A/N: Because sometimes all you want is some good ol' fashioned angst.
Constructive criticism is always greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading!
Homura took this moment to collapse and breathe. The ground against her knees was rough, pebbles sticking into her stockings and creating even more holes than there already were. Her arms shook as she supported herself from falling to the ground completely. The air she sucked in so desperately tasted awful. Like all the other times she'd tasted it.
She raised her head, saw the witch hovering over the city, saw Madoka against the horizon with her bow raised to strike. The glowing arrow was frozen against the dark sky.
The effects of her power were waning. Homura stood, unsteadily, but she didn't let herself fall. She could do it this time. She could win. They could win.
Madoka would be safe.
Everything came back with a roar and Homura leapt out of the way of falling debris. Ducked under another blast of flame from the witch. She kept her eyes on Madoka, still fighting, still keeping the hope that this fight would be different.
How long had the fight lasted? Homura, ironically, had last track of time. Repeating the same events over and over tended to have that effect. In reasonable terms, the battle must have been short, no longer than an hour at most. The witch had the strength to cause this much catastrophe that quickly. But in terms of how her body felt, the battle felt like years. Even with the body- the puppet- of a magical girl, she could feel pain in every joint, feel the air spear itself into her lungs as she ran.
Running, always running, to Madoka. The other girl must have felt the same amount of pain. Her dress was in tatters all along the skirt, mud and water from the river soaked her, and she looked on the verge of tears as she fought above her city, her home, her entire lifetime.
But still the arrows flew with blinding strength.
Homura emptied her pistol onto a row of familiars. The empty weapon clattered to the broken pavement behind her. That had been her last gun with the last round of ammo. She now had only time.
Homura ran over the shattered roads and bridges.
Everything returned and she immediately called a warning to Madoka for the familiar behind her. It was ripped apart by another arrow. There was a second of- Satisfaction or relief wouldn't be the right words in this setting, but she did feel one single second of something that made her smile in the midst of such devastation.
Then Madoka screamed, "Homura! Look out!"
One more familiar was struck through; a mistake Homura didn't see; a mistake that caused another one she saw happen before her eyes.
Madoka had barely released the bow string before the building flew towards her.
Homura wasn't running anymore. No, she was racing against that controlled yet uncontrollable time.
Everything returned and the structure moved one more inch before it all stopped again.
Stop stop stop stop. Like some cruel slide-show, Homura watched Madoka turn, frame by frame, towards the threat. She watched as, when everything returned, her friend was doubled over by the structure crashing into her.
Everything stopped. The only one to hear the scream was Homura.
Stop stop stop stop stop stop. She could still get there, she could still save her, she could still make sure Madoka didn't-
She tripped on something- loose rubble, a crushed support beam, a body- she didn't know and didn't stop even when her glasses fell away. Those didn't matter! Nothing did! Not her broken vision. Not that constant, shrieking laughter she heard echoed back whenever she slipped into sleep. Not the facts she could tell no one else about because they'd never happened yet. Not the battered, splintered city around her. Not poor Mami, her body lost in a witch's labyrinth. Not that Sakura girl that pestered them only to disappear so quickly as if she'd never existed. Not missing Sayaka and whatever her fate had been. Not that thing that, even now, watched them, smiling, waiting. No, none of that mattered compared to-
"Madoka!" Homura watched her friend ricochet and roll of the building like a doll, watched her fall head-first towards the ground...
She's going to die she always dies why does she always die I always watch her die.
With the last of her strength, Homura jumped.
Madoka was surprisingly heavy in Homura's arms. The dark-haired girl held her close as they dropped to the ground. She made sure to protect her friend as her legs gave out underneath so only she felt the impact of hard pavement.
Still cradling her, Homura whispered, "It will be all right, it will all be right." The pink dress dyed red, the harsh, laboured breathing, those could be fixed. They could-
She couldn't stop the sob that tore through her chest. "It will all be right in the end, you'll be fine, we'll survive, we'll... we'll..." Another sob. How, even after all she'd been through, her heart still had more pain to feel?
A soft whisper next to her ear. "You have to let go."
Homura tried to hold back her tears, tried to respond, but all she could do was nod meekly as she set Madoka down gently to the ground. She left her hand under the other girl's head, a pathetic attempt to protect her.
Despite her ragged voice, Madoka smiled while she said, "Sorry. That was pretty silly of me, wasn't it? I should..." She breathed. "I should have been more careful."
"No, it was my fault. All my-" One more unsuccessfully restrained sob. "Always my-" Her voice choked as her throat tightened. The world around them stared, unmoving, as Homura fought back tears. She would not lose control, not now. She would not think of this as a "defeat", not once more.
The hand that had moments ago fired off arrows felt cold against her cheek. "Homura?"
She managed to force out a sound like a whimper.
"You can let go now, it's okay."
"But I alre-"
Madoka weakly shook her head; Homura felt the movement through her palm. "We don't have much time. You have to let me go, Homura. I won't be mad, I promise. I-" Now Homura felt the tears against her palm, the salt burning her scraped fingers. "I know you won't forget me. So... So, please, let me go before you get hurt again."
Homura let herself fall, her body ripped apart by sobs and meaningless words.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I'm not that strong. I keep trying but I'm never strong enough. I'm sorry, Madoka, I'm so so sorry." She clasped that cold hand tightly as she cried, said 'sorry' for every death she'd seen. "I'll try harder next time. I promise, I'll try harder."
Her friend, her everything, entwined their fingers together. The only words said were "Of course you will."
Madoka's dress faded, replaced by her school uniform that showed none of the previous clothes' battle scars. Her hand went limp.
Homura stayed by her side only long enough to carefully slip her head to the ground before she stood and walked away.
The last magical girl's voice didn't waver. "Stop."
All that nothing halted.
Until, slowly, the nothing erased itself, rewinding backwards fast and faster til it ceased to be, and for one more time everything returned.