did it still hurt to think about? How could she wind up clinging to such a pathetic dream?
They don't care for you.
"Of course they never cared about me...it was always lies when they said they did. I can't remember them ever showing me actual love..." She was only vaguely aware of herself answering these comments, her body hunched over as she walked.
How could they love someone so weak?
"The only thing they hate more than the weak is each other, and I have both in me..."
They're better off without you.
"Its not like I've made any impact on their lives, like they'd care if something happened to me."
As she walked, her steps becoming unbalanced, her mind began to get hazier, as though a thick fog were settling with in it, making her thoughts cloudy. It was becoming harder to focus, and she didn't have the strength in her to struggle for clarity. The sweet voice continued talking to her. It felt familiar, as though she had felt a similar presence once before, but this was stronger...or closer. It was preying on her current resignations, coaxing out more and more despair from her.
It was hard to tell if her thoughts were her own anymore...
It's not as though anyone needs you.
"You're right, I'm not needed by anyone, I just burden them. I'm useless and weak..."
She passed the convenience store, never looking up from the sidewalk. She'd become blind to her surroundings, only following the voice echoing through her mind.
Even your friends will get sick of you eventually.
"Shizuki-san and Kamijou-san will forget about me sooner or later...Sayaka will move on too and find better-"
The image of Sayaka flashed through her mind, the girl smiling at her, laughing with her, crying to her. No...she wouldn't move on, she wouldn't leave Homura behind. Sayaka would never do something like that. She wasn't the type who would abandon her friends, not after what they'd been through! How could she think so poorly of Sayaka to say she'd do that?!
It was like Homura had snapped out of a trance...no, that was exactly what had happened. Her mind had whipped back into clarity, and the fog that had filled her thoughts was gone. She soon wished the fog would come back; that way she wouldn't have to see where she now was.
The area around her was no longer that of the city, instead, it looked as though it were something from a Tim Burton nightmare. The colors had all washed away, leaving only shades of gray to coat this new world, and many, many black and white stripes decorated the surroundings. Only Homura herself was still in color in this twisted world.
There were spirals everywhere and Homura could hear a distorted laughter from all around her. It didn't sound human. The only foliage around were leafless withered and gnarled trees, and even from here the middle schooler could see screaming and sobbing faces in them, was that actual blood running down from wooden eyes?
"W-Where...where am I?" Had she spoken it or thought it? She wasn't sure and she didn't care, what mattered was trying to find how to get out of here, but there didn't seem any way out. How had she even gotten in here? The strength in her legs seemed to leave as she sank to her knees, trying to process where she was, but it was a hard task when a loud screech echoed through this terrifying world.
From out of nowhere, as if they had suddenly materialized from the smoky air itself, several crows the size of cars began gliding by her. Their feathers were mostly gone, what few remained were mangled and twisted, but even with rotting flesh and bony wings they could still fly. Their beaks were made of steel, reminding Homura of a bear trap with the many sharp grooves. They looked as though they could easily crush anything with their beaks, and Homura dreaded to see what they would do to a person.
Every fiber in Homura's body screamed at her to get up and run, but she found herself paralyzed by fear. There was a deafening drumming in her ears as her heart raced, sending jolts of aches and pains through her chest as the tender muscle began going into overdrive. Cold sweat ran down her skin as she watched the small group fly away and caw at each other, and one began brutally pecking at the other, tearing its flesh apart with its beak and talons.
An eye went falling to the ground.
It didn't kill the other, but now Homura knew where all the gushing wounds came from on their tattered bodies.
So long as they continued attacking each other and not notice Homura, all should be okay. Feeling was slowly returning to her legs, so maybe, if she stayed slow and steady, she could sneak away from these monsters and find her way out of this nightmare world without being seen. She could go home, pretend this was a nightmare, pretend none of this ever-
A buzzing sound rang through her pocket and the air around her stilled.
The monster birds stopped their fighting when her phone alerted her of the dead battery and soon multiple beady red eyes locked onto the girl. Homura stayed motionless as they descended to perch on top of a building, never taking their eyes off her. Maybe she would be lucky and they were like dinosaurs: if she stayed still, they wouldn't see her.
Homura and the crows stayed still, locked in a silent and tense showdown. She could almost hear the seconds tick by slowly. Then, in unison, the crows spread their wings and let out another shrieking caw at her.
One of them, the one that had received the beating from its brethren, took a hop forward, let out its unnatural caws, and took flight. Directly towards Homura.
Her body froze, muscles and joints locking into place out of panic as the fear left her paralyzed, and her head began to feel light from the blood rushing about her body. The bird was closing fast and Homura could see blood stains in its rusty open beak, and knew her blood would soon join the dried bits after this monster crushed her in its cold steel maw.
...That demise never came.
Before it could hurt her, before it could even touch Homura, a flash of blue and white shot between them and a gush of gray blood sprayed out from the now-headless monster's neck as it fell to the ground and dissolved.
Homura could only look up, wide eyed as her savior landed in front of her, taking a stance between her and the remaining monsters before them. The cutlass she held in her hand was wet with the blood of the one demon crow on it, and her white cape billowed behind her even though there was no wind in this nightmare world.
"Homura, I need you to stay right there, can you do that for me?" Sayaka asked, her back still facing Homura, and all the other girl could do was nod meekly. Though it wouldn't be hard to obey, her body was still locked into place.
What was going on?
Authors Note: Woo! Finally you get to see a labyrinth! And Magical Girl Sayaka appears!
Anyways, if you've read my tumblr post, you would know I said I had a different version of this chapter before I lost the files. Essentially, it was just going to be Homura talking to her Grandmother instead of Aiko. I scrapped it, it wouldn't have left the same effect of allowing Homura to get upset enough to be lured into a labyrinth.