Hello. Several different things are going on (and will be going on) in this fic. First, I attempted to explain why exactly Kyouko's feelings for Sayaka suddenly took a 180-degree turn; it seemed so abrupt to me in the anime, and I would have liked an explanation. Second, this is AU, though that's not really going to be apparent until I have the next two chapters up.

This may come across as OOC. However, I don't think the concept I'm aiming for would work if I kept everyone completely in-character; as their views of others change, so do their mindsets.

I own nothing.


Tonight was a fairly typical night for Akemi Homura. She broke up a fight between infant ally Sakura Kyouko and ineffectual nuisance Miki Sayaka, and went diving for a lost Soul Gem as all Hell broke loose and her fellow Puellae Magi found out the truth about the contract they had unwittingly sacrificed their humanity for.

Well, scratch that. They found out half the truth about the wretched Puella Magi system, the other half Kyouko and Sayaka have stayed thankfully ignorant of. Homura would like to keep it that way for as long as possible; while neither Kyouko nor Sayaka ever went quite as psychotic as Mami tended to when exposed to the truth prematurely—Kyouko actually tends to take it pretty well, all things considered—things on Sayaka's end tend to go to Hell in a hand basket if she finds out. Sayaka may be far weaker than she is but Homura still doesn't want to deal with the swordsman going on a murderous rampage.

Well at least this will discourage Madoka from making a contract. I know she must be upset, but she should be. This isn't a joke; it's not a game. Our lives are nasty, brutish and short; she deserves better than that fate. That's why…

"So this is Chateau Akemi, huh? Doesn't look like much."

Oh yes. After the explanations, the shouting and the crying was done, Kyouko followed Homura home. This was, actually, a predetermined arrangement; Homura offered Kyouko a place to sleep, the better to keep an eye on her while they prepared for the coming of Walpurgisnacht. Kyouko was staying in some hotel room beforehand, but upon being given the chance to stay somewhere she didn't have to worry about the police or some guy with a baseball bat busting down her door, she jumped.

And yes, Homura will concede that her apartment doesn't look like much. It's badly lit and the walls are painted dark. The living area is huge, with two half-moon couches curled around a low circular table, but the walls are lined with boxes and the bedroom is used less for sleeping in and more for storage. But it's home.

"I have a projector, but I've had some trouble getting it to work," Homura explains evenly. Traveling back through time for God only knows how many times will do that. "We'll be able to talk more about Walpurgisnacht when I get it running." Of course, Homura's pretty much memorized everything there is to know about the great and powerful Queen of Witches, but it will be easier by far to discuss things with Kyouko if the redhead's actually able to see the information for herself.

"Right." Kyouko's eyes wander in the direction of the refrigerator, but for some reason, she actually hesitates.

Homura frowns. That's odd; Kyouko's not normally the sort of person to hesitate when she knows there's food lying about. Then, she realizes that the girl's actually waiting for permission. Marveling that such a glutton actually cares about getting her host's permission before raiding the refrigerator, and feeling herself soften towards Kyouko despite everything that should keep her remote, Homura waves a hand dismissively. "Eat to your heart's content. Just don't empty out the larders, and don't eat what's in the bento box; that's my lunch for tomorrow."

Kyouko's grins hugely. "Thanks."

While Kyouko begins gobbling down whatever takes her fancy, Homura gets ready for bed.

"There's only one futon," she explains as she rolls her futon out on a patch of clear space in the living room. "You're going to have to sleep on the couch."

"Yeah, sure," Kyouko answers thickly through a mouth full of cold tempura. "Be'er tha' wha' ah'm used to."

Homura sighs, and lies down to sleep.

It's going to be a long day.

But then, they're all long.

-0-0-0-

The next morning, Homura is very surprised indeed to discover that there's still an appreciable amount of food in the refrigerator, more than enough for her to make breakfast.

Kyouko was sprawled on the couch, clearly sleeping a lot better than she had been in a while; Homura can't imagine she slept very well in a hotel room where you could—all too clearly—hear all the activities of the people in the rooms to her left, right, and above. However, the smell of rice being cooked appears to have woken her up.

Homura hears soft yawning and looks up from her egg beating to see Kyouko, hair down and falling over her face, rubbing her eyes blearily and peering into the pot boiling on the stove. Presumably seeing that there's only enough rice in that bowl for one person, she starts rummaging through the refrigerator for something to eat, eventually settling on the tempura she didn't eat last night. She goes to sit at the small dining table in the corner and munch on her "breakfast."

Armed with rice and egg-yolk and a plate of umeboshi, Homura sits down at the table just as Kyouko finishes inhaling her tempura. Given that Kyouko has been up to now half-awake and silent, Homura is taken back, just a little bit, when Kyouko starts to talk as though she's wide awake.

"Hey, I know you said you were going to deal with Sayaka… "peaceably"," she adds with a snort. Homura frowns; yes, she knows that that was an obvious front to a solution she hasn't figured out yet but is, needless to say, highly unlikely to be "peaceable," but really… "but if it's alright with you, I'm gonna go talk to her today."

Homura blinks uncomprehendingly at Kyouko. Okay, it's still dark out; it's way too early in the morning for this. Then, very deliberately, she jabs at her arm with the sharp end of her chopsticks.

"What are you doing?" Kyouko asks, looking at her as though she's gone insane.

Rather disappointed that this didn't turn out to be a dream, Homura puts her chopsticks down and, setting her jaw and preparing herself for something that is probably going to turn out to be mentally painful, explains herself. "I'm sorry," she says flatly, in the sort of tone that would tend to indicate that she's not really sorry at all. "I thought I just heard you say that you were planning on making nice with Miki Sayaka."

Kyouko narrows her eyes at her like she's not entirely sure exactly what's going on with her. "You heard right."

Unable to deny anymore that A: she is awake and B: that she heard Kyouko correctly, Homura sighs internally. But mostly, she's just confused, as confused as she ever was when Kyouko in one of the past timelines declared that she suddenly wanted to become friends with a girl she'd been gunning to kill (or at least severely maim) less than twenty-four hours earlier.

Okay, why don't I try to reason it out with her this time? After all, I never actually tried to figure out why Kyouko suddenly wanted to befriend Miki Sayaka in the past timelines. If I have to redo this one too, it could be useful information for next time.

She breathes in deeply, bringing her forefinger and her middle finger to her forehead. "Okay. If I understood you correctly, you are telling me that you wish to befriend Miki Sayaka, as in the Miki Sayaka you wanted to do violent things to less than a day ago. May I ask why you suddenly want to become friends with this girl?"

Kyouko shrugs. "'Cause I can?"

Homura glares at her. "There has to be a better reason than that."

At this, the usually brash Kyouko starts to look just a touch uncomfortable; she lowers her eyes shyly, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "So we've got our differences—okay, big differences," she concedes when Homura glares at her again. "And if you think that I'm going to let some self-righteous newbie on a fast track to nowhere moralize to me…" Her nostrils flare, and Kyouko breaks off to regain control of herself.

After a moment, she resumes, in that same, uncharacteristically quiet voice. "But we're the same."

Okay, now Homura's wondering if maybe Kyouko hit her head (really, really hard) during her fight with Sayaka before she got there. "How do you figure that the two of you are the same?" she asks shortly, deciding to forbear from rattling off the astronomical list of Sakura Kyouko and Miki Sayaka's differences.

Sensing the sarcasm on the part of her conversation partner, now it's Kyouko who's doing the glaring; Homura is, as anyone can imagine, unimpressed. "Let's see. We were both bamboozled by the little white rat—" Huh, that fits it so well; I'm going to have to start referring to Kyubey as that form now on; or, maybe not, since that would mess up my image "—into having our immortal souls ripped out of our chests in exchange for a wish meant to help someone we cared about that ended up going to Hell on us. Sounds to me like we've got plenty in common."

Homura raises an eyebrow. From past timelines she's learned the details of Kyouko's past and the circumstances of her wish, but she doesn't think she's ever seen her talk about it in a conversation so casually before. She sighs. "Alright, you've made your point." Even though she kind of hasn't. "But have you considered that she's probably not going to be receptive to your offers of friendship?"

The blank look on Kyouko's face would tend to indicate that she hasn't. Homura sighs again.

This is hardly the first timeline in which Kyouko has sought Sayaka's friendship after having an extremely abrupt change of heart concerning the blue-haired girl (Leaving all concerned, Homura especially, to conclude that she is nothing less then the undisputed Master of the Mixed Message). What Homura has observed is that, when Kyouko tries to make friends with Sayaka, it… well… It never ends well. Not once has Sayaka ever accepted Kyouko's overtures of friendship. She always rejects Kyouko out of hand.

The problem, Homura supposes, is that Miki Sayaka is always completely convinced that she's in the right, and that she is totally incapable of comprehending change. That she is incapable of seeing change in others means that she never changes her (usually highly prejudicial and inaccurate) first impressions of anyone, and that she never sees Kyouko for what she really is: a deeply flawed human being, but capable of changing into something better, softer. That she is also incapable of comprehending change in herself is what leads to her own downfall—the revelation that she is not the "champion of justice" she thought herself to be is so catastrophic that that tends to be the breaking point for her to go Witch. Compounding the difficulties is that, by the time Kyouko decides she wants to be friends with Sayaka instead of mortal enemies, Sayaka's Soul Gem has started corrupting in earnest, and she's no longer rational enough to accept help from anyone. Of course, Kyouko can't know that, but it still doesn't make this any less foolish.

"Kyouko… Miki Sayaka. Does. Not. Like. You. She considers herself against everything you stand for and despises you with every fiber of her being. If you told her the sky was blue she'd suddenly start thinking it was green, just so she wouldn't have to agree with you. What on Earth makes you think she'll accept your advice?" she asks bluntly.

If Kyouko is at all discouraged by this, she doesn't show it. "I'll get through to her," she assures Homura. "She can't hate me that much," Kyouko declares, all too positively.

Oh, she can't, can she?

After a few minutes, Kyouko's ready to go. "I'll see you this afternoon," she calls from the door. "I'll have Sayaka on our side by lunchtime!"

Once she's gone, Homura puts her head in her hands and groans.

Akemi Homura, with all her experience of the past timelines, has only this to say.

"This can only end badly."

-0-0-0-

Homura has a fondness for plum tea that has lasted all through her life, even through the "not allowed to leave the hospital" stage of her life and the still ongoing "must turn back time at the end of every month so I can continue to try to save Madoka" stage of her life. As such, she finds herself brewing it that afternoon, the warm, sweet smelling permeating every corner of her apartment, when she hears a knock on the door.

"Just a minute," she calls, minding the pot on the stove.

The knocking turns to pounding.

"I'll be there in a minute," she says again, this time with a certain edge in her voice.

The pounding turns to kicking.

"Oh, for God's sake, Kyouko," she mutters; there is, after all, only one person Homura knows who would actually be brazen enough to kick on someone's door when they weren't answering quick enough for their liking.

Homura marches to the door and flings it open. "What?" she demands crossly.

Kyouko stands at the door with a brown paper bag filled with apples in her arms, and judging from the look on her face (it's hard to tell whether she's on the verge of screaming in articulate rage or crying in frustration), she's in no mood for explanations. She shoves the bag into Homura's arms, stomps inside and, without even bothering to take off her boots, collapses at the coffee table, pillowing her head on her arms and hiding her face from view.

Ah, I see. I knew this would end badly. Homura sets the bag of apples down on the ground beside Kyouko and sits at the couch opposite her collapsed ally. She gives Kyouko a few moments to stew in peace, then asks evenly, "I take it things didn't go well?"

"That self-righteous bitch," Kyouko groans, her voice muffled in her sleeves.

Homura raises an eyebrow; she was under the impression that Kyouko already thought Sayaka was, in her words a "self-righteous bitch." She's not entirely sure why Kyouko feels the need to emphasize this again, but, as it happens, she's about to find out.

"She didn't listen to a word I said!" Kyouko shouts, so suddenly that even an unflappable girl like Homura has to jump a little. "It's like I was speaking Greek or something. I told her what I had to say, she waited to the end, and then completely put me down! Told me I was completely wrong like she's some damned expert on how to be a Puella Magi! Like she's better than me!" She sits up and slumps against the couch, her legs splayed out in front of her underneath the coffee table. Her arms folded about her chest, Kyouko's mouth contorts so wildly that, for one second, Homura is almost sure she's going to cry.

Reaching up to rub her forehead, Homura sighs. "Well… I can't say I'm surprised. So she viewed your words with contempt, is that it?"

Kyouko snorts. "If only." Homura supposes she should take it as a good sign that Kyouko seems a little bit calmer now than she did before.

She frowns. If not contempt, then what? Then, Homura remembers the one thing Kyouko hates worse than being looked down upon. "…Pity?" she ventures. When Kyouko nods soundlessly, mouth clamped tightly shut, Homura goes on. "Well, she doesn't hate you. At least you have that much—"

"It's worse!" Kyouko snaps harshly. "You don't give pity to another human being! You give pity to a… a… a dog!" she all but shouts again.

Homura raises an eyebrow. "So your problem with the way Miki Sayaka reacted when you tried to make her see your side of things is that you perceived her as viewing you as subhuman?"

"And that's not even the worst of it! Just think! I had given her my life story, exposed my tender belly, made myself completely vulnerable to her! Do you know how hard that is for me?"

"Virtually impossible?" Homura asks dryly.

"Damn right! And then, when I try to give her one of my apples—" Homura cringes; she knows the significance of Kyouko offering food to another, and judging from the state Kyouko's in, she can guess how that went "—what does she do? She asks if they're stolen! And then she goes on this big speech about how stealing food is bad! That it's immoral! That I'm immoral for doing it!"

She goes back to being face down on the coffee table. "Easy to say when you're a self-righteous bitch"—she slams her fist on the table "—who's never—" again "—gone hungry—" and again "—a day—" and again "—in your life! Easy to say when you're Miki Sayaka, who's never been poor, never been starving, never had to steal for her food, never had to beg for it, never had to go digging through people's trash to find lunch!" She slams her fist on the table yet again.

"Kyouko." Homura's voice is hard. "Stop hitting my coffee table. You're going to break it." Scowling mutinously but acceding to the demands of her host, Kyouko goes back to her sitting position. "And honestly, what did you expect?

"You're right. Miki Sayaka is not poor. She's never wanted for anything. Of course she thinks stealing food is immoral. She's never had to steal; the whole "homeless and starving" experience is so remote from her existence that she can't even begin to imagine what it's like to live the way you have. And as I said this morning, she does not like you. Of course she's going to disapprove of it if you're the one doing it. She won't accept that you've changed from when she first met you. She—"

"And then I punched her in the face," Kyouko announces suddenly, looking just a touch abashed.

Homura frowns at her. "What?"

Kyouko looks away, her shoulders shifting uncomfortably. "I punched her in the face," she says again.

"Kyouko!" Homura knows it hurts her image to show exasperation like this, but really, her stoicism can only take so much exposure to sheer stupidity. "I thought your plan was to make love, not war!"

The redhead shudders, and points a finger at Homura. "Okay, first thing. That whole "making love" thing? Never say that again. And second, you'd have done the same thing in my shoes! You try listening to some self-righteous bitch newbie lecture to you about how you get your food without punching her!"

Then, suddenly, all the anger vanishes from Kyouko's face. To replace it, a deeply bitter, morose, even melancholy cloud steals over her skin. She groans aloud and mutters, "God, I just wanted to be friends."

She's not such a bad person, in the end. Just a product of the system and what it did to her, and I will admit, I've always found her attempts to buck said system somewhat admirable. No one else even tries, but Kyouko, she's the only one who actually dares to believe things can still be alright once she knows the truth.

Okay, Homura's just going to admit it. Not even she can deny it any longer, when she keeps having thoughts in that direction every other minute. She's… fond? Affectionate towards? Okay, she likes Kyouko. Even when that girl keeps picking pointless fights and putting Madoka in harm's way as a result, Homura can't quite bring herself to hate her as she ought to hate anything that threatens Madoka. It's just… It's just impossible for her to hate Kyouko, no matter how destructive or self-destructive she is.

So she says the one thing she can think of that might possibly make Kyouko feel better. Homura points towards the sack of apples and quietly asks "May I have one?"

For a moment, Kyouko stares at her, eyes wide as though she never expected Homura to ask something like that. Then, she smiles. Not one of her wide, boisterous grins; a small, gentle smile. "Yeah, sure." Kyouko pulls an apple from the sack, examines it for a moment to make sure there aren't any bruises or holes, and tosses it to Homura, who catches the apple easily.

Homura's always liked apples. Her favorite fruit is grapefruit, but apples are easier to come by. She takes a bite out of it and swallows. "We'll put them in the refrigerator, so they last longer. Do you want some tea?"

"Yeah, I would."

Homura nods, and goes to get a couple of cups from the cupboard.

I need to think some things over.