Sit down to write an essay, accidentally come out with a fanfic. This is a story exploring what would happen to the cast if the whole concept of magical girls didn't exist; as in, there was no Kyubey, no witches, no magic, no nothing. It was meant to be just a drabble but they Kyouko would not shut up and things just got worse from there. Is it pointless? Probably. Oh well. Enjoy, and as usual, I own nothing (at least until the DVDs come out).

Also, if you see 'LINE BREAK LINE BREAK' or other anomalies in this, er, sorry, the formatting on my OpenOffice is bollocks and I have to improvise...

Times Like These

For Mami Tomoe, there will be no miracles.

The end will come here, in this dark place far from home, with shards of broken glass strewn amongst the shadows that envelop her. With wavering strength she reaches out, her hand grasping at the feeble light, but no figure will come to cast a shadow over her dying figure. There will be no second chance.

She makes a wish. It goes unheard.

In another world, magic exists, and she is granted life again. With this life comes happiness and joy, but it also brings with it suffering, pain, and an end far more painful than the one now closing in on her. Maybe in a different world she would escape this pain. Maybe she would not.

It hurts; everything hurts, from her trembling fingers down to her aching legs. She longs for the end, gasps out a sob in her faltering voice, squints through the tears that blind her vision. It is cold, and it is dark, and this is a death which few would envy – but perhaps the alternative is worse. Perhaps it is better to die here, with nothing left, than to gain meaning and hope only to have it ripped from her failing hands.

She closes her eyes, makes another wish. Everything fades.

This isn't fair.

The thought echoes in her head, becoming a mantra that circles endlessly in her mind. It isn't fair, it isn't fair, it isn't fair. He shouldn't have to go through this. Nobody should have to go through this, but he – of all the people in the world, why did it have to be him? Why couldn't it be her? Her hands are useless; she has no dexterity, no skill, while his fingers lie motionless by his side, their potential cruelly ripped away by an untimely tragedy.

She stares down at her hands, clenches her fist. She punches the wall.

His words still ring in her head. The doctors said there was no cure; that only a miracle could save his body. She knows miracles do not exist, and even if she hadn't known beforehand, all her days spent casting fruitless wishes are enough to affirm this fact. There is no otherworldly deity who will come to mend Kyousuke's hand. There will be no astounding overnight recovery; no gift from fate to fix a life shattered into pieces.

But if this is all true – if there are no miracles to be granted – then she merely needs to make one herself.

Sayaka Miki will never repair his damaged hand. He will not stand on the stage upon which he was born to perform. This is a fact, and she swallows it resolutely. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows that there is something which she can fix. It will take time – months of sitting at his side as his tears fall in time with a song he will never play. It will take countless regressions, countless instances of hope blossoming only to wither away, countless instances where she wants to cry and scream and go back to relying on nonexistent magic. The path she is about to follow may even lead her to a world in which he finds solace in another person, in which he may rest comfortably inside an embrace that is not hers.

All of this, she accepts. She will fix Kyousuke Kamijou's heart.

Because she cannot wait for a miracle which will never arrive.

She doesn't know where she is. A young boy collides into her and the mother starts apologizing flusteredly, but she just elbows past, continues walking. She doesn't have time for happy families and their idyllic lives. She doesn't have – She shouldn't be here, doesn't know why she is. Her mother needs her, and Momo does, because there's no way they can defend themselves against him alone. All she knows is that being inside that house was making her feel sick, but the rest of the village made her feel even worse, and suddenly she ended up in Mitakihara before she had a chance to realize where she was going.

Or the money I was wasting, she thinks bitterly, all too aware of the measly couple of coins resting in her pocket. She shouldn't have bought the train ticket. She shouldn't be here at all.

Her stomach rumbles, but she barely registers it. She can't remember the last time she wasn't hungry. She last time she didn't feel like she was about to faint every time she so much as moved an inch. Her eyes drift to a greengrocer's on the side of the street; it's a locally owned store, from what she can see, but still moderately sized. There's a decent amount of people milling about inside. Her legs are moving before she has a chance to process it.

It's not the first time she's done this; it's happened on quite a few occasions before, mostly when she was so hungry she felt like she was going to collapse, or worse. She normally does it in small areas, however, where there are few witnesses and where there's less chance of being caught. Her heart pounds as she slips a few apples into a paper bag. She tries her best not to look suspicious, but she can't stop her eyes from glancing side to side. Nobody's looking, Kyouko reassures herself, and before she gives herself time to affirm this, she's running.

She may be painfully thin, but she's fast, and she races down the street without glancing back. Nobody shouts after her, but she can't afford to slow down. Eventually, she turns a corner and vaults over a fence, promptly dropping to the ground and resting her back against a bush. Her heart is pounding so fast she feels like her chest is about to burst. She lets a minute pass before her trembling hands reach for the bag, one of them closing around an apple and bringing it to her mouth.

The taste is incomparable. The pain of her hunger seems to slip away after one bite. She opens her mouth to take another -

"Is it good?"

The sudden voice makes her heart stop for a brief second and she nearly drops the apple. Her eyes snap up to see a girl in front of her, arms folded as she stares down at her. Her expression isn't quite hostile, but she's certainly not smiling.

She doesn't know how to respond. "Wha-"

"I saw you," the girl interrupts, her eyes narrowing slightly. Kyouko wants to laugh; the girl only barely looks anywhere near her age. Who does this one think she is, some kind of enforcer of justice?

"What, kid, you gonna call the police or something?" She makes her tone purposely patronizing, but the girl has no reaction save for a slight quirk of her eyebrows.

"No. I was just wondering if that apple tastes as good once you consider where it came from."

With that, Kyouko knows this girl doesn't understand at all. She's not doing this for fun, she's doing it because - "Of course it doesn't," she snaps, her gaze not meeting hers.

"Then why did you take them?"

Kyouko forms a fist, her nails digging into her palm. This girl is pissing her off. She gets to her feet and opens her mouth to say because not all of us are as lucky as you, you spoilt brat but all that comes out is "because there's nothing else I can do!"

Her outburst surprises both of them. There's a silence, finally broken by the girl asking, "What do you mean?"

"I mean there's nothing I can do," Kyouko replies through gritted teeth. "You can stand there and judge me, but you – you don't know what it's like to go home and," - and find your mother crying out of fear of the man who's supposed to show her nothing but love, but he can't because the world's never shown him any - "and sit around waiting for a miracle that's never going to happen-"

"Miracles don't exist," the girl says, and Kyouko feels the urge to punch her, because no shit, you brat, but what the hell do you know?

"You think I don't know that?" she hisses, stepping forward slightly. "You think I don't spend every day resenting that very fact? Who the hell do you think you are? And what the hell do you expect me to do?"

"Make your own miracle," she replies.

She says it so straightforwardly that Kyouko falters for a moment, but then anger surges through her anew. "Do you honestly think it's that easy-"

"I know it's not."

The girl isn't scowling anymore. Instead, she looks – not quite sad, but distant somehow, as though she's looking at something Kyouko can't see. Before she can say anything, the girl continues.

"I know it's not easy. It's the hardest thing in the world, to fight against something that seems hopeless, but nothing is going to change if you sit around doing nothing. Magic isn't real, and I know that, and I know you probably know that too. Once you face that – you can do anything. And you need to face that. Because the alternative is to wait for something that doesn't exist."

Her instinctive reaction is to mock the girl, because seriously, has she heard herself – but there's an earnest ring to her words that makes her stop. That, and the fact that the girl is now smiling slightly. It's small, but it's there, and it makes Kyouko wonder when the last time she herself smiled was. She wants so badly to believe the words she's hearing; wants so desperately to believe there is something she can do.

"Here." The girl stretches out a closed hand, and Kyouko confusedly stretches out her own. She feels a number of coins drop into her palm, and opens her mouth, but the girl cuts her off. "This isn't charity," she tells her, stepping back slightly. "Just – go do what you need to do. What you can do."

She wants to make some sarcastic remark, mock the other girl, but her fist closes around the coins still warm from her touch and she finds she doesn't want to. Thanking her isn't something she wants to do, though, so she settles with "What's your name?"

The girl smiles again, a little brighter this time. She turns away, but she turns her head slightly as she begins to walk off, and replies, "Sayaka."

Later, as she watches the scenery of Mitakihara City slip out of sight from behind the train window, she realizes that she didn't give the girl – Sayaka – her own name. But it's alright. She'll find her again, once she returns to Mitakihara, once she's done with what she needs to do.

Once she's done what she can.

She's useless.

It's a statement that's rung in her heart many times before, but now, as she collapses on the floor while heaving for breath, it seems more true than ever before. As a couple of her classmates crouch over her, voicing their concerns, she tries to reassure them that she's alright but the words crumble under the weight of her exhausted state. God, she's pitiful; she can't even do a warm-up exercise without collapsing. She's been in this school for two weeks now and still can barely do anything in any of the classes without feeling like a failure. She almost feels like crying but she's cried so many times before that a part of her feels almost numb to these feelings. Almost numb. Not quite. What she wouldn't give to be immune to this, to not feel like a burden to everyone she meets. If she had one wish, that'd be it, she thinks.

But later on in the day, after she's fumbled her way through all of her classes, she rethinks that. Wouldn't it be better, instead of not feeling, to not have to feel at all?

She's thought about this a few times in the past. They are thoughts that scare her, but at the same time tempt her. It would be so easy to end it all. Nobody would miss her, not really; she's sure her family feels some degree of love for her but she knows that above all she's just a burden, weighing them down with her failures from birth. That's why she was shipped off to live by herself. She doesn't blame them; she knows it's her fault. Her classmates wouldn't care much – they're nice to her, and she's thankful for that, but it's only because they haven't seen the full extent of her pitiful abilities yet. In a couple of months she'll be nothing to them. A small part of her whispers that Kaname-san would care but that's a lie, and it's not a path she should be going down, because she can't afford to – depend on anyone. And she knows that the thoughts she's having aren't ones she should be clinging to.

But they're thoughts that follow her through the days, through the weeks ahead, right up to one evening when she's standing on the bridge near her school with her hands gripping the rails and her arms trembling.

She can't do this any more. It's just so hard, stumbling through life making mistakes at every single possible opportunity. The girls in her class have lost interest in her; where they once smiled kindly at her failures and reassured her, now they laugh mockingly or – and she finds this even worse – just roll their eyes and look disgusted. She knows she's an embarrassment, a disgrace, and she's sorry for everyone who has to put up with her but it isn't her fault. She didn't choose to be this useless and she can't take it any more. Nothing she does will ever be good enough and this is it, she's reached her limit.

She swallows. Her palms are sweaty and her knees are shaking but she's decided. She tenses her frail muscles, takes a deep breath and prepares to launch herself over the bridge's rail -


The shriek makes her jump violently and for a moment she has no idea what's happening. Her knees give out beneath her and suddenly she's on the ground, hands – someone else's hands – gripping her arm. She can hear sobbing and it takes her a moment to realise that it's not her own.


At first she thinks she's hallucinating, but no, Madoka Kaname is really here, clinging to Homura with tears in her eyes.

"Thank goodness – I was so scared – you –" and then she buries her face into Homura's shoulder, her words coming out in a garbled mess. For a moment, Homura has no idea what to do, but then she gently pats the other girl, which seems to calm her slightly.

"Um – I – I'm all right, Kaname-san," she reassures her timidly. Kaname looks up at this, and she looks – not angry, but extremely worried, and her eyes are brimming with tears.

"W-What were you doing, Homura-chan?" she asks, her voice still trembling slightly. "I s-saw you, so I started coming to say hi, a-and then – what were you doing?" Homura doesn't answer, doesn't know how to, because Kaname is looking at her with wide, concerned eyes, and her silence confirms her suspicions. "Oh – oh no – oh, Homura-chan, why would you do that? I – I'm so sorry I didn't notice! Um – I know I'm not very good at anything but – you could've talked to me, I would've -"

Homura cuts her off there, because that last sentence makes her stare incredulously at the other girl. "What do you mean you're not good at anything?"

Kaname blinks.

"You're amazing, Kaname-san! Y-You're popular and kind and everybody likes you, and you're so nice to everyone, even someone so useless like me, and-" Homura bites her lip and stares down at the ground, because she can feel tears beginning to form in her eyes. "I'm – I'm so worthless, and everything I do fails, and I'll never be as good as someone like you, and I just..." She trails off, the first tears finally dropping from her eyes, and then jumps as Kaname's arms close around her.

There's a silence, broken only by the soft humming of cars from the road below, and then Kaname begins to speak. "Homura-chan... do you remember that cat you saved?"

Homura blinks, recalling the event. A week or two into her time at the school, Kaname had invited her out to a cafe on the edge of the city; as they were walking, they had come across a cat about to be run over by a car. She had quickly ran into the road and saved it – but that was nothing, why was Kaname bringing it up now?

"I thought – I thought that was really amazing," Kaname continued, her voice soft and comforting in Homura's ear. "At the time, I was so scared I just froze, but you – you were really cool, Homura-chan." She laughs gently, and it's a sound that warms Homura's heart. "And then I thought, if there are people like you who can do such amazing things, then just maybe – I might be able to do something like that myself one day."

It takes a moment for Homura to understand what the other girl is saying. "Y-You mean – what – I inspired you?" It's not what Kaname means at all, and she winces the moment she says it, because how could someone like her ever inspire anyone at all – but Kaname laughs, and Homura feels her nod. "Yeah. Yeah, you did."

At this point, she pulls back, and her eyes are still watering but she's smiling. "So – please, Homura-chan, don't ever call yourself useless. I think you're really brave, and I wish – I wish I could be like you, so please – don't ever feel like this again. And if you do," she continues before Homura can say anything, "come and talk to me, okay? I promise I'll listen to however you feel, and, um, I'll try and help you, so please?"

Kaname's hands grasp hers tightly, and her grip is warm against Homura's cold skin. As she tentatively smiles back, she begins to feel – just a little – like maybe she isn't entirely useless, if she can cause a smile so bright and brilliant.

"Alright," she says, "Madoka-san."

There will be worlds where things go differently. There will be worlds where, without miracles, everything falls apart, and despair consumes all even in a universe where no witches are to be born. There will be worlds where magic grants a better life for all who seize it, where wishes cancel out sadness with the power of unbridled hope.

But most of all there will be worlds where despair and hope co-exist, where nothing is perfect but that, somehow, is alright. Because while hope can – and will be – vanquished by desperation, there exists alongside this fact the very inverse.

So, worlds away from now, where Homura Akemi finds herself struggling alone against a sea of negativity, she will continue to fight. For the hope that might have been, and for the hope that might yet be.