Homura would have never used the word 'child' to describe herself. After she made that contract, she stopped smiling, laughing, stopped doing all the things that children do. Her life became plans and plots to thwart even destiny, blinding street lights at night, an endless cycle of failures. Failure, failure, failure, failure…

What loop is this? She can't remember. She spent the whole last one shooting Kyubey. Research, she called it. Truly, it's therapeutic, and soley is it therapeutic.

It doesn't matter, anyway. She failed again. Madoka, Madoka…

Please forgive me.

Even before the contract she hadn't exactly smiled much. She's spent her days – alone – in a hospital bed with IVs stuck in the inside of her elbows and arms and tests going on and doctors telling her sometimes that she would die, sometimes that she wouldn't, never able to just agree on her death sentence or lack thereof, always going on and on and…

She's pretty sure it's the fifteenth loop. Maybe. She hopes. Otherwise she's lost count and she really is too far gone. She's pretty far gone as it is. She's completely mad and she knows it, and yet she doesn't care at all because maybe being mad is what it takes to rewrite destiny.

She has failed again.

Madoka, Madoka…

Well, regardless, at least before the contract she'd been capable of smiles and laughter and joy, even if she hadn't done any of them very often. After she'd sold her soul to the devil she hadn't felt anything, because emotions made one weak, and if she was to protect Madoka that couldn't happen. Strength, strength, strength, was all that mattered.

Repeat.

The odds are looking good in this one. It hasn't happened yet. Madoka's still just Madoka, even up til the arrival of Walpurgisnatch. She's sure she can handle it; she's planned so well, but…

Damnit.

She has failed again.

But Homura had been made perfectly aware of just how capable of feeling – of dying (more) inside – when she had failed – again – and was lying in the rubble of the city she was supposed to protect, the city that Madoka was in. She wants to repeat but…no. She would just make it worse…it was all her fault… Painpainpainpain I'm going to die and then Madoka was there.

"I will become a Puella Magi."

No.

"Madoka…that's…" Homura's voice raises an octave, then several more. "Then what was it…all for...?" Tears want to spill, and for a brief moment Homura is furious at the innocent girl before her. How dare she put all her work to waste, how dare she do so? She wants to scream and yell but it hurts too much, and even now she can't hurt her only friend.

"I'm sorry." Why did she keep saying she was sorry? If Madoka felt guilty, she shouldn't do it. Don't make the contract. Don't do it don't do don't do it…but of course she'll do it. Because Madoka is so kind, too goddamn kind and she will sacrifice anything for a friend. Madoka shouldn't be apologizing. I should, Homura thought. For throwing her into this, for damning her…I'm so useless, I've always been useless…I should have just died when the Witch tried to kill me…

And then Madoka made her wish.

It's genius, really. Will save the entire world, all the Magical Girls for the rest of forever. Will give them a chance at hope and happiness and peace. But it doesn't matter to Homura how genius it is, because Madoka is all that matters and if Madoka has to sacrifice than there's no way it's worth it…

"Is this the change she wished for?" Her voice is a shrill scream as she floats in oblivion. No! She couldn't be forgotten, not after having sacrificed so much! No! Madoka seems happy, though…happy…happy…

Madoka presses the pink ribbons into her hands. Madoka's hands are warm against Homura's cold and shaking digits. "Mm. It's too early to give up. Maybe, since you came all this way with me, you'll remember even when you go back to our world." Our world. Even now, even forgotten, the world is still Madoka's. Still Madoka's responsibility. She still cared for the people who would forget her, who would never remember or care or believe in all that she had sacrificed for them.

She wants to say, "Why are you so kind?" But the pink-haired girl disappears, and all Homura can do is scream her name.

Homura realizes afterwards that she's capable of feeling after all. She makes friends, if you could call it that, with Sayaka and Kyouko and Mami and they form a pretty strong team. Even Sayaka, the weakest of them, at least at first, manages to become a fighting force by herself. Of course, she dies, but it's not as hard for her as the others. Kyouko takes it especially hard. The red-headed girl closes off for a while, but she moves on. Kyouko is good at that, moving on, but Mami and Homura can tell she still hurts. But Homura, who knows the alternative, knows that Sayaka is much happier now than she would have been as a Witch, or even as a Puella Magi. She is with her.

After that, she starts wearing Madoka's ribbon in her hair.

Madoka's little brother recognizes it. What had his name been? She couldn't remember, as she hadn't been exactly worried about her family, but about her. But he's sweet, with his, "Madoka, Madoka, Madoka!"s. And for the first time in a long time, she smiles.

"It looks just like her."

Is this what it's like to feel like a kid again? Like a child? She tries to remember her own childhood but can't, outside of hospitals. Had she ever left the white walls, played catch with her father, painted with her mother? She couldn't remember. But, if she could say for sure, Homura thinks that this is close to what being like a child feels like.

Junko does it again, makes her feel that way. "I love that ribbon you're wearing. So cute!"

A small smile, peaceful compared the exuberant one worn by Junko. Smiling feels nice on her face. She resolves to do it more often. "Let me give it to you."

Junko's eyes widen, and she shakes her head, hands coming up to protect. "No, no, it wouldn't fit an old woman like me!" That shocks Homura a bit. Junko is an old woman, an adult. Her playful nature had betrayed that, had made Homura feel older than she was. Homura remembers, for the first time, that she's only fourteen.

And Homura tilts her head, closes her eyes, and smiles like a little girl.

No, Homura had seen too much to be considered a child anymore. But she still believed in magic, she still believed in miracles, and she still believed in a girl who was fighting for her, fighting to save her, not just her but everyone else.

And maybe that was close enough.