Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly
Figure of speech. Rhetorical device. Contradiction. A word game made of gleaming ivory towers that never existed.
Doesn't make it any less true.
Kyouko swallows several times, clutching her bag of fruit closer to herself.
The question feels like a weight between them, warping the fragile fabric of their relationship until it defines them rather than the other way around.
The redhead suddenly looks very small, lost in the folds of her too-large jacket and the shadows cast by dilapidated walls and broken, stained glass windows. Her wrists are too thin, too dirty and the bags underneath her eyes have accumulated years worth of weariness.
She is shorter than Homura remembers.
Funny how she didn't notice that before.
"Kyouko," Homura tries, "did your father-"
"Heard you the first time," the redhead replies. Her tone of voice is probably intended to be harsh but it feels pained instead. "I – I owe you Princess, but…"
Eyes that don't beg are pleading with her.
Homura knows that tone of voice. Those eyes.
She's used it herself. On Madoka. Always Madoka.
You don't want to know. You can't know. I've seen the end of this story and ignorance doesn't only mean bliss, it means survival. I will protect you. Even from yourself.
Her trigger finger itches in sympathy but old instincts are hard to kill.
Wishes were granted.
"I need to know," Homura says, taking a step forward.
She doesn't know it, but she has that look on her face. The one which terrified Sayaka, the one that could watch Mami and Kyouko die, and the one that hurt Madoka more than the pink-haired girl could ever hope to tell. The one which doesn't care whether or not a timetraveller is tired, suffering from a headache brought upon by alcohol she doesn't remember consuming or about to die killed by Walpurgis Night.
But this Kyouko has seen faces just like this one before.
Maybe all Kyoukos have seen faces like this one.
"You don't need to know,"the redhead whispers. "And please don't ask."
Homura stops herself from reaching into her shield but only just.
Homura works her mouth a few times and discovers her immediate social skills have decayed beyond disuse into something that might vaguely resemble rusted barbed wire. "Please? Kyouko?" She knows she sounds lame but cannot help it. She has heard Sayaka call her mysterious once. It's true in the same way a the glass shards of a broken beer bottle look mysterious. "This is… important."
Kyouko opens her mouth before closing it. Opens it again. "I'm calling an ambulance for Saito's goons."
Then the redhead walks towards and past her.
Homura blinks something away as she looks at Kyouko's back.
This feels familiar somehow.
They walk in something closer to cold than to silence, feet tap-tapping against old concrete; one in sneakers old and stained, the other in black boots with just a hint of heel. Homura watches as Kyouko dials emergency services on the payphone. The first attempt must have been a misdial because after speaking into the receiver she immediately hangs up and tries again.
There's a part of Homura that wonders why it's necessary to call at all, another part that remembers that leaving the thugs to die would be as bad as killing them.
But the relevant link between why it's bad to kill and why it's bad to kill these particular people has gone missing. A change in the air, or maybe just a shift in the wind causes her to look back.
The witch is there, looking at her with an expression Homura can't identify.
"It's funny," her witch says, as Kyouko continues talking into the phone, oblivious to the witch's presence. "You were here just yesterday. Throwing yourself at Madoka." The witch lifted a hand to the sky as if in supplication. "Weren't you all: 'Madoka take me back, I'm not a monster, really, I'm not'?"
As her voice trails off Homura's jaw clenches and unclenches. Now that she's… slept on it, albeit badly, the witch used those goons to distract Homura from the real issue. Wishes. Wishes might have been granted.
"Where are the others?" Homura demands.
The witch raises one elegant eyebrow and lowers her hand.
"It's rude, you know, just switching subjects like that," she replies airily. "Ignoring my words like they're… meaningless. Like they don't matter. I am trying to help you, you know. Let me have my moment. Goodness knows that you'll take everything else."
Homura keeps her mouth shut and the witch nods in satisfaction.
"So, as I was saying, it's funny. Madoka's the one you want to be human for, but hey… you even begin to suspect that there's a witch out there and you will gladly be her monster. A priest in the style of old, heart set on the purifying properties of fire." The witch pauses before continuing, musingly: "She's your God isn't she? Or something close."
When Homura doesn't answer, the witch gives her a long, considering look. "So what does that make you, hm? Her prophet? Or her hard-working Lucifer?"
Another muscle in Homura's jaw twitches.
The witch stalks closer.
"I thought yesterday would have made things clear. Those two boys bled so prettily, didn't they? You don't want to be human," the witch says softly. "You don't want to be the monster either, but... hey, no one ever thinks that the Devil might do what he does out of love for God. Because someone has to do it and maybe the Devil doesn't want to see Him get his hands dirty. Such a twisted, beautiful love. The truest that there is." The witch chuckles dryly. "But that's a narrative not written. Because people like to think that love is healthy."
Homura is very still as the witch leans closer, so close that her chin nearly rests on Homura's shoulder.
"But we both know that's not true," comes the whisper. "I can still feel it. The beating of your tired heart when little Sakura here decided not to make things clear. Whether it was hypnotism, drugs, a misunderstanding… or actual, bona fide wish magic." She gestures towards the phone booth and to the redhead inside. "Because that's what you live for, Homura. You're like a soldier from the trenches, from the poems. If there's no battlefield, you'll make one up. Because it's who you are now. That scared little girl, underneath the bridge? She doesn't want the monsters to go away. She wants them to come back. Because they make her feel alive. Make her feel useful. And that's what you want to be. A pathetic little serving girl."
"Where are the others?" Homura asks steadily. It's just provocation.
And despite what the witch says, she could be normal.
The witch smiles. It is full of perfect, shiny teeth that Homura doesn't have. "Why don't you ask little Sakura here? All you'd have to do is what you did yesterday to those two little derelicts. Maybe less. And it could be so enjoyable. She's still so soft and fragile and... yummy. All hard edges and humor and half-broken faith. And strength. All that strength. But that makes it even better, doesn't it?" The witch licks her lips. "She would look adorable, wouldn't she? Covered in tears and blood, whimpering over a broken-"
She won't be provoked.
It's expected. The price for the witch's help yesterday. Torment. Sharper and more vindicative than usual.
Irrationally, she still feels hurt.
"Where are the others?" Homura demands, one last time. Rule of threes.
Her alter ego's voice is a gleeful stage whisper. "You know I can't lie."
Yes. She knows.
That's why it hurts at all.
The witch smiles in the most awful way imaginable and like the Cheshire cat it's the last thing to disappear. "We're alone, Homura. We always were. The layers I talked about are all perfectly human. Blessed humans, perhaps, but humans all the same. Unlike you. But pretend away if you like."
A whisper, no, maybe just a thought lingers, something almost like perfume.
You can still save the universe, you know.
"Yo. Anyone home?"
Homura blinks at the hand shoved in front of her face. Kyouko must have finished the call while the witch was visiting.
"H-hello?" Homura manages. Her tongue feels too big for her mouth.
Kyouko mutters something to herself and stomps back towards the church. Halfway back and nearly stepping over the bodies of the thugs the redhead announces, conversationally: "Princess, I don't think I ever even got your name."
Is… is that so.
"Akemi Homura," she replies. She can't look at Kyouko in the eye and ends up staring at her feet. "C…c-call me Homura."
"I think I will," Kyouko decides. "Homura… why are you following me? Was this -" her toes gesture towards the thugs but her voice encompasses the past few days, "all just to ask about my father?"
The redhead is as close to frustration as Homura has ever heard her.
No, there was that time in the hospital's waiting room.
Homura shakes her head.
Kyouko gives her a funny look. "No need to lie. Everyone wants him. Crummy old bastard." They make it to the church doors. "So. What do you need him for?"
How exactly do you tell someone that their father might be involved in an interstellar plot to stave off the heat death of the universe and in so doing, possibly destroy the earth? Also, she might end up killing him. That was an awkward conversation right there.
"I – I- I don't need him, I-"
"Save it," Kyouko mutters. Shaking her head, the redhead opens the door and gestures for Homura to follow. The door swing shut behind her. It closes with a loud, unfortunate creak of rusted hinges and old metal hitting wood. In the half-dark of the lightless church, Kyouko turns to her. She looks peculiarly determined. Homura has seen that look. It's the look of someone with a plan.
"At least answer this: have we met before?"
The time traveller licks her lips. This is not, strictly speaking, a question that can be answered by yes or no. And she feels like she's being trapped.
"Not in this life," Homura admits carefully.
"Funny," Kyouko murmurs, "I remember meeting you." The redhead grabs her bag of fruit and other assorted foodstuffs from the pew where she left it and picks out an apple. Homura has the distinctive impression that the redhead is lying. The redhead looks ever so slightly guilty. It's in the smile. "It was a dream." Before Homura can process this particular revelation Kyouko adds, too bland to be innocent: "What were you doing under the bridge when we met?"
Maybe not a lie.
When Homura doesn't answer, Kyouko continues speaking, walking deeper into the church. "You were going to do something bad, weren't you? Something that would make a random mugger something of a relief, huh?"
Homura remembers the comfortable feeling of metal in her hand. The soothing pull of the river. The easy way she could imagine falling down and never standing up again. There being an end. Maybe the witch is right. Maybe she doesn't feel complete without the fight.
But that doesn't mean she can't pretend.
Homura looks at her feet.
"Perhaps," comes the ghostly whisper.
Kyouko scratches her head before biting into her apple. "You looked different in my dream. Different outfit. Different attitude." She shakes her head. "You were smiling. And didn't have a gun. You just…" the redhead made a crescent with her bitten apple, "walked in and smiled as the waves took you away."
That did sound nice.
Kyouko must have been examining her face rather carefully because only a second later she mutters, disgustedly. "Jesus Christ, I hate being right. You're smiling right now." She thrusts the bag of fruit into Homura's hands. "Okay, I think I understand. Hold this."
Homura holds the bag of fruit, confused.
"For the record," Kyouko adds, still looking disgusted, "I never had that dream." The redhead plunges into the depths of the church, muttering to herself about weirdos and idiots.
There's a part of Homura that feels vindicated. She was right. Kyouko was lying.
On the other hand.
How had the witch arranged their meeting?
Kyouko comes back holding what looks like old, photocopies stapled together. It has a number of interesting looking stains.
Homura wonders where it was kept.
"I'm not going to talk about my dad," the redhead warns. "But while you're here I might as well try to do something for you. This is a house of divinity, even if the roof leaks and the floor is rotten and the flock is missing and it's probably a health hazard to an epic degree. But it's still a nice place. Spiritual and all that."
Kyouko holds out the papers and Homura exchanges them for the bag of fruit. She looks at the title curiously.
Management of -
But before she can finish the title, Kyouko has her by the shoulder and pushes her forwards. "Up. Let's go up."
There's a bell tower in the church. Belfry is the word, Homura vaguely remembers. The stairs up are a menace but Kyouko seems rather unworried about the prospect of a messy fall. There's barely any light here – it filters from above and besides Homura is concentrating too much on where to place her feet to worry about what exactly was written on the documents Kyouko handed her.
For a moment she imagines falling.
But that is self-indulgence and nothing more and she moves on. Despite what Kyouko's antipathy towards talking about her father Homura knows that ultimately she must learn the truth, no matter how fantastic or how mundane.
They make the trip in silence, broken by the occasional pause for breath. By the time they get to the very top, they can hear the sirens of approaching emergency personnel. Kyouko climbs out of the sides where the bell is exposed to open in air and drops down from the belfry and onto the roof, one hand on her fruit, the other carefully providing balance.
Homura is impressed: she has trouble enough with her hands free. Shoving the documents into her shirt she tries to copy Kyouko.
They sit together there for a moment.
Or at least Kyouko sits there. Homura has plenty of strength but all the strength in the world doesn't do much when the roof feels like it's going to fall apart underneath your toes. Finally, she finds a spot that is relatively intact and sits down.
It creaks ominously.
"I never did thank you," The redhead asks as Homura gets herself settled in. Scarlet eyes gaze upon the horizon.
"You're welcome?" Homura replies faintly. Kyouko snorts and takes another bite out of her apple. Homura finally manages to get comfortable and takes out the pile of papers from her shirt and crinkles the old pages open.
The vocabulary here was apparently far beyond Kyouko's level – there are question marks on nearly every word and scribbled explanations. The title almost jumps out.
'Management of Fatal Familial Insomnia.'
"Is this what your sister has?" Homura asks, flipping the package of papers open. The words 'progressive', 'seven to thirty-two months', 'untreatable' and, of course, 'fatal' pop out of the page.
In essence, you can't fall asleep and then die.
Kyouko is still looking at the horizon.
"Maybe… maybe it's nothing to you but Anko is all I have left. Treatment is… very expensive. And experimental. At first the doctor was interested because it's such a rare condition and usually never happens in someone her age but... no one does anything pro bono anymore. She was up for almost a month without sleep. Kept on telling me how tired she was. All I needed was money and she could have a few nights of solid rest again before we had to do things over."
The redhead swallows before loudly clearing her throat. "And I couldn't do anything except beg the doc and steal pocket change for her. I was… pretty desperate. So. Um. Thank you."
There's a funny feeling at the pit of Homura's stomach. It's unfamiliar and not precisely comfortable… but it's not exactly painful either. "You're welc-"
The sound of sirens and screeching tired swallows her acknowledgment. Below the paramedics finally arrive and start bundling up the two thugs. None bother to look up. And why should they? Within moments they're gone.
"Y-you're welcome," Homura repeats.
"Not really," Kyouko mutters. She's looking up at the sky. "Homura, do you think my father can help you? Is that what this is about? You want a memory erased or a trauma undone? Because that's not what he does. He can't call on God and make everything alright again. It's... it's something else. Something terrible. And you, you have to work through your issues. With the kind of money you throw around you could get yourself a counselor or therapist easy. Some might even be able to help you."
"That's not it."
"Really?" Kyouko asks, sounding skeptical. She starts ticking off fingers. "You're not here to steal my supposed 'inheritance.' You're not one of Saito's. I don't think you're here on behalf of my missing, asshole father. You're not even here to sleep with me. And this morning I wake up and two of Saito's goons are painting the steps of the church red and you're sobbing about perfect worlds."
No one ever suspects the magical time traveling zombie.
"And there's more." Kyouko switches her gaze from the sky to Homura and ticks off her other hand. "You're used to blood. You're hyper-aware of your surroundings. You don't like men and you don't like being touched."
Homura winces. Those observations cut a little closer to home.
Kyouko shifts her weight and scoots towards Homura. Gently she asks: "What happened?"
"You wouldn't believe me," Homura whispers. She's a little too aware of Kyouko's body heat and it's making her uncomfortable for reasons she's not entirely sure she's at ease with just yet.
"Try me," Kyouko asks.
It's always a bad idea. A hundred times she tried. Literally.
It never worked.
But she tries again.
"The universe is dying.
No, it's not a metaphor.
Or-or maybe it is. I guess the universe isn't really alive so maybe it can't die. Not like we think of death, anyway- have you heard the poem? 'Do not go gentle into that good night'? It will happen a bit like that.
'Burn and rage at the closing of the day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'
All the lights will go out, Kyouko. Each and every one. It will be cold. A cold you can't imagine. And dark. Everywhere and forever.
And that will be 'The End.'
So in this dying universe an old race raged against the dying of the light. But they couldn't stop it. They didn't know how. And they raged. It was rage without anger, destruction without purpose, nihilism without despair. It was terrible, Kyouko. They... are, well, they aren't conquerors. More like a force of nature. They... they don't feel. They can't feel. So they can't empathize. But even so, they don't want to end.
So they raged against the dying of the light.
But then they found a little blue and green world with cities made of glass and steel..."
"You don't believe me," Homura whispers, interrupting her story mid-sentence.
Kyouko grimaces. Her apple is untouched. Perhaps out of deference, more likely out of shock. Clearly she wasn't expecting anything like this. "I, um-"
"It's okay." Homura mutters, bringing her knees to her chest and placing her head on them. Her hair drapes over them, almost like a dress. "No one ever does. Not until it's too late. And it's always too late."
Kyouko is silent.
"It's funny," Homura says, an unconscious mirror to her witch. "I tried to tell them about it, again and again. How far gone you had to be just to get the opportunity to look into the abyss. You were always the one that came closest to believing." Shrug. "Maybe because you already saw it."
"Homura?" Kyouko asks, bewildered and sounding a little scared. "I was making that up. We never met. That dream thing was me being clever. Or trying to. Ha."
Explaining what she meant would involve trying to explain the story again.
"I… enjoyed this." Homura whispers and is almost surprised to discover it's true. "These past few days." She swallows, suddenly tired. "Please don't make me go away."
Homura doesn't beg.
Well, maybe she doesn't want to be Homura right now. Her witch is right. Homura would force the truth from Kyouko's lips and damn the consequences. There's a part of her, even now, that wants to. And maybe that part of her would even thoroughly enjoy it, in a sick, twisted way.
But there's another part that just wants Kyouko to sit there and listen to her as she tells a story and maybe make a snippy comment or disbelieving snort or... something.
It'd be… nice.
Normal. Because that's what normal people do, right? They throw pity parties and have BFFs and don't think about the end of the universe (or maybe just the world) because that's not their problem and maybe they even climb onto rickety old buildings and watch the sun go up despite the smashed windows and the junk and the disrepute.
Okay, so there's the issue of them being homeless, and Kyouko's little sister and the witch in her head but it's…
It's kind of pleasant anyway and Homura doesn't want to leave.
Not right now.
They sit there for a moment.
"A long time ago," Kyouko murmurs, sounding solemn, "people would go to churches to seek sanctuary. And the church wouldn't turn them away, no matter who they were or what they had done." Homura can hear the redhead wet her lips as she searches for some long ago buried memory and recites it, rote. "'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares'." She bites into her apple. "I always liked that one."
"I'm not an angel," Homura notes neutrally.
"Yeah, well, I wanted hospitality too so it's not strictly out of the goodness of my oh-so charitable heart," Kyouko returns, kind-of grin in her voice as she punches Homura's shoulder playfully. Homura's face is still buried in her knees. "I have faith in a lot of things that most people don't. God for one. You for another, goodness knows why."
Gently, she tilts Homura's chin up until they're looking straight at each other.
"So um, please, tell me your story."
It takes… hours, maybe. Breakfast flies by and is composed of apples and Kyuubey and the subject of wishes. Kyouko thinks it's a load of horse dung: how can Kyuubey possibly be worried about the end of the Universe? and she grumbles when Homura says it's true.
"Even I know that the sun has got a million billion years left in it."
"But that's not forever," Homura replies.
"It's not like they'd be there then," Kyouko grumbles back. Then a thought occurs to her. "Would they?"
Homura shrugs but the question frightens her. "I don't know."
"Huh. Well, go on."
Homura does. It's an effort to talk about things that hit closer to home. Waking up in the hospital. Going to school. Her days as a pathetic, weak and somewhat behind the curve. Nearly getting eaten. Madoka, Mami – Walpurgis Night… and then the chance to do everything over.
Kyouko hmmms and says nothing but there's a grin there anyway.
Homura breaks. "You don't believe-"
"Oh stop that," Kyouko chides. "I don't believe that Moses waved his arms and made the Red Sea part either but that didn't make me stop believing in God." Her voice is light. "What I really don't believe though is you acting like a wimp and a crybaby. Continue."
"I'm not lying-"
"Never said you were," Kyouko says in the same tone but it's slightly aggrieved, as if she were talking to a small child.
It occurs to Homura that Kyouko could have demanded validation. But… her abilities didn't work like that anymore. The weaknesses were ironed out. Even the gem was just for show. All of that... but for a price.
"Earth to Homura," Kyouko says, waving a hand in front of her face. "Are you in there somewhere?"
"Yes, yes of course." Homura murmurs. "Where was I?"
"A blonde and a girl with pink hair just saved your ass."
It's easy enough talking about watching Madoka and Mami save the world. Maybe she even captures the original awe and the wonder of an average girl getting to watch heroes do great things. Even if it's all a sham for a few precious moments Homura remembers what it was like to believe that she was living a modern fairy tale instead of one from the Brothers Grimm where children that strayed from the true and narrow were eaten by things that went bump in the night.
But night came anyway.
"Mami was dead." Homura says, blinking her eyes. "And Madoka... looked at me. And she... she said-"
Despite the tears she's already shed, despite the fact that the wound is older than anyone still human, despite the fact that it was something that never happened (and never will) Homura feels her eyes mist up.
"She said she was proud she had saved me," Homura says, choking on her words. "She was so little. But she was saving the world and... she was smiling. And I... I couldn't do anything." Homura's eyes are streaming and her voice is hoarse. "I couldn't do anything."
Kyouko is quiet. Finally: "You love her."
"Maybe?" Homura says. "I... I don't know. I do but it's so much more. It's like this thing inside that I can't understand. Every time I see her face I feel like I could fly or run or just laugh for days on end and then - she glows Kyouko," and her voice retakes some of its old animation despite the rasping quality that is the result of someone who doesn't usually talk at all talking for hours, "I don't know how. She's just so kind. It's so painful to be near and it's so painful to be away and - and is it supposed to hurt?"
Kyouko's voice is soft. "No. But sometimes it does anyway. Love is like that."
"I guess it is," Homura admits quietly. "I just want to be close and yet-"
"-you're scared," Kyouko finishes. "And sometimes you even feel guilty."
Homura stares. Her eyes have stopped leaking but her vision is still a little blurry. Since when was Kyouko a psychic?
"What?" Kyouko asks when Homura continues to stare.
"How did you know?" Homura blurts out. It might come out as a bit of a croak.
Scarlet eyes roll. "How do you think?"
The redhead is probably humoring her by listening to her long and involved tale that but Homura answers with the first thing that comes into her head. "You can read minds in this timeline. Somehow. Maybe Kyuubey contracted with you. Maybe you were born with-"
Kyouko lifts up a warding hand. "Um. Hahaha. But no. I am familiar with guilt though."
The redhead seems to be hinting at something with her last few words but Homura can't quite read the subtext. It could be leaning in any direction, really. Wasn't there an expression about Christian guilt?
"But you shouldn't feel guilty, Homura," Kyouko continues softly. "Not for feeling. Never that."
"But I did things," Homura whispers. "I let them - I let you - die. Again and again and again."
Carefully, the redhead wraps her arms around Homura and lays her head on her shoulder. "Shhh, I'm still here."
"Am I a monster, Kyouko?" Homura asks, dreading the answer. "Am I - am I just some crazy-"
"No one's a monster," Kyouko replies, shushing her. "No one."
Even if it's midday and the sun is still up Homura falls asleep.
Long night and all that.
It's not dignified. There's snot bubbling at her nose and tear tracks running down her eyes and the past few days have made her somewhat ripe smelling. Her hair's a tangled, awful mess an the heel of one of her boots is threatening to divorce the rest of her footwear. And her body must have survival reflexes that she consciously suppresses because the moment she does go to sleep, the fact that the roof is unstable and sloped and dangerous causes her to press herself against Kyouko more tightly.
Maybe she snores, maybe she doesn't.
All she knows is that for the first time in her life, someone holds her when she falls asleep.
And despite the tears-
Despite the doubt-
Despite the worry-
Despite even the witch-
It's kind of... nice.
And when Homura dreams, no one's dying.
And that's kind of nice too.
I have no idea how people got on with typewriters. I've re-written this thing enough times to have lost track as to who said what and when. I'm reasonably happy with this chapter but if you spot something strange, do point it out.
In more interesting news, there is at least one line in this chapter that more or less gives you the key to the original wish that set this all off. There are probably others, but they're less interesting.
In other news, I'm starting to suspect that my PM thingy isn't working so I'm going to start addressing issues here.
Sayaka's 'freak' comment: I re-watched episode one (which has so much blatant foreshadowing it's actually kind of heartbreaking – Sayaka shipped Homura and Madoka together in a throwaway line) and I admit it feels more than a little awkward in that light. However, I hold to my characterization that Sayaka dislikes Homura (or is protective of Madoka) to the point where she'll say things she doesn't truly mean. Also, inventing an OC for that one purpose is kind of awkward. Yes, mark of an amateur, sorry, super-limited pool of characters to draw from and all that.
Fatal Family Insomnia: This is a real disease and is currently without cure. I highly doubt it could be cured in the way I've hinted at but it's theoretically possible that a cure could involve some very specialized hormone treatment that goes at the problem sideways but requires constant supplements and thus costs an exorbitant amount that must constantly be paid.
Christian symbolism: I am not myself Christian. I've tried, however, to use any mentions of the religion relevantly and without making any of it overly trite or cliché. If any of you were offended, I apologize and beg that you mention how I could improve the scenes; I'm always a little leery about writing what I don't know. Kyouko isn't exactly religious but she still prays for her sister and might be a little more open-minded about certain subjects for reasons that go beyond just religion.