AN: 9/5-11 EDIT: Outdated author's note changed to properly introduce people to the actual story. The rest of the AN's will remain unchanged.

Occasionally OOC characters, specifically Homura and Mami for in context obvious reasons. Mostly canon, exception being vague things such as the healing/regeneration system of the Puella Magi.

Story read and approved by Chao Heartless. (FF user Chaotrix)


"What are you doing in there?" Homura mainly wanted to express her irritation through the question, so maybe it was just as well that she didn't get an answer. What she did get was the slamming of cupboards and the crackling of snack bags.

Some odd minutes later, Kyouko came out the kitchen, carrying a mountain of energy drinks, chips and cookies coupled with some fruit. Homura just stared at her with an eyebrow raised, saying nothing.

With several thuds and crunches, the food got dumped all over the low wooden table. Kyouko puffed happily, put her hands on her hips and beamed at her guest.

"Help yourself." She said before flopping onto the opposite end of the caramel-colored couch where Homura was sitting, pushing her long red bangs out of her eyes. She snatched a bag of crisps from the pile on the table and opened it with a pop. Hesitantly, the black-haired girl reached for an apple.

"…thanks. Would you mind telling me why you invited me here? Last time I checked, the two of us weren't exactly friends." Taking a bite out of the juicy red fruit, Homura glanced out the window. It was late afternoon, the sun painted the sky in a slue of purple colors, and the time traveler once again found herself wondering if this would be the one.

-I-

She had grown very fond of this timeline. Mami hadn't died like in the previous one, and Homura had at first feared that she would once again push Madoka into making the contract. But as it was, Mami had been badly injured by some witch as some point. It had graced her Soul Gem with one of its attacks, sending Mami into a coma.

Things were all sad and melancholic for weeks, and Kyuubei took what he could from the situation and convinced Sayaka to defend Mami's territory while she was recovering, by becoming a Puella Magi.

"Without someone to take her place, this area will soon be overrun by witches." he said. Of course, he didn't mention that it would also be overrun by other Puella Magi.

The heartless creature then proceeded to explain that the attack had chipped off an actual piece of Mami's soul from the exposed gem, and that when she would woke up (it was apparently "when", not "if"), she might not be the same person she had been before.

Homura couldn't care less, she was thrilled to see Madoka so deterred from the idea of becoming a Puella Magi, and it was always good to have everyone alive.

Then, out of nowhere: Kyouko Sakura. Somehow, she had found out about Mami's condition and was there to claim the territory as her own. The usual Kyouko vs. Sayaka scenario played out, but with a new twist: Kyouko decided to cooperate with the righteous Sayaka, in exchange for her getting a large portion of the Grief Seeds. Again, Homura was worried, but the situation worked out the best way possible: Sayaka got to save her precious citizens without burning herself out completely, she learned to fight properly from someone more experienced, and Kyouko got her Seeds.

Then came the big finale. Kyouko got to know Madoka and Sayaka as friends, and Homura as an ally. Around that time, Mami awoke from her coma. Things could've gotten ugly, if not for the fact that the blonde couldn't fight anymore. It was her reaction time and all-round awareness that had been lost, and there was no way she could go back to hunting again.

Mami changed. It was not a dramatic process in any way, the group just saw less and less of her as the days passed, and everyone knew that something was wrong. Madoka became almost as rare of a sight, and Sayaka explained that the kind girl was trying to take care of Mami. The blonde had apparently discovered some of the darker perks of having a quote-on-quote "indestructible" body.

As Sayaka was always off with Kyouko, Homura became an even lonelier lone wolf. This was such a ideal timeline, so much so that she had decided to befriend the group again. The monumental task of beating the Walpurgisnacht without Madoka finally seemed possible. It probably shouldn't have mattered to Homura that she spent most of her time by herself. But it did. So when Kyouko asked her to come over to her place, Homura swallowed her pride and went.

-I-

"You just seemed so very lonely, someone had to take pity on you." Kyouko said in a mocking tone, shuffling crispy potato slices into her mouth.

"How noble. Why don't I believe you?" Homura finished up her apple and looked around for a trash can in which to throw the core, didn't find one, and threw it back into the pile of Kyouko's food. The redhead didn't seem to mind.

"Oh c'mon, Homura. Is it that unlikely that I felt like inviting a friend's friend's friend over just for kicks and giggles?"

"Yes."

"You hurt my feelings, girl." Kyouko chuckled before throwing the now empty bag on the floor, where it joined its brethren. Her apartment was littered with remnants of her meals: bottles, packs and bags everywhere. It was too bad, it was a nice apartment. Homura briefly considered asking how she had been able to get a hold of a place like this, but realized that she didn't care all that much.

"You seem oddly carefree." Homura instead pointed out. It was not unusual for her fellow Puella Magi to be cheerful, but it was often enough a prickly sort of mood. The redhead would brim with sarcasm, spouting jokes and occasional profanities.

"Why wouldn't I be?" A crackling was heard as a pack of chocolate chip cookies met its end at the hands of the voracious beast.

"How is the witch hunting going?" Homura asked for lack of anything better to say.

"Quite well, now that little miss heroine can hold her own in a battle. Sometimes I regret accepting your deal, she's a piece of work."

"Don't complain, you love bossing over Sayaka. Besides, people like her aren't supposed to be Puella Magi."

"I couldn't agree more, but what can you do 'bout it? Kyuubei isn't exactly selective."

The conversation continued, mostly touching on random topics about their lives together with the other three girls. They spent an impressive amount of time trashing both Sayaka and Mami, even if the latter received some praise for her skill and firepower, along with some extremely halfhearted sympathy.

Kyouko wasn't that bad, Homura realized. They were both very defensive, but in very different ways, so they had a hard time getting along.

Eventually and inevitably, silence filled the small apartment room, only broken by the crunching and slurping of cookies and orange juice, respectively. The setting sun outside lit specks of dust on fire, and they happily swirled around the room, showing off their glowing qualities to the two quiet girls. It was not an unpleasant silence, as neither of the two felt the need to fill it.

Homura was about to call it a day and leave, when Kyouko chucked a plastic bottle across the room. It hit the wall with a hollow dunk and rolled off into a corner. Through the seemingly random action, the fanged girl came to a silent decision.

"You like Madoka, don'tcha?"

"W-what?" The question was so out of the blue that Homura flinched. She didn't have to look to see Kyouko grinning at her reaction. She felt it.

"Madoka. Short-ish, pink hair. Fiddly and nervous demeanor."

"Don't play dumb. What the hell are you talking about?" There was a short moment when Homura thought that the question had been just a stab in the dark, and that she would easily be able to deny the sudden claim. But alas…

"I've seen you. Following her around all the time." The explanation was painfully valid. Homura shadowed Madoka from time to time, just to make sure nothing happened to her. Not so much anymore though, Homura had heard enough of Madoka whispering consoling words to Mami, had seen of enough of the two close together in a dimly lit room. Maybe it was during the last few excursions that she'd been careless. It didn't matter.

Kyouko had already come to her conclusion, there was no way to avoid or deny it. Homura knew this, and said nothing, despite it feeling like she was going to burst with indignation. Kyouko raised her crumb-covered hands in a defensive gesture, though still with her characteristic grin.

"Hey, I'm not a prejudiced gal. It's very cute, how you're always looking out for her…"

"Kyouko…" The thought of freezing time and beating the smiling girl to a bloody pulp was very tempting to Homura.

"…and I just wanted to ask you why."

"What?" Homura had completely lost her composure, and wasn't sure how to react anymore. Kyouko shrugged her shoulders in a seemingly uninterested way and started picking at something stuck between two of her flawlessly white teeth.

"I was just…wondering, yeah? I know you're friends and all, but for you to be…ya know, in love with her-"

"I'm not!…" Homura blurted out on pure reflex. Kyouko gave her an amused eye, and received a murderous glare in return.

"All I want to know is…why? Even as friends, you two don't seem that familiar with each other. How come you care for her so much?" The whole situation was absurd. They couldn't be here right now, talking about this. Homura wouldn't accept it.

"If all you're doing is make fun of me, why should I talk about this with you? Thanks for the…food." With that, Homura got up and brushed off something non-existent from her school uniform. Kyouko, leisurely dressed in a T-shirt one size too big and faded short pants, yawned loudly and sprawled out in her couch corner.

"I had hoped you'd stay a little longer." she said in a neutral tone. Her guest ignored her and headed for the door. Homura took a detour around a particularly sketchy pile of trash and reached for the door handle. Then, in the same neutral tone:

"I'm in love with Sayaka."

The reason for Kyouko's strangely serious question became clear, and Homura froze. Seriously? The one word echoed inside her head. Out of all your new acquaintances, you choose me to talk to about your love problems? Seriously?

"So?"

Kyouko stared at the opposite wall emptily, as if contemplating if she should've said anything at all. But then she laughed to herself, picked up an opened pack of Pockys from the table and took one of the sticks between index and middle finger, like one would a cigarette. The snack soon found its way to her lips.

"So. Would you rather head home than hear what I have to say? You can bash me as much as you want, promise." Homura sighed deeply, hand hovering over the handle. Would it be that bad? she thought. To just shrug off this damn shell for one afternoon? After more or less five seconds of feeling like she would split in two, she returned to her corner of Kyouko's couch.

"I agreed to your deal for two reasons. Firstly, you seemed very adamant about reaching an agreement. You can be pretty scary…I mean, persuasive, ya know. But more importantly, the more I ran into Sayaka, the more I realized that she made me feel…"

"Funny inside?" Homura smirked and took another bite out of yet another apple. Kyouko apparently had a soft spot for the red fruit.

"Okay, I deserved that. But no, she made me angry. Infuriated. All of us have been naive girls who want to save the world at one point or another. So I thought that I would help her. Primarily to fight, of course, but also give her some general pointers. Realize that you can't help everyone, for example."

"That must've gone over well." Homura knew very well how incredibly stubborn Sayaka was. She chuckled at Kyouko's look of "duh" and nodded in understanding.

"She didn't trust me at all at first. Understandable, I came close to killing her a good ten, twelve times that first day. It was great, much more fun than killing creepy ol' witches. Of course we did that too, mostly at night."

"At night? That must've been why…" Homura recalled that Sayaka had been absent from school a lot. When she did show up, she had slept through most of their classes. The most important reaction was predictable: Madoka worried, Homura-chan factual and lecturing, Madoka reluctantly acceptant.

"Hey, she insisted. I had to force her home some days when she just wasn't fit for fight. Gotta love that reckless devotion." Yes, praise the trait that cost you your life. It was hard for Homura, ignoring everything she knew. Ignorance was beyond bliss under these conditions.

"Anyhow, I like to think we make a good team. Even if she's awfully snarky with me, I think she's grateful for my help. But I recently realized that there was something more. I still…oh hell, look at that. It's almost dark out there."

It was almost dark. Pieces of deep orange sun could still be seen between two shimmering buildings, and the sky was flaring with color. Ever-so-observant Homura had noticed the time, but had decided not to interrupt the enthusiastic Kyouko.

"You have something to do?" asked the black-haired girl, somewhat disappointed. She had made up her mind: This was going to be the winning run. The final timeline. And she was tired of just standing around acting puppet master.

"Nope. I just thought you would want to be on your way. Though…" The pack that had previously been filled with chocolate-coated biscuit sticks lay empty on the floor. "I don't mind you staying a while longer."

"It's rude to leave in the middle of a story." Homura stated, and performed the mental equivalent of rolling her eyes. Kyouko wanted her to stay, but she would never admit it. So she would stay. Final timeline. No worries.

"Suit yourself." the redhead mumbled, as if it didn't matter either way, but she was practically transparent with excitement. "Like I was saying, I still get so angry at Sayaka. When she makes even the tiniest mistake, I get furious and yell at her."

"And you think you're in love with her because of this?" There was some scorn in Homura's voice, which only seemed to fire Kyouko up even more. She scooted closer to Homura, red eyes glowing with conviction and determination.

"I want to protect her from everything and make sure nothing ever happens to her. But that would be impossible, so I do what I can. I teach her how to avoid getting hurt. Isn't that why you follow Madoka around, because you want to protect her? Then isn't that what our love is?"

"I guess…" Was it really that simple? Homura Akemi wondered. The role of guardian, the feeling of wanting to protect the person you cherish the most in the entire world...was that their common idea of love?

Thankfully, as the room was filling up with way too much philosophical tension, Kyouko became Kyouko again.

"And I don't know if you've noticed, but Sayaka isn't exactly ugly, if you know what I mean." The wolf-like girl's teeth were almost luminescent in the suddenly a lot darker room. Homura looked around for some kind of light source, but didn't find any. It wasn't really necessary, as the red dusk light made everything fairly visible.

"I don't care how 'not ugly' she is, she's loud and obnoxious. You two are perfect for each other." Might as well play along, thought Homura and picked out a random beverage from the pile.

"I don't think the girl who has the hots for someone who looks like twelve should talk." There was quite the hilarious sound as previously mentioned beverage was spat everywhere. Homura was coughing violently and Kyouko was literally writhing with laughter.

"Wha…what did you say?"

"Oh my god…your face was priceless!" Tears of laughter glittered in the sparing light from the city outside. "And the fact that you were drinking while…it was like something out of a movie! C'mon, you can't deny that I'm right…"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Homura wiped her mouth and nose with her sleeve, mentally telling herself never to eat or drink anything when Kyouko was talking. That girl just didn't have any boundaries.

"Are…are you daft? Madoka doesn't even look close to our age. Sure she's cute in a childish sort of way. I'm not into that stuff personally, but it if appeals to you-"

Dunk. A pretty solid plastic bottle hit Kyouko square in the forehead. Her smug smile was gone in a second. This time, it was Homura's turn to laugh.

"Ow, that thing was half-full!" The victim sounded shocked, really.

"It was an accident."

"You know, I liked you better all emotionless and boring." Kyouko's tone became sulky, but her returning trademark grin kinda ruined the overall impression.

"You realize that our…significant others might not love us in the way we love them?" Again, it struck Homura that she was now so lightly discussing the very reason for her existence. And with Kyouko, of all people.

"It has crossed my mind." The redhead admitted, rubbing the sore spot where the bottle had hit. "But I figured, why make things more complicated than they have to be? Besides, it never hurts with a push in the right direction."

"Push?"

"Yeah, you know…" Kyouko jumped up from the couch and went around the table, making big sweeping motions with her feet as to make more room among the paper bags and wrappers. She then put her hands on her hips and shook her head, as if in disappointment.

"No no no. Look, if you want to fight without spending so much energy, you have to get better with that sword." It was a person ingrained with manipulation that could perform such a convincing act. Kyouko sighed in pretend frustration and walked up to an imaginary Sayaka.

Homura could actually picture the indignant look on the proud girl's face when her self-proclaimed teacher criticized her.

"Widen your stance." She could picture Kyouko's hands on Sayaka's hips and legs, relocating a misplaced foot.

"Relaxed shoulders. Your movements always have to be fluid." She could picture Kyouko's hands trailing Sayaka's arms, roughly correcting all errors they found.

"You actually do that?" Homura asked in minor disbelief. The redhead snapped out of character and stopped groping the air.

"From time to time. I'm trying to keep my complaints relatively valid though. She's way too stiff when fighting."

"You can't be serious." Kyouko shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and looked quite pleased with herself.

"No sexual harassment charges as of yet. You should try it some time." It was certainly not unthinkable. It's not like Madoka was the most independent of girls, and she actually trusted Homura in this timeline. It was tempting. But the repressed personality of a shy girl with glasses came in the way. To her, it seemed like taking advantage of, like using. And to do that to her Madoka…

"Yeah right."

"You don't have to do it my way." Kyouko pointed out. She made her way back to the table and sat down on the very edge of it, opposite to her guest. She could tell that Homura wasn't very comfortable with the subject, and that amused her greatly.

"Experiment. Find something that works for you. Madoka is innocent and shy, things like 'accidental' touches will work wonders with her. You just need to loosen up a bit, become a little more…accessible. Like I said earlier, you two don't seem very comfortable around each other. Change that."

Kyouko spoke with great enthusiasm and a mischievous smile. Homura just stared at her, speechless, for a few seconds before bursting out in genuine laughter. It felt relieving.

"You are horrible."

"And you don't have to be so damn serious all the time, Homura. It'll just make you unhappy."

"That's easy for you to say."

"You think?"

The room's color slowly changed from red to blue as dusk became proper night. Homura ran her hand through her long, silky hair and stood up. Something had changed this afternoon. The cold expression she always carried was gone, and the girl felt ten times lighter than usual. Worries, frustration, responsibility, all had been washed away by the rude, carefree redhead.

"I'd better get going."

"Sure, sure." Kyouko yawned with arms raised high. Homura once again made her way to the door of the apartment, with less trouble than the first time. "Remember what I've taught you!"

"Yeah, whatever." Halfway through the doorway, a thought struck the time traveler. She turned to look at Kyouko Sakura, who was still sitting on the table full of snacks, looking out the window at nothing in particular. "You seem oddly carefree." Well, no wonder. She's in love, and she really believes that Sayaka can love her back. If my conviction was as strong, would I be as cheerful?

"Kyouko!"

"Mm?"

"Clean this place up. I don't want to have to wade through trash every time I come here."

She got two gleaming fangs for an answer.

"No promises."