Anything worth doing is worth doing badly
"But it's not fair, Homura-chan, you're always protecting me – always, always protecting us. I'll-"
"Madoka… Please… You have to break the cycle. This is the only way."
Homura wakes up in a world where the only witch is the one in her head.
It isn't getting out.
She is normal.
It's a mantra that she repeats to herself.
She is normal.
She is normal and she is in eighth grade. Today she will start as a transfer student. She will need glasses because she a mild case of myopia and she is a transfer student because she hasn't been out of a hospital bed for half a year.
Her recovery… well, some might call it miraculous.
She wears her hair in braided twin tails and has never held a gun. She is smart but not brilliant, shy but not prickly. Her best subject is history and she's terrible at math.
She is a bit of a crybaby and quite a bit of a coward.
She has never fought witches, never seen the end of the world, never seen her best friend die a thousand hundred times, never killed an alien but she has doomed the universe to a slow, lingering death.
Her name is Homura Akemi and this is the first day of the rest of her life.
And she is normal.
"Now introduce yourself, please!"
This is the four hundred and eighty-eighth time that sensei has had her introduce herself to the class. This is the second time she has played with the strap of her bag between nervous, idle fingers. It's easier than she thought it would be, going back to being weak. Stuttery.
"H-h-hi. My name is Homura. Akemi Homura. Umm. It's – it's nice to meet you."
The class looks on in earnest interest. Homura smiles. It might come off a little strained.
Everything is normal.
The girls surround her, almost like they move in packs. Too much glitter, too much dye. The noise they make make her wince. Homura doesn't remember how she reacted in the first timeline. Fear? Anger? Anxiety?
Probably by staying silent and waiting for someone to rescue her.
Right, Madoka came for her, didn't she?
She doesn't remember.
But Madoka definitely came for her. That she remembers. Madoka came, introduced herself as the health officer and they walked down the corridor and exchanged names. She remembers that. She initiated a different version of those events several hundred times after all. It would be hard to forget.
So she waits.
And waits. The girls continue to chatter and Homura gives out half-answers, eyes lingering on Madoka's chair. It takes her ten minutes to realize that Madoka isn't coming for her and that she has to focus on something about designer clothes and the latest movie starring some guy that doesn't matter.
The pink-haired girl continues to speak avidly to Sayaka.
The entire time, Homura has but one thought:
Homura's fingers itch.
She spent too much time solving problems through the expedient of shooting them until they coughed up an answer.
Her left hand grabs her right before it can reach into a shield she no longer carries.
She follows them.
Some might call it stalking.
She did it for four hundred and seventy-three lifetimes and Homura doesn't care what some might call it. She knows though, even without having to wait until they've gone back home. There's nothing different. Madoka still smiles the same way. Laughs the same way.
She just… she's just not paying any attention to her.
Was that the price? The price of the wish that made everything… normal again? That she and Madoka be separated forever? She doesn't remember – doesn't quite remember but it's possible that the wording did make it happen-
Yes. She can accept that.
So long as Madoka can be happy, so can she.
A witch visits. She sounds a lot like a certain redhead, down to the arrogant swagger and lack of respect for other people's personal space.
Appearance-wise she could be her twin.
"He-hello-" She says hesitantly.
The other her approaches, shaking her head mournfully. "Now, now, don't give me that pretend stutter. You are amazing. You really are. Why are you stuck playing the village idiot again?"
"I'm- I'm just- as long as she's happy-"
The witch hunkers down in front of her and puts cold hands on her face. "But then you won't be happy, will you? Everything you did, everything you sacrificed and now…"
Fingers caress her jawbone and trail off to her neck.
Homura shakes herself free.
"I am happy. I really am!"
She's shouting, shouting without meaning to.
But it's only a dream.
The witch smiles slyly as if she's already won. "Prove it."
Madoka looks up. "Akemi-san!" Blinding smile. "Do you need something?"
For a terrifying moment, Homura has no idea what to say.
"Cat got your tongue?" Sayaka laughs. Homura gives her a furious glare and the teal-haired girl puts her hands up in mock surrender. "Woah, geez. I'm just joking."
"It wasn't a very nice joke," Madoka says crossly. "Akemi-san has been in the hospital for a long time, you have to be nice, Sayaka-chan," she lectures.
Homura feels her heart lighten.
"I just – I just wanted to know if you were free-" Homura stutters.
Everything is all right.
She is normal and she is asking Madoka out (kind of) and everything is-
"You don't have to act so nervous," Madoka says cheerfully, slurping on her slushie. "Call me Madoka."
This Homura remembers.
"I – but that's- I couldn't - such familiarity-" she says, already knowing what Madoka's answer will be.
"It's fine! How about I call you Homura?" Madoka asks.
"Umm… people don't usually call me by my first name…"
In the first timeline it was because she spent most of her time in a hospital. In the ones after that it was because she just got colder and more unapproachable and no one dared.
No one except for Madoka who always had the same comment.
"Aw! But it's such a cool name!" Madoka complains.
"I'm – I'm not -" and then Homura realizes with another jolt of terror that she doesn't remember how this part goes. "I'm not worthy of-"
Madoka turns. "That's not true! You have a cool name – so you should act cool to match it!"
Homura's wanted to do the same thing nearly five hundred times.
So this time she leans forward and-
The witch is back.
"You went a little fast there, sugar."
Homura's eyes are red, even in the dream. Perhaps only in the dream. She turns her face away.
"Oho? Don't treat me like that. We're best of friends, you and I." The witch sidles closer, almost sitting in Homura's lap.
Homura keeps her mouth closed.
"Come on, this isn't unsalvageable. Just do it. Rewind time. Why not? What have you got to lose?"
Sayaka is waiting for her when she walks out the door of her apartment.
Homura narrows her eyes. Four hundred plus timelines and Sayaka has never done this before. Did the thought of curing her friend's hand really consume that much of her life?
"You made Madoka cry," the teal haired girl says, idly twirling a pencil through her fingers.
Homura rubs her eyes tiredly. She really isn't in the mood for this.
"Why did Madoka call me last night?" Sayaka asks. "Why was she crying?"
"I…" of all the people she's met, Mami annoyed her the most because the blonde always forced Madoka to become a Puella Magi but Sayaka… Sayaka was always so righteous even when she understood nothing.
"I love her." Homura admits.
Sayaka's face contorts and Homura can't bear to see the naked expression of pity there.
"You've only known her for a week."
A week and what – a hundred years? Something like that.
"Well, if you really love her, please… back off. She doesn't need to be lumped in the same category as fr - people like you."
Sayaka was about to say freaks.
What a riot.
Sayaka leaves and Homura falls slowly to her knees and doesn't cry.
Maybe she isn't normal, even when she is.
She hears the whispers. Rumours.
People call her freak behind her back. Girls don't want to go in the same dressing as her. Taunts and jeers and whispers. Sayaka probably didn't leak it. If nothing else she's… just not the type.
Still, that leaves one person.
No. Madoka wouldn't. She wouldn't.
Not her. Not her Madoka.
Someone does slip her a love letter though.
That's a positive sign, right?
She could cave all their faces in. It wouldn't be hard.
And it's so, so very tempting.
Sensei asks if anything is wrong.
Everything is right and that's what's wrong – but how do you explain that? Without going to the nuthouse, anyway?
So she smiles instead and mentions a headache.
Two days later she runs.
The police will be confused. She's so used to setting up her identity that she's already gotten her own apartment and managed to fool whatever agency is supposed to be looking after orphans like her. It'll look weird. It's too slick for someone of her means.
She doesn't really care though. It's not really home.
There's nothing left to define it as home. For so long her life has always been about protecting Madoka… but there's nothing left to threaten her.
Nothing but a girl named Akemi Homura who has an itchy trigger finger and a witch in her head.
On the train, evil twin visits again.
"You're running," the witch notes idly, examining her nails with a practiced eye. She's wearing the diamond mark the Homura doesn't. Not anymore. Winks at her in a way Homura would not. "Girl, that's not like you."
Homura shakes her head sharply. "You don't know who I am."
The witch's face lights up. "Oh! The stutter's gone!" Leans forward for a hug that Homura doesn't reciprocate and whispers: "Does that mean I can expect great things from you now on?"
Homura jabs her gun into the witch's side and isn't surprised when her body disappears but her laughter lingers.
She gets off at a random stop.
Well, more precisely, she gets off between stops. Society is too high tech. Too wired. If they want to, they'll find her. Credit card, debit card, bus pass, cell phone, telephone card – heck, half the guns she's stolen have some sort of identifying mechanism in them.
Of course, those guns are in a different dimension where GPS doesn't track.
But in any case, it's best to disappear… abruptly.
Time stops as she hops out.
She finds herself underneath a bridge, toying with her beretta when a girl, dirty and bruised walks up to her, without any apparent care. Her hands are thin underneath her layers. Red hair sticks out underneath a grimy cap.
Of all the coincidences…
"Is that real?" The girl asks, voice a little too brittle to be friendly.
"Kyouko," Homura greets automatically before remembering that they've never met but then she's being jumped.
It's pathetic, but Homura's reflexes have dulled and most of all, she doesn't actually want to hurt Kyouko.
They've always been similar. Fighting to save people who don't want to be saved.
And even when everything goes back to normal they...
They're not normal.
It takes a minute but Kyouko's wiry strength comes out on top. She sits on top of Homura's chest and points the gun at her head.
"Alright, hand over all your money," Kyouko commands.
"The safety's still on, Sakura-san," Homura says dryly.
This Kyouko has never watched stolen cable TV (or maybe she has) but she's still not an idiot. The muzzle waves threateningly in front of her face.
"Just hand over your goddamn money."
Homura sighs as she digs through her pockets. The exercise is made somewhat more difficult by the presence of the ninety pound teenager sitting on her chest. "Aren't you little curious why I know your name?"
"What?" Then Kyouko actually laughs. She pulls at her dirty red hair, gun still trained on Homura's head. "Saito told you, right? But if he thinks-" the girl takes a deep breath and gets herself back under control. "Okay, you know what? Just give me your freaking money."
"Kyouko-" Homura trails off because she never paused – not once – to consider what a perfectly normal world would do to someone like Kyouko.
No, deep down she did. She knew.
She just didn't care.
"Here," Homura says, offering a wad of cash and coins.
Kyouko jumps up, wearing clothes either too small or too large and then waves the gun threateningly as she grabs the fistful of change. She goes through it and the gun shakes.
"Where's the rest?" The redhead asks.
Homura blinks. There was ten thousand yen there. That's not exactly chump change. "Kyouko- it's all I -"
"Where is the rest?" Kyouko screeches, gun jittery.
Homura reminds herself that she can stop time but her – rather more intelligent - brain reminds herself that her reflexes aren't good enough to avoid getting shot if the trigger is pulled. Perhaps she should just end this farce.
But she's curious. "Why do you need so much money?"
Kyouko takes a breath – but then sirens ring and the girl spooks.
Homura winces as the gun goes for a dive in the river but Kyouko is already running.
Homura shadows the redhead.
Not exactly the most dignified use of the ability to stop time but Kyouko – this Kyouko, anyway – is a lot more perceptive than Sayaka or Madoka and Homura stands out. She's too small, too well dressed, too obviously… rich.
And she's not the only one shadowing Kyouko.
Either she had been annoying gangbangers or they want her for a reason.
Homura considers shooting them and dumping their bodies in the river before remembering that that would be... wrong.
She doesn't remember why though.
But… but it would be wrong.
It's been a long time since she hit anyone with a golf club.
The first time stop and apparently it's not enough. The second one leaves them bloody but hopefully alive.
Not that anyone would miss them-
What happened to your resolve? the Witch within whispers. Didn't you mean to never again use your powers? You're not a Puella Magi. There are no Witches. There is no threat. The Universe is going to die and you killed it-
"Shut up," Homura whispers, throwing away the golf club.
It hits the ground with a clatter.
She looks up to the building where Kyouko was off to in such a hurry.
"Look, I have your stupid money," she hears Kyouko shout. "Just, she's – she's my only sister. Please, I have money-"
Kyouko has a very piercing yell. Very… noticeable.
Should Homura feel pity? For someone who let dozens upon dozens of people die so she could feed her selfish desires?
No. She shouldn't.
But then again, she would be a hypocrite if she condemned her.
A girl named Homura did the same damn thing.
Over and over and over again.
"Hello," Homura greets, planting herself down on the bench next to the redhead in the hospital's waiting room.
Kyouko doesn't jump but there's a tenseness to her fingers. She can almost see the body blow that the redhead is preparing to throw at the slightest indication of violence. "I can't give you back your money."
Kyouko sounds surprisingly distracted for meeting someone who was robbed at gunpoint not ten minutes ago.
"Two guys were tailing you," Homura announces.
"They followed – oh. Oh. Great." Kyouko looks sideways. Her eyes are red. So are her irises. The overall effect is uncanny. "What do you want?"
"I'm not sure." Homura admits and says the first thing that comes to mind. It's shallow and stupid. "I guess I wanted… to see a hero."
"There are no heroes," Kyouko bites out.
The redhead looks like she's debating something with herself.
"How much more money do you need?" Homura asks.
Ten minutes later in Kyouko's perception of time, she's hit with a bag full of cash. The redhead looks at it incredulously.
"You don't want to know," Homura says honestly.
Despite the generosity Kyouko is still suspicious. "Look. I – I don't know what Saito said, but I'm not a whore-"
"But for that much money you would be," Homura says, almost curious.
Kyouko bites the inside of her cheek but nods, a fraction of a degree. Subtle enough you could almost miss it.
Homura shrugs and says nothing.
She follows Kyouko out of the hospital. It's clear Kyouko wants to stay but it's clearer that she's trying to keep her sister under the radar.
After a few blocks, the redhead turns, hands in her pockets. "Alright. Where do you want to do this?"
The girl looks nervous. A little voice in the back of Homura's head cackles.
"I don't know," Homura replies, honestly enough. She watches as Kyouko grits her teeth and walks up to her. A clumsy hand gropes her ass.
Homura is almost too startled to react.
Almost being key.
A vicelike hand clamps onto Kyouko's arm and then twists. The malnourished girl is wiry but she wasn't expecting this. Not from a… client. Or whatever it is their relationship is. She tries to smile through the pain but can't quite manage it and goes fiery instead.
"Ow! What the hell is this for?"
"I did not ask you to touch me," Homura says frostily as she bends Kyouko's arm further.
The girl blinks tears. "Well, yeah, you didn't tell me anything. What do you want? I thought-"
"You thought wrong." Homura says, letting go.
Kyouko mutters 'crazy-ass cutter' (or is it nutter) as she rubs feeling back into her arm and walks away.
They visit two convenience stores. Homura pays for all her snacks. Kyouko pays for about a tenth. They visit increasingly shadier places. Homura can feel the eyes on her – what's a girl like her doing in a place like this? Too young to be working the streets, not in a rich kid's getup like that. And refusing all the pushers. Oddity.
No one likes oddities.
"You're slumming, aren't you?" Kyouko asks as they pass through a back alley. "Looking for a little excitement? Playing hero for all us poor little homeless bastards? You get your jollies that way? It's why rich guys write checks to charities, right?"
Homura takes the idea and tries to shake it around in her head. It doesn't stick. "I don't… think so."
To all questions. Including the one about rich guys.
Kyouko shrugs. "Look, if you want to-" pause. "I mean, that money? I'm not saying I'm not thankful but if you want anything from me, then just say it. Let me pay. I don't want to owe no one nothing."
Homura considers it for a moment.
"Let me follow you around for a bit then," she decides.
Kyouko's eyebrows rise. "Oh… kay then. Follow me, Princess."
"Not exactly the nicest place ever," Kyouko whispers, as they wander through an abandoned church. The pews groan as Homura steps on them. "But not many people will bother us here."
The toes of Homura's shoes crunch on cardboard and discarded candy wrappers. Some of it is sticky.
"Are you expecting people to bother you?"
"Of course," Kyouko says, sounding dismissive. "I don't run with a crew. No one likes someone working independent. But this place? Broken down and condemned. I think the roof might have sent someone to the hospital."
Homura wonders idly if that was a threat. Doesn't really care.
"Why aren't you living with your parents?" Homura asks, genuinely curious.
Kyouko laughs outright.
"Charity to strangers," her witch says, sitting on the pews. She gives Homura a look. "You do know what Catholic priests are reputed for, right? Other than their long, boring sermons and burning witches?"
Homura stays silent.
This is only a dream.
"But who's the priest? Who has the power?" The witch twines her finger in Homura's hair. "That's you, dear. You have the power. All you need to do is – experiment."
Homura looks away.
"Oh, don't think that," her witch says, putting a finger on her lips. Their lips. It's hard to tell, sometimes. "You're already doing great. Robbing mom and pop shops to save a little girl. Giving thugs concussions left and right. Toying with little Sakura's heart-"
That is far too much like Sayaka's accusation and Homura's patience snaps.
"I'm not toying with her heart-"
Her witch laughs. "Oh yes you are. But be careful." Voice lowers into a dreamy whisper. "This one bites."
Homura wakes up.
Her throat isn't slit.
For a moment she almost feels… disappointed.
The moment passes.
Kyouko is waiting for her, rubbing her hands together to ward off the cold. "Princess, get up."
Homura snorts. Her. A Princess. Her back aches and she does feel a little chilly. Her soul gem shimmers in her pocket and she feels her toes again. The little aches and pains melt away. "Where are we going?"
"I'm going to order pizza. You're… going wherever you feel like."
Japan still has payphones.
"Hi, I'd like two super joker pizzas," Kyouko says, bright and cheerful. It's almost sickeningly cute. "Yes, all the toppings. And if you could add some asparagus – yes, that'd be great. I'll be there to pick it up. Twenty minutes? Alright, thanks!"
"Super joker?" Homura asks after the call is made and ten yen has sunk down into the payphone.
"Seafood pizza. Terrible idea." Kyouko says clinically. "They won't be able to sell it. They never will. When I don't show up they'll toss it into the trash." She smiles. "Then I go grab it."
Homura blinks. "That's… pretty clever."
"Yeah, well, don't use it too often or they'll start catching on. And it's not exactly great pizza either. Come on, we have a few hours to kill. Remember, you take care of yourself-"
"I will," Homura says simply.
"Alright, just – just sit there."
Homura sits. "What should I-"
"I don't know. Order a coffee. Some of us have jobs to do."
It shouldn't be that easy for someone with bright red hair to slither into the crowd and turn anonymous but then again Japan is pretty big on the whole dyed hair business. Homura sits and orders a coffee.
She pays them with money from their own register.
"Useless, useless, useless-" Kyouko grimaces as she looks through her haul. "It's like no one carries money anymore."
Homura crooks an eyebrow. "This is the twenty-first century."
Half the people in Japan can pay for groceries using their cell phones.
"Yeah, well – great," Kyouko say, slapping down a handful of credit cards. "What the hell am I going to do with this?"
Homura shrugs. "How much do you need?"
Kyouko looks like she might accept the offer – but the she shakes her head, grumbles: "I can go without. Anko's fine. I'm – I'm fine."
She doesn't trust you because she knows you're dangerous, someone whispers into Homura's ear. She can feel the breath on the back of her neck and is, for a moment, frozen solid.
Homura turns but no one is there.
"How come you don't beg?" Homura asks, while they munch on what is arguably the most… unique pizza in Japan. Kyouko offered her some of it, pro bono. Homura still pays for her slice.
She eats every crumb though.
"How many teenagers have you seen begging for change?" Kyouko asks between mouthfuls of cheese and seafood. "Beggars have their own system. Kids aren't part of it. They get forced out. Adults have the muscle. We-"
"I've seen kids-"
"Oh have you." Kyouko says, sounding terribly old and condescending.
Homura's mouth shuts.
That's probably the first time Kyouko has managed to do that to her.
"You don't see us. That's the point. Teenagers – they don't want to be seen. Not by pigs. Not by adult crews running the underworld. Invisible. That's the ideal. Well, the smart ideal. That's what we want to be. That's what you want to be." She breezes through another few bites of scallops and pizza bread. "Now as long as you don't look too ratty and take a bath every now and then, you can almost pass for normal."
Homura almost chokes on her food and has to fake a vigorous cough.
She notices their followers before Kyouko does.
It would be so much easier to shoot them through the head and dump their bodies in the river.
So much easier.
No one ever suspects the time-traveling magical zombie.
"How many people are mad at you?"
"You're good," Kyouko compliments after they get themselves out of the dumpster. Homura tries not to gag as she crawls out. Her shoes squeak and she is very tempted to go into the Puella Magi wardrobe just to get into something dry.
"Thanks," she mutters.
"How did you spot them?" Kyouko asks curiously.
Kyouko's stops. "You – you're telling me you can do that psychic samurai warrior thing…"
Homura continues to squeak down the alleyway.
"Bloodlust?" Kyouko calls disbelievingly at her back. "Really?"
Homura frowns and looks back. "Can't everyone do that?"
"There is no way I'm going to believe that old fairy tail about killing intent and bloodlust and… and whatever else it is." Kyouko says, while they walk through a grocery store.
People are giving them odd looks. Or maybe just grimaces. They do stink.
Homura watches Kyouko openly sample a few grapes.
"Would you believe me if I said I could travel through time?" Homura asks conversationally, adding a bag of apples to the cart.
Homura shrugs. "Then believe whatever you want to believe."
Kyouko snaps her mouth shut and gives her a disgruntled look. After piling on tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli and tangerines Kyouko stops her.
"Where exactly are you planning on cooking all this?"
It feels like the answer is on the tip of her tongue.
But no. She's following Kyouko.
With a grimace, Homura starts putting most of the vegetables away. She doubles up on their fresh fruit, though. Tangerines can last – oh, a week. Maybe two? Lack of funds has never been a problem for her before.
And they don't have a fridge either.
Homura is tempted to throw everything back and just go with oranges and tangerines but Kyouko is eying the bag of apples so longingly that she decides to run with it.
Kyouko has a look of cautious surprise on her face when Homura hands her half the groceries as they exit the store.
"I'm not your errand girl," she mutters, shoving it back. "That definitely wasn't part of the deal."
Homura pushes them back into her hands. "They're yours."
There are many things Kyouko would refuse but food has never been one of them – in this life or any other. The girl doesn't quite manage to hide her expression of bliss as she reaches into the bag and starts munching on an apple, grocery bags hanging off her other arm.
"Maybe you're not so bad," Kyouko opines between bites.
Homura mentally tallies up the amount of money and trouble that she has managed to save Kyouko from in the last two days and what's maybe a thousand yen worth of food sitting in the bag that Kyouko's carrying and decides that some things just don't change.
Kyouko goes to sleep hugging her bag of assorted foodstuffs.
Homura isn't sure if it's adorable or sad or a slapdash, confusing mixture of both but smiles anyway.
Then she flicks the safety off her gun and walks outside.
Homura counts the number of people who've followed them but can only find two. And they're walking straight towards them.
Can't have that.
She positions herself behind thug one and pokes him with the barrel of her gun.
Thug one stiffens.
"You have ten seconds to tell me why you're following her." Homura tells him.
Thug One has seen too many movies or maybe he doesn't actually believe that a voice that young could be deadly and tries to turn.
He'll wake up with a concussion if he's lucky.
Time resumes and Thug Two who has about three feet, a hundred pounds on her tries to shatter her jaw.
He howls when she dislocates his arm.
Homura shoves her gun underneath his chin and cocks it. Accidental discharge would be unfortunate, yes.
Thug Two shows a surprising amount of self-control as he stops screaming.
"You have ten seconds to tell me why you're following her," she repeats.
Thug Two takes a deep breath.
Homura leans on his dislocated shoulder. "Nine."
"Do you know who Saito is?"
She cans see his nervousness. "Okay, look. Kid. You're good-"
Homura considers cocking the gun or making some other sort of point. Apparently he has seen that look somewhere because Thug Two goes white.
"Okay. Okay! Just stop counting!"
"The redhead bitch is -" he winces when Homura automatically puts more pressure on his injured arm. "-the girl is some rich-ass preacher's estranged daughter. She is worth a lot. If you fuck this up Saito will come for you and-"
"What? That's the truth!"
Open panic. He tries to struggle despite the injured arm and the gun to his throat. "Oh come on. It is the truth."
"Sakura Murata was excommunicated eight years ago. He would have been dirt poor." Homura says tonelessly. "One."
"What have you been smoking? Sakura Murata is a fucking household name. His church was a fucking cult. He made billions of yen."
Homura is mulling this about in her head – it's a bit of a stretch but not impossible…
"Isn't that typical," the witch says. "Only calling on me when it suits you."
Homura wonders about her state of mind when her evil alter ego starts wearing a slinky black dress and leans on unconscious thugs like they're lawn chairs.
"What is going on?" Homura asks. She has the impression she should be shouting but just feels the heady touch of adrenaline pumping through her system. "We had a deal."
The witch smirks in a way that Homura will never manage. It's full of nuance and subtle amusement, a da Vinci compared to a child's sand castle.
"Madoka had a deal. A wish. You were its… beneficiary. Are you jealous you weren't the only one?"
"This is not a blessing." Homura hisses. She points backwards to the church. "She is not blessed either."
"Oh stop whining," The witch bites out, smirk disappearing as she gets to her feet. A hand runs through what is probably supposed to be attractively dishevelled hair.
"You can be a God, Homura. You are the most powerful entity on this pissant of a planet. You have the potential to be the greatest thing in the known Universe. And what have you done? What have you done?"
Despite herself Homura flinches.
"Cured cancer? Freed people from poverty? Explored the stars? Stopped the universe from a slow, lingering death? No." The witch pokes a mocking finger into Homura's chest. "You dig through trash like some common vagrant. But that is much better than what you were thinking while under that bridge-"
"You arranged for Kyouko to find me," Homura deduces, feeling very slow indeed.
Yes, in retrospect the meeting felt a little… convenient.
"Maybe. Maybe not. You might be the big fish in this particular pond," the witch says cryptically, "but you're not the only fish. There are layers at work here." She nods to the unconscious thugs. "Here's a layer: Kyouko Sakura has a sister and they know she has one. Another layer: they are going to hurt Kyouko until she becomes… compliant." Whisper in her ear. "That means rape."
Big, fake smile. She pats Homura on the cheek condescendingly.
"Now be a good girl and do what you have to do."
The witch is using her.
She doesn't like being used.
But she isn't normal and the rage has begun to simmer.
A memory of long ago:
Out damn'd spot
Out I say.
There are still payphones in Japan. Homura slides in the ten-yen coin.
Her fingers shake.
It's only the cold.
Two rings before the other end is picked up. Homura takes a deep breath.
"Hello, may I speak to Mado-"
There's a clatter as the person on the other end drops their receiver before picking it up again.
"Homura! Ohmyg – Homura-chan. That's you, isn't it? Where are you?"
"After you didn't come in on Monday Sayaka thought something had happened so we visited your apartment but you weren't in and we waited but you still weren't in and there are men in black suits wandering around your apartment areyouokay?"
Men in black suits?
"Madoka," Homura says slowly. "Stay away from those men."
"Okay." Madoka says. Homura can almost see the vigorous nodding that accompanies her words. "I will."
She has to go back.
But she can't, she can't-
"…Homura-chan," Madoka says after a moment of silence. "Is everything okay?"
Instinct ingrained into her through hundreds of repetitions yell at her not to say what she wants to say. Homura protects Madoka. That's how the universe works. That's how the universe always works. She made a promise.
"I think I broke something," Homura says as the universe has a temporary malfunction.
"You're hurt?" The pink-haired girl exclaims, sounding like she's going to start going into full-blown panic mode and that means either hyper-competency or a fainting spell.
Homura tries to avoid either. Hyper-competent Madoka is scary perceptive. "No. Not my… not my body. In my head. I'm… broken. Like Sayaka said. Freak."
Homura wipes away the moisture at her eyes and then looks at her own fingers, confused.
This doesn't make sense.
She doesn't… she doesn't cry.
This isn't even what she wanted to talk about.
"Sayaka called you a freak?" Madoka asks flatly; a tone that only someone very close to Madoka would know lies a purity of purpose. Not quite anger but getting there.
"Not, not in so many words…" Homura says before sighing. This… when did this communicating thing get so complicated? "Nevermind. It wasn't like that. She just…" Homura pauses and gets her thoughts in order. "Madoka. I need to ask you a question."
The other girl perks up. "Anything, Homura-chan."
She licks dried, cracked lips. "…is it wrong to hurt people? Bad people? If they were going to hurt you first and-"
There's a pause on the other end. When Madoka speaks again her voice is so sad that Homura almost thinks that Madoka has taken her share of pain for her. Maybe that's how it all evens out.
"Homura… what happened?"
Whatever fledgling courage had been born died because that concern, that kindness always hurts too much.
Homura's hand trembles. Like the tears, she doesn't understand why. She's not good enough for Madoka. Never.
"I'm sorry I called."
She hangs up.
What a stupid question.
What a stupid, stupid question.
Homura slams her head onto cheap plastic a few times before stalking out of the phone booth.
She wakes up to someone slapping her cheeks.
"What are those two doing here?" Kyouko hisses.
Homura blinks groggily. Kyouko is sitting on her chest.
"Two?" She asks sleepily.
Kyouko grabs her by the collar and drags her up. Then she points at the two thugs trussed up in front of the church with a combination of rope and duct tape. And cloth bandages. Homura notices that Kyouko still hasn't let go of her bag of fruit.
"Oh." Homura says intelligently.
"Yes. 'Oh'." Kyouko's face shoves itself in front of her own. "Princess, what are they doing there? Why are they bleeding? I know I didn't do it. So that leaves…" the redhead grins at her, though it's not an expression that reaches her eyes and looks a little frightened. "You."
Homura purses her lips. "I think they wanted to... something… something…"
Kyouko groans. "Oh, come on Princess – wake up. Two bloody men in front of my home. I need to know what's going on."
"Thugs. Wanted to collect." Homura says, waking up. Her eyes widen: she hadn't even meant to go to sleep. "…you. For money. Wanted to hurt you. Bad. Couldn't – couldn't let them. Not fair. Not fair. World isn't fair. This was supposed to be the happy world where everything went right and-"
Kyouko gives her babble a long, considering pause.
"Princess. Are you drunk?"
No. No that's silly.
Of course she isn't drunk.
"You stabbed them." Kyouko says flatly when Homura doesn't answer.
"A little?" Homura hazards.
Her memories are a little fuzzy. And it's not fair. Apparently Kyuubey didn't like them drinking on the job because the pain of the hangover has (in her humble, inexperienced opinion) not been dulled at all.
Kyouko looks at her and then looks away. There is anger there. Real anger. Disgust too, maybe. "Princess. What the hell were you thinking?"
"They were going to hurt you."
"That doesn't mean you can torture people."
No no no. Torture has a purpose.
This was just pain.
You did it because you liked it.
"Princess, you can't just-" Kyouko puts a hand over her mouth and looks away from all the red. "Invisible. I told you we had to be invisible. What part of this looks invisible to you? Huh? God – were you raised by Fortune 500 wolves or something?"
"Four hundred and eighty-seven."
"Four hundred and eighty seven wolves." Homura considers this timeline and supposes it's a bit of a crapshoot already. "And a quarter."
Kyouko gives her an aggressively disbelievingly look. "What?"
"Well, maybe an eighth-"
"You're insane." Kyouko whispers. "You're – you're actually insane."
Homura can't help but laugh.
It might have come out a little strained.
"Kyouko," she asks, "why are you on the streets?"
Layers, the witch called them.
"I can't..." Kyouko starts before shaking her head. "What did they tell you?"
"They told me you were very rich. They wanted to take your fortune. Your father's fortune. A fortune that could help save your sister."
The redhead gives her a furious glare. "Were. Were. Dad kicked us out. He didn't pay a cent for Anko's treatment. And he made people do-" Kyouko takes a deep breath. "Look, we're not even in his will. These people are idiots."
Made people do... what?
"Kyouko," Homura says, feeling very tired all of a sudden. "Could your father control people? Their minds?"
The redhead looks at her with wide, frightened eyes.
Well-meaning, well-intentioned Madoka.
What have you done?
Author's Notes: This was supposed to be relatively straightforward piece. Guess it's not going in quite that direction anymore. Eventual Homura x Kyouko if you haven't spotted it already. The title is somewhat pretentiously taken from Jack Gilbert's poem, Flying and Failing. The subject matter here could probably be rated M but for those of you worried about such things, we should be staying on this side of T.