It started raining again. The drops that fell were black like tar, and it was as if the sky was trying to rid itself of the awful substance that had infested its domain. It drenched the earth in its tears, sympathizing with the devastated area. The riverbed was a muddy mess of craters and cuts, the surrounding banks in ruins. The streets closest to the battlegrounds were ripped open, their stores and houses reduced to glass and dust.
Infrastructural wounds gaped opened, empty spaces where there had used to be skyscrapers or office buildings. The damage done by the Walpurgisnacht had been limited, but the gathering had still claimed the lives of many innocent people.
The aftermath was, as it often is, a depressing story. Mami lay unconscious in the soil, Madoka sitting loyally at the blonde's side. The pink-haired wasn't worried about the upperclassman, because she herself was alright. That meant that Mami would be alright as well. No longer in her Puella Magi outfit, she carefully held her multicolored Soul Gem. She took Mami's hand, the gem in between, and then sat like that, just being there.
Visible as a mere dot from the duo's position, Homura stood unsteadily. She was halfheartedly trying to keep her grip around Sayaka's wrist, who squirmed and screamed uncontrollably. The black rain turned her tears coal, and dark stripes ran down her cheeks.
"Sayaka, it's useless..." The time traveler mumbled, too tired to care, too dulled to think about the thrashing body that was lying in the mud. Kyouko's grunts and groans of pain were drowned out by the blunette's constant yelling. So, more for the sake of herself than anything, Homura let Sayaka go.
The weeping girl staggered over to her friend, and collapsed onto the wet ground. She was still dizzy from the fall, she couldn't see properly, and yet all she could think about was Kyouko. Sayaka took in the sight of the redhead in agony; the rusty metal object in her hand, the valiant and crimson eyes, the trickle of blood on her chin from biting her lip. Every last bit of Kyouko's power had gone to protect her body from Mami's attack, making her visible injuries laughably minuscule. The dying girl turned her head with effort, suppressing the overwhelming torment.
"Such a...stupid situation...eh? If I had brought a Grief Seed..."
"Don't say that..." Sayaka could barely speak, and she couldn't bear face the soft look she was given.
Homura walked up as well, suddenly feeling the need to say something. Just to let her friend know that she cared. Or rather, that she had finally manage to care.
"I'm sorry, Kyou. I thought the Walpurgisnacht would drop a Seed. I guess that even with the power of so many familiars, it's still not the same." Homura's voice was factual, only the use of Kyouko's nickname signified affection.
"But I killed it...at least." The redhead whispered, voice dripping with pride.
"You and Mami, ironically. She did the right thing though, who knows what a desperate Walpurgisnacht would've done? Want me to kill her anyways?"
Kyouko shook her head, though it might've just been a spasm. She grinned at the raven-haired girl, and then reached out to touch Sayaka. Their hands found each other, and Kyouko opened her mouth. A wave of needles shot through her body, and she had to take a few ragged breaths before speaking.
"Hey...quit your crying."
"S-Sorry..." Sayaka sniffled and wiped her tears with her other arm, creating the out of context hilarious look of a big, black streak across her face.
"You did...okay, Sayaka. Though in the end...I had to do...all the work."
Homura knew what was going to happen next, and she had to prevent it. The last thing she wanted was the passionate Puella Magi to become a witch. She lightly tapped the blunette on the shoulder.
"Sayaka, we have to put her out of her misery."
The sentence didn't seem to have much effect on the heartbroken girl. She kept looking intently at her teacher and friend, as if afraid that Kyouko would disappear if she looked away. The redhead averted her eyes from the azure gaze, and nodded almost unnoticeably at Homura.
The time traveler forcefully pulled up Sayaka in a standing position, and shoved her away. Still weak and taken by surprise, the blue Puella Magi almost fell over. Her eyes became ablaze with anger, and the air sung as she drew her sword. Homura ignored her, raising her hand and shield and pointing them at Kyouko. The redhead laughed roughly, her unusual fangs gleaming white.
Homura saw the metal streak out of the corner of her eye. She spun around and held up the round plate, and the throwing knife was deflected into the ground. Confused, she saw Hitomi running at them, dressed like normal and waving her Soul Gem in the air.
"Wait! Sakura-san!" To Kyouko, the voice was making her feel worse than any pain she was currently enduring. Her hand closed around her Soul Gem, feeling its oily contents leek out into her palm. She could let go at any time, and it would be the easiest thing in the world. Homura worriedly looked over her shoulder at her pained friend, and suddenly felt a surge of anger at being interrupted.
"Hitomi, I don't know what the hell you think you're-"
"I can help her!" The green-haired girl didn't look as exhausted as the rest of the group, partly because she hadn't actually done much during the battle, and partly because of the recent transformation.
"You can?" Sayaka's voice was the one of a person left to die in a desert, now reaching for the oasis that surely was a mirage. Homura sighed in frustration and turned to face the blunette.
"Didn't you hear me!'? There is nothing we can do!" The time traveler didn't believe Hitomi, and she knew there wasn't much time left. She had learned how to let go, why couldn't these idiots do the same?
Idiot number two took the opportunity to run past the raven-haired girl when her attention was turned elsewhere. Sayaka took a step forward and raised her sword at Homura, the blade glittering dangerously.
"I don't believe that."
Hitomi kneeled down beside Kyouko, who had more and more trouble holding back the constant assault of sinister energy. Her entire body felt numb, the only bit of feeling left tickling her chest. So she barely even noticed that the girl she considered an enemy pried open her hand, exposing the soon-to-be Grief Seed. She didn't even notice that Hitomi took her own Soul Gem, shining a pleasant green color, and held it against Kyouko's. All she was aware of was the wave of light that washed over her and how strange it felt to die.
I'm in a black room. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, everything is coated with this dark liquid. I'm facing one of the walls, and I carefully reach out to touch it. My fingers brush against the substance, it's slick like oil and smells foul. I try to wipe the stuff off, but I find that it has already begun to eat through my skin. There is no pain, and I note this quality with the same dullness I feel for everything in this place.
There is no door to the room, nor should there be. I'm alone here, and I've always been. This used to be a nice place, very calm. I don't know what turned it into this. Was it me? It feels like it. I feel guilt, more corrosive than the black oil.
My feet are bare, only bones at this point. I can still walk somehow, even without tissue or muscles. I walk around the room, trailing the walls with my hand. My fingers soon turn white and red, and I enjoy watching my skin melt off my bones. It's entertaining, and I feel like laughing, but my throat hurts and breathing properly is a task by itself.
There is someone in here. There's not supposed to be anyone in here. I rest my head against the cool surface of the dark liquid, and I smile as it trickles into my eyes and down my nose. It's cold, and I'm hot. It's pleasant.
"Hitomi." Kyouko's voice was hoarse and rough, with a sandpaper-like quality. She kept her head against the wall still, her hands lovingly pressed against the black surface. "You shouldn't be here."
The green-haired girl was standing in the middle of the room, a light substance pooling at her feet. It mixed with the black as well as oil mixes with water, and it illuminated the otherwise pretty dark room with a soft glow.
"Neither should you. I'm here to save you, Kyouko."
"What if I don't want to be saved?" Kyouko stepped back from the wall, and turned to face the intruder. The redhead's face was repulsive; her exposed skull shining white, her right eye nothing more than a black hole and the left only expressing nonchalance. Hitomi saw all this and smiled as warmly as a mother to her child.
"You don't have much of a choice, I'm afraid."
"Why are you naked?" Kyouko pointed at Hitomi with a skeletal appendage. The green-haired looked down at her bare body, noting the small circle of white that protected her feet.
"Why are you?" was the answer Kyouko got. The redhead mimicked her visitor's action, giving a confounded "hmm" when she realized how valid the question was. Her curves were jagged, parts of her body gaping open thanks to the oil.
"We're not really naked, are we?"
"No, the concept of clothes is sorta useless to souls."
Hitomi started walking across the room, towards the corner where Kyouko was standing. The white liquid dripped from her, creating a safe path through the corrosive sludge. The redhead looked helpless for a second, lost and confused. Then her hideous features were further contorted by anger, and she shouted:
"You can't save me! I don't even know how you can be here!" Kyouko backed up, wanting to get away from the intruder. But the room was small, and she soon felt her back sink into more oil and she hissed as the cooling sensation degraded her flesh.
"I know so much more than you do. The Puella Magi have become lone wolfs and cutthroats, and no longer remember the things one magical girl could do for another." White liquid flew from Hitomi's arms and hands as she held them up at the redhead. It pushed away the darkness where it landed, and dots of light started filling the dark space. Her voice wasn't raised a bit, yet seemed so much stronger than Kyouko's.
"Why!'?" Kyouko didn't want to be saved by Hitomi. The only thing she lived for besides herself was Sayaka, and if she was brought back to life by Hitomi, there was no way she'd have even the slightest chance with the blunette. "I hate you! I detestyou! Why would you save me!'?"
Hitomi came up to her, bringing her face inches from the tainted mass that was Kyouko. The green-haired girl didn't mind the exposed bone or the grueling smell in the slightest, but smiled with serenity and kindness. The room started to be taken over by light, the dark liquid pushed further and further back.
"Two reasons. On one hand, I won't idly stand by to watch someone die. Not when I can do something about it."
Kyouko craved more anger, more fire to fuel the darkness within her that wanted out. But Hitomi's presence suppressed it, and the poor soul could only stare emptily at its savior.
"You're a fucking hero. Just like her."
The other soul put her hands on Kyouko's shoulders, and white oil dripped down the redhead's body. Unlike the black substance, it was searing hot. It seeped into her wounds and closed them, bringing her frozen body back to life. Hitomi leaned even closer, and only grimaced slightly as she felt the black oil from Kyouko's shoulders eat through her own hands.
"Yes, I am." Her tone of voice changed and became malicious and harsh. This clashed with the soft eyes that only promised love and sympathy, and Kyouko couldn't breathe anymore. "On the other hand, what do you think Sayaka will think of me after I risk my life to save you?"
In that moment, back in the physical world, the darkness that filled Kyouko's Soul Gem poured over into Hitomi's. The green-haired girl embraced the anger and frustration, neutralized it with her own untainted energy. Just like when a Grief Seed absorbs a Puella Magi's negative energy, another Soul Gem now did the same. The end result was that Hitomi collapsed on the ground, her green jewel now moderately dirtied. The gem in Kyouko's hand looked purer, and its frame was no longer broken.
Homura and Sayaka witnessed this, eyes wide in disbelief. The time traveler stepped forward, inspecting the panting girl lying on her back in the mud. She looked pleased with herself, a runner after a marathon.
"What the hell did you just do?"
"Equalization..." coughed Hitomi, opening one eye and peering at the two girls. She had the nastiest headache and a foul taste in her mouth, but she was happy. The rain kept falling, clearer with each drop. The battle was won. There had been no casualties.
Homura was immediately taken aback with how immaculate the room looked. There wasn't as much as a trace of trash, and the floor was squeaky clean.
"So she kept going on about how Soul Gems were basically two-way Grief Seeds or something. If one gem is more tainted than the other, and if the person with the better gem has enough mental strength, then the amount of negative energy in them will equalize and become even. I have no idea how she knows this-"
"Homura?" Kyouko lay leisurely in her caramel-colored couch, a Pocky nonchalantly stuck in the corner of her mouth. The redhead looked at her friend amusedly, who became aware that she was rambling.
"...sorry. So you're really leaving?"
"Ain't got much choice, as I see it. That bitch saved my life, regardless of whether I wanted it or not. She's like Sayaka, Hom. All heroic and considerate, but a real schemer at heart."
Homura walked across the room, stopping by the large window that overlooked the city of Mitakihara. It was a nice evening, a little cloudy, but otherwise pleasant.
"It sounds like you're giving up."
"Me? Hell no! I just...Homura, I'm sick and tired of this. When we were fighting the Walpurgisnacht...I haven't had that much fun in months. All I want is a home, food on my plate and some witches to kill."
"And Sayaka." The raven-haired girl leaned her forehead against the cool glass, the chilling feeling spreading through her head.
"And Sayaka. But you know what? Getting caught between Hitomi and me will just make her unhappy. And I love her too much to do that to her."
"How noble. You don't think leaving will make her unhappy then?"
"Fuck me, Homura, why are you making this so hard?"
"Because I don't want you to leave."
There was silence. Homura didn't particularly care how the comment was interpreted, she just wanted to get it out there. Because the truth was, Kyouko was the only person she could talk to about the whole love debacle. They were very much the same, the two. Behind her, she could hear the subtle giggling.
"D'aww, isn't that cute? Getting a bit attached to me, are we now?"
"You can't take anything seriously, can you?"
"Didn't I tell you not to be so damn serious all the time? In this very room too." There was shuffling as Kyouko rolled of the couch and crawled onto her feet. She walked up alongside Homura, giving her friend a joking nudge with her elbow. "Eh?"
"We don't listen to each other, do we?"
"Not really. But hey, I'll be back, you can count on it."
"You sure?" The time traveler turned around and leaned her back against the window instead. She glanced over at Kyouko, who smiled at her with the crimson eyes gleaming knowingly.
"Yeah. Love of my life is here, a couple of my best and only friends are here. I'll definitely be back."
"I'm glad to hear it."
They stood like that for awhile, wrapped in the perfect silence that they were capable of forming. They studied the sharp shadow cutouts on the floor, and none of them felt the need to say anything at the moment.
"You could come with me." Kyouko broke the biscuit stick in half and ate the two pieces, and then proceeded to pull up a bottle of green energy drink from her pocket, unscrew the lid and take a good five gulps of the lukewarm liquid. "You know, take a break from the whole Madoka thing. You and me, road trip 'cross the country, getting on each other's nerves. How about it?"
Homura considered the offer, she really did. She imagined herself in the back of a bus or a taxi, laughing leisurely with the cheerful redhead who probably shouldn't have had that much to drink. She knew that none of them drank, but her mind was associating freely and it honestly wasn't that hard to picture.
She then thought about Madoka. Her Madoka, the person she had swore to protect across the stretches of time, the person she loved with every cell in her body, the person who now was falling in love with someone else. She imagined coming back to Mitakihara after X amount of months, just to find the two in a healthy relationship.
"I...don't think so, Kyou."
"I figured you wouldn't." Kyouko mumbled, having at least the decency to sound disappointed. "What was with that pause?
"Mm?" Homura scratched the back of her head idly, giving the redhead an inquisitive look.
"We both know you'd never do something like that. I was just being polite. So why the hesitation?"
"I didn't hesitate."
"You did." Kyouko put her hands on her hips and gave Homura an unwavering stare. The time traveler sighed loudly, wondering if her friend were purposely looking for ways to make her look like an idiot.
"I just got a mental image, is all." They both knew it wouldn't stop at that.
"I mean...I find it funny that the two of us met like we did, and at that point we were already in love with other people."
"And...?" Kyouko thoroughly enjoyed making Homura go all shy, a complete 180 to the personality she usually showed.
"And...I was wondering what had happened if we two had...you know, got together." Again, Homura wasn't a person that cared how she was interpreted, other than in very specific cases. This was one of them, exposed to Kyouko's infuriating grin.
"Yeah? So what about the image?" The time traveler wondered if it was normal to wanting to hit your friends in the face. But she then realized that the way she was acting was the reason that Kyouko was so insistent. "Anything kinky?"
With a great deal of self-restraint, Homura groaned in equal amounts of frustration and weariness. In spite of this, she felt the rare sense of laughter bubble up her throat, and she was struck once against with how utterly raw Kyouko could be.
"You are such a horrible person." Homura muttered matter-of-factly, letting in to the temptation of a forgiving smirk.
"So I've heard. Well, I better get going. People might start looking for me, and I can only handle one heartfelt farewell a year." With this, the redhead walked across the room. She took a look around, pleased with what she saw. "Homura, do you think you could look after my apartment for me?"
"Well, not to be rude, but your place is a little crappy. Practical, I'm sure, but...wouldn't this suit you better now that you don't have to plan large-scale battles anymore?"
"Kyouko...did you clean this place up for me?" Homura kept her voice free from skepticism, which caused Kyouko to smile sheepishly.
"The things you do for a friend, eh?"
"Indeed. Now that I think about it, I've been meaning to ask you: How did you get of a hold of this apartment?"
The door didn't make the slightest noise as it was opened. With a flick of her hair, a very familiar gesture that had Homura reaching instinctively at her back, Kyouko turned on her heel.
"Funny story, that."
Then the door slammed shut behind her, leaving Homura all alone in her new apartment. With a condescending shake of her head, the raven-haired girl turned around and looked out the window once more, knowing full well that she would end up missing the foul-mouthed, wolf-like Puella Magi.
Homura leaned back behind her desk, sighing contently. It was nice to feel at ease, that nagging feeling that you could never relax pleasantly absent. She could hear her classmates do the same, and a low buzz immediately began to grow among the female population. There was talk about what they were doing to do on the warm Friday, what plans they had for the weekend, and other such trivial matters.
Madoka and Sayaka came up to her, the latter nudging the raven-haired girl lightly on the shoulder. It was weird, how the blunette had been treating her nicely all day.
"You awake there, Homura?"
"Let's go, Homura-chan."
Homura Akemi got up, suppressing a yawn. She looked at her two friends, Madoka her bright, energetic self and Sayaka with an amused smirk playing on her lips. The three left the classroom, and eventually walked out into the soft sunlight, a veil of thin clouds easing the impact of the blinding light.
The spring had been unleashed properly, and flowers had erupted out of the trees and painted the entire landscape in pink and yellow and red. Against the lush green grass of the city, the brown trunks and their colorful crowns made a walk through the park an experience in and of itself.
"So, Kyouko really did leave?" This statement completely cut Madoka off, who had been going on a happy tangent on how much she loved the current time of year. It had been genuinely inspiring, but the other two weren't in the mood.
"Yesterday, in the evening."
"Huh. Wish she'd said goodbye to us too."
"You know Kyouko, it's not exactly her style to be so tactful." Homura laughed, the memory of their farewell still clear as crystal and just as sharp.
"You okay, Homura-chan?" Madoka asked considerately, hands behind her back.
"Me? It was Sayaka who went out with her every other night."
"True, but you and her always seemed closer." Out of the corner of her eye, Homura saw Sayaka nod agreeingly.
"Well, she was more like a teacher to me than anything else. A friendly one, but nevertheless. You two, despite your bickering, always acted like actual friends. So...sure, I don't like to see her go, but we guessed that you would be more affected by it."
If Kyouko had heard that... Homura thought gloomily. The fact that they had assumed something of the sort also said a lot about how the she was perceived nowadays. Gone was the emotionless attitude she had built up, replaced by a cool and natural state that was more factual than anything else. The other Homura was quiet, had been for the last two days, and the time traveler was hoping that she had come to peace with herself.
"Hm?...excuse me, I'm a little tired."
"We're sorry for bringing it up, Homura." Sayaka said, obviously with the assumption that mentioning the redhead made their friend depressed. She wasn't too far off, even if wasn't the reason for Homura's distracted manners. The raven-haired girl didn't feel like further explaining herself.
The group crossed a decorative bridge over a glittering stream of water, their feet clunking hollowly against the wood. All of them were tired, mostly because of yesterday's efforts. They came to the point where Sayaka and Madoka's paths split, and the pinkette and Homura said goodbye to their cheerful friend. The time traveler could somewhat understand Sayaka's mood, in that she never got to know how Kyouko felt about her. In Sayaka's mind, the rude mentor had merely been a friend. And perhaps the blow was somewhat lessened by the fact that Kyouko could've been dead. And maybe...
Homura suddenly realized what she was doing, walking lost in thought beside Madoka. She was trying to figure out why Sayaka wasn't upset. Meaning, she wanted her to be upset. Because if she was, then it would be a sign that Kyouko had made a mistake leaving.
But she isn't upset. In trying to be considerate, Kyouko ended up belittling her own feelings. She put Sayaka first, and now...now Sayaka is happy.
The thought struck the troubled teenager like lightning. The similarities between her and Kyouko's situation and the results all came together in what should've been an obvious revelation.
Madoka will be happy with Mami, now that she's sane again. Don't I want her to be happy?
While walking down the streets, cars roared by them like bullets. They shone in the sun, casting flickering reflexes around them. Madoka was humming a short melody, presumably some form of theme music. Homura was walking in the complete opposite direction of both of her apartments, and neither of the girls were aware of it.
Why does it have to be like this? Why is my awful situation a requisite for Madoka's happiness? Hitomi confessed her love for Sayaka, Kyouko didn't. Swap Hitomi with Mami and Kyouko with me, and the same thing is even more prone to happen. Kyouko, I wish you would've told Sayaka about your feelings. At least then you would've known. Doesn't that bother you?
"Madoka." Homura stopped abruptly, feeling very hot all of a sudden. The pink-haired girl turned her head, the strange song on her lips interrupted.
"Yes, Homura-chan?" The answer brimmed with an everyday interest, a healthy and friendly curiosity. The alleged transfer student averted her gaze, the sharp brilliance of her violet eyes becoming lost in nervousness.
"I have something to tell you." The sun was unbearable, its heat was like a blanket that threatened to suffocate the poor soul. Homura took a deep breath and pointed to a big tree studded with small, white flowers. It cast a pleasant shadow, the kind one could sleep in without a care in the world. "Could we...?"
Madoka understood and so nodded. She walked over to the assigned location without question, followed by her edgy classmate. With an innocent expression, she then tilted her head to the side almost unnoticeably, expectantly. Homura took a long, time-manipulated look at the way Madoka held her school bag; in front of her with both hands. She looked at the neat ribbons that decorated the pink hair, noting how carefully they were tied, and at the microscopic beads of sweat tricking down Madoka's forehead. Homura inspected every little part of the girl she had given up her soul for, and found that she loved every aspect of her. With a thousand thoughts crisscrossing through her mind, Homura Akemi confessed her love to Madoka Kaname.
In another city, quite close to Mitakihara, a sleazily dressed girl with long, red hair walked through the streets. Her alert, crimson-colored eyes took in the sights, her hands constantly opening and closing as to keep them ready to snatch something she liked.
Not taking her eyes off the row of food stores, not for a second concentrating on anything but the quantities of fruit, meat and fish, the restless girl felt born anew. In the back of her head, a certain memory was played over and over. She let it brush past her consciousness with glee, amused and uplifted by it. It recalled a moment of intimacy; a spine-crushing hug from the person she loved being the first thing given to her after returning from the brink of corruption.
The girl let the memory fade away, and basked in the faint glow of the afternoon sun. She felt at peace and focused, the loud bustling of the crowds around her not bothering her in the slightest. In fact, crowds were a thief's best friend.
If home is where the heart is, Kyouko Sakura wouldn't start feeling homesick for another few months.
AN: And that...is that. A few will probably raise an eyebrow at how I chose to end this story, but I wanted it to be about Kyouko and Homura, since they are my main characters. The continued relationships of the other characters are either predictable or irrelevant, and there no reason for me not to let you guys fill in the blanks yourself. I am aware that endings are the bane of almost every story, and I expect perhaps 50% of you to actually like this or find it satisfactory. But in the end, I think I did a good job with what I set out to do. So if you find yourself not liking the ending, too bad. I'm not trying to be snide, I'm being sincere. You can't make everyone happy.
Also, Equalization is a mechanic I made up when I was discussing Grief Seeds. I assure you that it's not something I came up with just to save Kyouko. My normal amount of meta-science is as there as it's always been.
But enough of my rant. I'd like to thank you for sticking with the story, regardless of if you loved it, hated it, or didn't particularly care for it. This was my first successful chapter story, and I'm pretty pleased with the result. I can think of a billion things I could've done better, but I can also think of a few things I feel were nigh spot-on. And now? Well, I'll probably churn out some oneshots every now and then, but right now, I just want to relax. Take a fictional breather, so to speak.
What about you? Did you enjoy the story, or some certain part of it? If so, I'm always happy to hear it. And if all you want is to yell at me about all the things I did wrong...well, maybe it will make me a better author. Here's to hoping.