Author's Note: For the record, I don't know where this came from AT ALL. I had the idea on Christmas Eve and pretty much wrote it for three days in a row.

Rypht, this is your Christmas and graduation gift. I hope you enjoy it. This was done on the fly!

The inspiration was below.

Imagine your OTP being separated by a war, Person A being taken to a new side of their country and B to another. Imagine their desperate need for the other — The want to be held, to talk to them, and only having to cope with letters.

Thank you tumblr!

This is AU and I warn of swearing, war, violence, implied murder, shojo-ai hints, and probably a couple other things.

Please critique heavily! I had no clue what I was doing.

Petals and Pens

It was the deployment that was the hardest for her family.

She had been a weak little girl, who still held up her hair in twin ties and wore glasses she didn't need. She was still weak but she wasn't dying anymore. So her country snatched her and off she went to battle. They hadn't cried, barely let out the words good bye. It was their reminder, their wish for her to be strong. It wasn't really a fair thing but this naïve girl knew fair didn't exist.

The dark girl was with so many others on this boat. They were going to create the unit, the first female unit in almost a decade. The men kept the peace, the women made it, so people said. So the propaganda said. Many of them were crying. They weren't able to drive a car yet adults drove them to war. One girl was not crying. In fact, she seemed almost excited, as though desiring the chance to hold a gun for the first time. Homura didn't know her name but according to statistics she didn't need to.

It was likely that blue girl would die first.

It was the girl at her side that was more interesting. On her lap, her legs covered by a school skirt, was a box, a box with the familiar red cross on it that dripped from the pain like blood from a gunshot wound. The person holding this had pink hair; bunches put up in ribbons carefully –tearfully?- tied. Were they a farewell present? Were they a gift from a boy? They probably were, what with the flowered scent around her.

Suddenly she wanted to know. Suddenly, for the first time in almost forever, Homura wanted to talk to someone.

Yet… how did one go about such a thing?

The girl looked up at that moment. A tiny smile rose her lips at Akemi Homura's own face and she raised a small piece of paper for her to see.

Hi there!

The dark girl felt her cheeks flush pink and looked away. When she looked back, the girl was busily rummaging through her box once more, nodding her head to the blabbering of the blue child at her side.

That was the first letter.

Their commander, teacher of the Puella, was a blond woman. Woman, they called her because she had been to war. Woman was her title because she had done horrible things. It was in her golden eyes that always sparkled with love towards her soldiers yet ran them through drills rain, snow, or tornado. They were meant to be elite. They were meant to be stronger than anyone, than any man. She was determined to make that so. Not only that, she was determined to make them crash every day.

The blue girl, Miki Sayaka she was called, believed her an idol.

Akemi Homura, fifteen years old and weak, thought this silly and untrue. She was just doing her job, as they would have to do. Was a work ethic so rare in her world that this woman deserved a pedestal? The dark girl had grown up watching her family fall to pieces to help her live. They were examples of fine humans… even though now she was here, wiping mud from her glasses. Many people agreed with Miki however, and the former heart patient had none of the courage to stand up and go against her opinion. Not even a friend, not even that little rich girl Shizuka Hitomi, would risk that.

The pink girl paid no mind to any of this, not even when Miki spoke to her. Homura still had not heard her name, had still never heard her speak a word either. Not even persistent Mami could get the name out of her. It was like she was mute or simply frightened. Homura couldn't help but observe her, the movements of her fingers like a conductor feeling for the rhythm of a song.

"Oi, Akemi." Her last name was spat out, venom coating the syllables like syrup.

She felt her eyes lift toward the blue-haired girl. Without thinking, her frail body tensed, prepared to spring off the bed and onto the floor. When had she become this way? When did she become aware of other people and their hatred? At that place of course. It was where one began and learned everything. "Yes…" she heard her mouth whisper, reluctantly noting the way her body blocked the other girl's from view, noting the way the frown was quirked to the right and that the eyes were full of dislike.

The girl looked her over, appraising her as one would a flat tire. "Why are you staring at Madoka?"

Madoka? Circle. What an interesting name. Homura fumbled anxiously, shifting on the bed with shy dismay. Many girls were looking at her now, including Madoka herself. The pink girl was smiling at her, smile a little nervous but plenty curious. "I… um… wanted to talk to her… but… b-but I didn't…" Homura shook her head shyly. "I didn't know her name… um… I'm sorry…" One of her hands grasped the tail of her braid, twirling it nervously. "I… I didn't mean to st-stare…"

Miki's frown began to shift, curling upwards into a mischievous smile, anger disappearing in a cloud "Well why didn't you just say that?" She clapped the dark girl on the back, missing or perhaps ignoring the squeak that left Homura's lips. "I mean really Akemi," Her name was lightly inflected now, perhaps with a giddy cheer of the well and truly easily-made drunk. "We're all comrades here." Other girls smiled, some even giggled nervously but Homura only watched the gentle nod of Kaname Madoka, utterly fascinated.

"Yes…" Homura squeaked out again, managing a tiny grin of her own.

When Miki Sayaka left her bedside an hour later, mumbling more questions of minor things Homura didn't even know were important, a paper airplane flew itself into the dark girl's hands. Unfolding it, she saw handwriting and a smiley face on the bottom, signed with a loose, free script.

Let's be good friends okay? You, me, Hitomi-chan, and Sayaka-chan too! Sayaka-chan can be really headstrong but she's a nice person, just like you!

Homura looked shyly at Madoka and nodded, causing the pink-haired girl's face to brighten and go back to her careful reorganizing. Homura's own fingers curled around that note, carefully buried under her pillow.

It didn't take a genius to note that Madoka was not a fighter.

She could shoot. She could shoot better than Homura, who practiced twice a day. She could hit right in the thick of things, even through the gap between Miki's arm and someone's stomach. However, she couldn't run and she couldn't last. Every time she ran, her left leg dragged, sometimes to the point of knocking her over. Her stamina was poor, poorer than Hitomi's had been at the beginning. She never would- or perhaps could- speak up and cry for help. Miki took it fine, shouting from behind her as though it were no trouble at all.

When Tomoe Mami questioned the pink girl, even reprimanded her, Sayaka spoke back, rising against her idol with a protective anger. "It's not her fault! She can't!"

Madoka had not cried, had not ever panicked or balked or even whimpered until that moment. Then tears welled up in her eyes and silently fell. Miki had turned but without realizing it Homura had walked over and hugged her. Feeling the tears and shudders against the dirty cream colored uniform, for the first time she was able to see the bandages around Madoka's throat, the sterile white of the fake leg in the military boot. It made her tremble. It made her sick.

It gave Homura a fiery hate for someone she had never known.

No one did that to themselves… and someone would pay for doing that to someone so kind.

The next day, Madoka was transferred to the field hospital. A letter was left under Homura's pillow, the paper decorated with pale flowers and scratches of ink.

My throat hurts.

They had begun in the fall, when the leaves changed and the world prepared for slumber. Now it was spring and the only tree was blooming. It was almost symbolic, the way the petals were already falling, already mourning what would come.

Homura looked at her callused hands, holding her glasses in one trembling palm. After this week… and perhaps a few days after… she would never need these again. And after that… she would be holding a gun. Or a grenade. Or some other metal object people used to kill each other day in and day out. They had been here so long… it was going to happen eventually. She had never felt any blood on her hands but her own.

Petals fell into her hair, sakura petals dotting her cheeks and uniform. Madoka's hand was on hers, thumb idly tracing the pattern of Homura's ring. Homura flushed in surprise. "Ka-Kaname-san?"

Madoka smiled peacefully, raising a piece of paper for her to see. Congratulations. That free hand, Homura noticed, was slightly red on the palm. You won't need those anymore.

"Thuh-thank you," the girl stammered out. She should have been, by now, able to look her in the eye, to speaks confidently. She could even answer the commander okay… but not her, never her. It was something about her, something about being with her that made that sort of thing impossible. "U-Um… where will you be deployed?"

Madoka's expression was thoughtful. Using her free arm she gestured all around the room. Wherever they need me to go. She reached to tap their hands. Maybe with you. The girl shrugged. I don't know. It was strangely soothing, the serenity her comrade presented to her. It was also humiliating.

"I'm not ready…" Homura admitted, tears beginning to form in her eyes without warning. She reached to wipe them away, only for Madoka to shake her head. Her hand, Akemi realized, was trembling. "We a-aren't ready." Madoka squeezed the girl's fingers.

"No one is ready Akemi-san," informed the soft voice of their trainer. Mami hung over them as kindly as she dared, stiffly at attention. "The Operation helps. I tell you it does."

Homura gulped. The Operation. It was the time when training officially ended, marked by the sixteenth birthday of the recipient. It was the mark that changed you. You weren't an ordinary soldier then. You were a Witch.

A Witch was feared, respected. They showed nothing, they had nothing left to lose. Once you became one there was no turning back. That moment you were awoke, you were sent off… and that was the end. Some died, some didn't. Some were simply lost to the world.

Mami watched her two juniors, coming to a strange, enigmatic conclusion. "Kaname-san," she murmured. "Today is the day. You can't delay it any longer. Please pack your things." Homura was still, not even feeling the girl's hand leave hers, unable to see Madoka nod silently.

Today is the day.

That was why she said it then. Mami wanted to make it easier. Mami did not want her to change her mind. Mami, no matter what Miki claimed, was not working in their best interests. Or maybe she was and Homura was merely ignorant. At this moment, Homura could not quite say she cared. Madoka limped to her bed and began folding. Her bandages rustled and the fake fingers squeaked on their porcelain bones. I never even asked why, she realized. This was the goodbye, likely the final goodbye. Now she could never even ask, even think.

How could she even choose to now? Homura slowly slid from the bed as Mami left the room, half-hearing her feeble farewells. She watched Madoka methodically work, rose gaze a stiff upper lip. Silently, she picked up a book and placed it on the bed. "I... why don't we run away... no one would blame us you know?"

Madoka hesitated before shaking her head no. She scrawled with one hand. No one would blame me but me. I... I have to do this.

"W-why?" Madoka shook her head and didn't answer. "Then... then promise me. Promise me we'll meet again. We... we have to fight... so... I want us to live too. Please?" Madoka looked slowly at her and Homura flushed red. "I... I just... want to be friends."

The words sounded lame when she said them but Madoka giggled silently anyway. We were already friends. She assured, slipping to the floor and heading towards the door. Thank you Akemi-san. You are... a really cool person.

Somehow the silence seemed much more deafening when she was gone.

Days later and Homura awoke to her commanding officer standing over her. Her heart-shaped face was grimly placating. "It's best not to delay, Akemi-san."

In a dazed sort of obedience, she rolled out, pulling her glasses from the nightstand. Her eyes glanced at them and she gently tapped them back down. I suppose I should leave a memento. Miki Sayaka watched her go and gave a tiny salute. The other girls mimicked her, in memory of her and another, one whose name was unspoken as of two weeks ago. It was protocol to let them go, military secrecy. People weren't to know. She felt the frown on her face, an expression her body was determined to keep with her. She didn't want to smile again, not until she saw the person who praised her, until she could be proud of the person she saw.

Despite the blur of the world, Homura's body knew where she was going. It followed the bounce of blond curls and ignored the passing voices. She refused to lose herself here. There was no way she could now.

You are a really cool person.

How could a coward be cool? She had wondered that so many times the first night, watching Sayaka punch her pillow across the room. How could a weak person be so cool? She didn't understand. What was important about being cool?

"So, this is Akemi."

Homura stopped walking; now realizing where she was and what she was doing. A man was staring at her. She knew it was one even with her horrible eyes. No girl was entirely angles… and no Puella looked like that. The man- who now that she examined him looked like a little boy- tilted a pale face at her. It bothered her, the way he kept staring blankly in her direction. She could see his eyes, Homura realized. The scarlet, oddly scarlet, irises were intent on her face, on her body. Was there something he could find? Did she want him to find it? The stare slowly ran itself down her. Then he turned away, chalk white features angled towards Mami.

"Yes," her commanding officer agreed. Mami's expression was unreadable in this angle but there seemed something melancholy in the way she crossed her arms. "Be careful with this group; I've said it a hundred times. They're strong. You need to stop putting so much."

"Perhaps," the boy agreed in a voice that was meant to be placating. "Or perhaps you're simply being a bit too gentle." With that, he turned, gesturing with a wave. "Come Akemi. There's no need to delay."

In the waiting room, Homura stripped down. For a moment, she hesitated at her braids, at the purple ribbons holding them up. Then her navy gaze hardened and she unfurled them. It was the end of her as a Puella. It was the end of her as a girl. A cool person would not be this; they would not let it matter. She left the room, clothes folded neatly. The hallways were somehow colder now, chilly against the surgical gown's meager protection.

Outside the room, the boy looked at her. "Are you sure this is what you want Akemi?"

"It's too late to back out now," Homura heard herself reply. Her voice… it sounded different. It even felt different as it left her lips. Kaname-san… Madoka… I will do whatever it takes to meet you. She laid herself on the table, barely listening to the words murmured by the doctors. They swarmed, working ceaselessly. A pain pricked at her arm and seconds later, her eyelids began to feel heavy.

"Just relax Akemi," hummed the voice of the boy. "My codename is Kyubey and I will be taking good care of you." She squinted to see and almost screamed. The red stare was back at hers, surrounded not by a boy's face but by something… something distinctly unreal. White blurred and the smile rose, a monstrosity full of fangs and ears like feelers.

He's not human! Homura thought she shrieked but her mouth remained bound with cement, eyelids closing faster and faster. Soon she knew nothing.

"When you wake up, Akemi Homura," hummed the boy, who hadn't blinked once. "Code Name: Homulilly will be born. And you will be ready won't you? Ready for war."

The whole thing had been quite painless reportedly. It was the waking-up that proved the most agonizing.

She had woken up gagged and with a body that felt like it was burning. She could see the ceiling through raw eyes and she found herself not wanting to. A slender hand was gentle on hers. Let go, she wanted to say. I'll burn you. Let go…

"It's all right Akemi-san. The pain will pass soon."

Mami. Did she wait with them every time there was an Operation? Did she sit here and watch them suffer? Did she cry? Her body trembled with an unshed breath and Homura watched; her vision blurry from pain.

The woman sighed. "You all always believe this is the worst of it; that the fight cannot be any more… oh but it can. It can." Homura stared owlishly upward at the expression on her former commander's face. "I wonder… how much longer they expect us to smile at you… how much longer they expect us to watch you burn… I wonder if I have done right…"

She laughed rather brightly. "You would know best… Oriko…"

Spots of her skin cooled where tears fell and Homura, in her slowly fading heart, forgave her commander.

She had just been doing her job.

"…Homura! Homura damn you wake up!"

She jolted from her reverie, hand leaving her forehead. Sayaka scowled at her playfully upside down. "Come on shape-up!" The blunette's command was fierce but no angrier than it would be at a rookie Witch. And Homura was not, she was higher ranked than Sayaka herself. However, Sayaka had a long memory. "We're in the north, the place where everyone is tough and dangerous and kicks ass!" Then the girl laughed, spinning her red stained cutlass with an almost obscene glee. "Like hell this tundra's all that bad."

Homura appraised her silently, shaking her head as tentatively as she dared. She knew this was simply Sayaka's boredom, her way of saying 'give me someone to stab in the chest'. "Sayaka, I will not spar with you," she deadpanned. "Go speak to someone else." They were all poorly suited to the weather of northern Mitakihara but Homura's ability to fight on that ice was as bad as Sayaka's aim in general. "My head disagrees with anything at the moment."

The young woman pouted and swung herself back up and over, rolling to lay on her side. "Ain't ya gonna take your meds?"

"Fuck meds," the girl replied without any particular fanfare. Sayaka winced, making the dark woman sigh. "I have been swearing since the age of seventeen. You'd think you would get over it. Besides," she paused delicately and her tone softened. "We both know they don't work Sayaka." Sayaka grumbled but let it go. Her blue eyes darkened visibly, gloved hand trembling around the hilt of her blade. Homura spun and roughly kicked the mattress above her head. "Oktavia."

There was a yelp and crack, the girl having smacked her head against the ceiling. "Not cool Homura."

"Then keep better control of yourself," sighed Homura in reply, rising to her feet and heading towards the door. "I'm going to the mess hall," she informed her roommate, palming the door open.

"Madoka wouldn't recognize you," she sneered back. It was a weak jab and they both knew it. Homura merely brushed her hair out of her eyes and strode away.

I wouldn't recognize me, she thought simply, remembering the day she had awoken in pain. She remembered the day her hands had taken a pistol and shot a man. She remembered the day she had turned eighteen and celebrated with champagne. How old was she now? Twenty? Twenty-five? She had stopped aging; she knew that. Long enough to forget her parents' voices she knew that.

It wasn't enough to forget Madoka's smile.

There probably would never be enough time to wipe that hesitant look from her face.

Supposedly, she was stationed in East End, where everyone went to die. The sickbay of the damned country of Mitakihara, according to one of the captains. Compared to that, North Hell where she resided, was like an ambulance, almost a flower field. How is she? Every day she asked that, inquired Sayaka for a letter, a sign. Sayaka gave absolutely nothing, having heard nothing.

She slid her tray down the cafeteria line, waving her fingers at a familiar girl. Hitomi nodded and lowered the volume on her headphones as Homura sat down near her. "Good afternoon Homura-san."

"Honorific," she intoned with a raise of the eyebrow. Hitomi giggled kindly. She was probably the only one from their unit, alive or otherwise, who could even manage a giggle. "Am I missing something?"

Hitomi shook her head, smiling all the same. "For someone so stiff, you're really so informal. What has changed Homulilly?" A chill ran down Homura's spine and she glowered at the other girl. On her hand, her purple gem glimmered. Hitomi saw this and chuckled, raising the emerald for her to see. "Witches can fight witches," she reminded softly.

Homura sighed. She had forgotten how badly Hitomi had responded to the Operation. Was there even a woman there she often wondered. "What do you want?"

"Sayaka," responded the former lady without delay. Her fingers twined together kindly and she glanced over Homura with her green, suddenly rather vacant eyes.

Homura raised an eyebrow, putting a piece of sushi into her mouth. "Isn't that her decision?" Even though Hitomi's eyes were on her, she continued to eat, mechanically putting the bland food into her mouth and chewing slowly.

"You could influence it," Hitomi encouraged, smiling again. Her right hand shook, shifting from a fist to a loose appendage.

"Sayaka would murder you," Homura replied, wiping her mouth. "You know as well as I that suicide by budding psychopath is not good on Magi's records." She let her chopsticks clatter to her tray. "I cannot convince her regardless. She will not forgive you."

"I didn't mean to…" whimpered the woman, now suddenly a pool of pity and whimpering noises. Homura stared at her dispassionately.

"Kamijou Kyousuke is still dead Shizuka Hitomi whether you meant it or not. Now if you excuse me I need to check the mail."

No one stared when she left the room. Hitomi was a maniac, Sayaka was a monster and she was the expert killer of the Magi world.

Madoka wouldn't recognize them all right.

Would I even recognize her?

Her deployment had to be almost up. Somehow she knew that much. Just a little longer and she would find out.

"Homura-san?" The woman interrupted her musings, handing her a letter. Homura blinked slowly, taking it to examine the handwriting. Her heart leaped into her mouth at the sight of the name on the return address.

Kaname Tatsuya.

Sayaka watched Homura return to the room. The woman's face was frozen, icy with some misery. Or perhaps the cold. Ha. Sayaka knew only one thing could make her look that way. Something had happened to Madoka. Her protective instincts welled up and she shoved them down harshly. The last time she had acted on those… the last time…

Maybe Homura had forgotten but Sayaka still recalled the timid girl with glasses who had reluctantly picked up a gun, who had been fascinated with her best friend. Maybe Homura had forgotten what she had looked like after her Operation. Sayaka hadn't. Sayaka would never forget either of them.

She would never forgive the Incubators.

That however, was not important now. What was important was helping her stoic roommate. "What does it say?" she asked, gesturing to the piece of paper. Homura sat down on her bunk beside her and handed her the paper. Her face was paler than it had been a moment ago.

Sayaka let her eyes travel down the paper and froze at the name on the envelope. Tatsuya? Gods time had flown. She could barely remember the little boy who couldn't even hold a pencil. Swallowing, she began to read. The script was loose rather like Madoka's, but also messier.

Dear Akemi-san,

My name is Kaname Tatsuya. Madoka may not have mentioned me but I am her little brother. She sent me lots of letters about you and I was really happy. She had only ever talked about Miki-nee and Shizuka-nee, (She cringed.) so I was happy she knew someone else.

I am writing to tell you my onee-san is alive.

Sayaka paused to glance at Homura. The girl was breathing deeply, trying to keep her composure. Sayaka smiled a little. It wasn't a surprise. We all thought she was going to die. Or I did. She knew why things were the way they were. They let her in though; they gave her the Operation, she smiled.

Onee-san hasn't been able to write in a while. She's been so busy and tired. I visit her every day. She wrote everyone a lot of letters but no one let her send them. She was very sorry. I'm actually not supposed to be writing this at all but… I thought it was okay just this once.

Akemi-san… I'm scared for my Onee-san.

The blunette winced. Somehow, Madoka was completely alone. Damn the Incubators. Damn them all.

Mama told me, before that day happened, Madoka smiled a whole lot. She was curious and friendly. But it happened. I don't know what it was. I wasn't born yet. All I know was that it was scary and bad and it took her voice and her hand and her arm… and a lot of people died. I remember her being gentle still but she was always very unhappy. Before, it used to be a small sadness, one that could go away. Now it's not.

She's very sad and scared all the time. I hear her crying. Yeah… she's crying a lot. She smiles at me every day but I know… I know this fighting hurts her. Even though her required time is up, she still goes there… I dunno what… I don't know what to do.

I think she needs someone Akemi-san. I think she needs you.

I don't know why I think this but she sometimes draws you. She draws you or flowers or her friends. It's really scary. Sometimes she drinks. Sometimes she drinks and tells me scary things. She tells me about the day she got her voice. Sometimes she talks about you or Miss Tomoe. Sometimes she just hugs me and cries.

I'm getting too big for her to hug me Akemi-san.

I don't know if you can do it but… could you come see her? Even if it's just for a day, come see her. I think it will help her. Thank you.

Kaname Tatsuya

Sayaka glanced again at her roommate. Ragged breaths left her lips and she was making the bed shake. "Homura," she said softly, placing a hand on her shoulder. "She's waiting for you."

That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Tears left the other woman's eyes and she buried her face in her hands.

Regardless Sayaka pressed on. This was not the first time she had seen her friend this way after all. "She ain't waitin' for me and I ain' goin'. I've got someone else, somethin' else. But she needs you."


Sayaka spun her cutlass and rolled her eyes. "She didn't have to tell you a thing. You didn't have to tell her a thing. She liked that. Knowing things didn't matter. Knowing her truth didn't matter. Knowing her did. She liked that." She slapped Homura on the back. "No matter how much stuff we've done, that hasn't changed. And you know that." She laughed. "Just like I'm still awesome!"

Homura shivered from a breeze that didn't exist. Then she chuckled deeply, tears still leaving her eyes. "I remember thinking," she commented fondly, or as fondly as she ever dared. "That you would die first."

Sayaka snorted. "I remember thinking I'd kill you first." Homura laughed again, marveling at the sound leaving her mouth. "Oh look, the queen can laugh." She smiled and stretched. "You've got a month Homura. Better get saving cause the second you turn twenty-one you're going on the first ship to the East. And you're dragging Madoka to a bar. I don't care how you get home the next day. Gosh darn it all you're doing it."

Homura blinked slowly. "I'm…"

The blunette rolled her eyes. "You are so bad at time. You're twenty still you idiot. Geez."

Homura stared again before sighing deeply. "I… I guess I can't thank you enough."

Her roommate and combat partner grinned. "Just say hi to Kyoko for me all right? If she doesn't have a flat in the next three weeks I am kicking her ass."

She received a nod. "I'll try my best." Then, with the tiniest of smirks, Homura threw her pillow at Sayaka's head. "Now, off to bed with you. I need as much rest as you."

"You just want to fantasize," Sayaka teased.

She earned another pillow for that remark.

The city was louder than she remembered it.

It was discomforting, simply put. People weeded in and out of your vision, there was more friendly chatter than a cafeteria, and as far as she could tell: half the citizens carried a gun. Actually, that made her more at ease. Luckily for her, she still had a vague idea where everything was, by which she knew how to find the market. It was a start, one step away from Go.

Hm. Perhaps Sayaka had rubbed off on her more than she thought.

Children were safe here, she observed by the sound of tiny feet tapping cobblestones. One spun around her, catcalling across the plaza streets toward another. Barring them, she was getting odd looks from the people around her. Strange, she had left her weapons on the ship… and her outfit wasn't that outlandish was it? Confused but remaining poised, she approached a stand. The meat there smelled particularly good. "How much," she inquired coolly, pulling out a coin purse.

The young woman sucked on a cigarette with a smirk, blowing a ring straight in Homura's face. "No charge if you tell me about the little mermaid."

Homura raised an eyebrow before rolling her eyes. "You're alive."

Kyouko blew another, tastefully keeping it away from the food. "Better believe it. Nobody would dare kill someone like me… 'cept her." The redhead leaned over the stand, crimson eyes driven. "How is she?"

Homura shrugged, snatching a skewer from the wheel and watching civilians scurry like mice. "Sayaka is Sayaka. She commanded me to inquire on your housing situation." Kyouko's face turned as red as her hair, to which Homura sighed. "She's going to kill you."

"Oi, I am still living there," huffed the young woman, blowing on the small fire. 'I have to clean up a bit but it's not like I've been kicked out or nothin'."

"You don't have to justify yourself to me." Homura sank her teeth into another piece of meat, wiping the juices away with her hand. "Besides, that you can afford something better than horse meat says it all certainly."

"Fuck you Akemi." Kyouko almost snatched the skewer away but thought better of it. She wouldn't waste the charred meat.

"That's not your profession." Homura leaned against the wall, watching the world pass. "I'm looking for someone."

"Oh that clears everything up," the woman commented. "What, you need a drinking buddy now that you're out of the shithole?"

"I still would not ask you. I don't trust my credit that much."

"… You antisocial, kinky, emo, egotistical little shit."

Homura smirked. "I have to admit: that was better this time."

Her companion cackled at this, taking change from a passing patron. "I've finally had time to brush up on that thing called reading. Next I'll be reading chapter books and sounding scholarly."

"I'll get you a library card if you can get me Kaname Madoka's location."

Kyouko's eyebrow lifted. "You don't know how to read a directory?" When Homura didn't answer, the redhead burst into cackles, practically shaking. "The ice queen's got nerves! Hah! I've got to tell Sayaka when she gets here! Oh man." She clutched at her sides, barely managing to have a business transaction. "Who would have thought tall, dark, and bishoujo could get the shakes? Holy shit…" Homura waited for her to quiet down. Ever since they had met in the north back then, Kyouko's emotions had had a habit of lingering. Call it a bad quirk.

When she finally stopped, wiping her eyes, Homura shrugged. "It's been a while… we haven't talked. You know, that storybook stuff."

"Storybook stuff," sniggered the chef, spinning a sharp object fashioned like a tiny spear. "You would be the dashing prince off to rescue your princess." Homura shrugged. "Yeah," Kyouko amended with a puff. "You'd scare your princess to death."


Kyouko frowned. "Are you serious?" Homura nodded. "Oh for the sake of the Lord…" She sighed. "With a name like Kaname, and likely a military backin'… she's probably at the Butcher sector."


Kyouko shrugged. "All the blood flows from there." She moved back to her cutting board. "Drop me a plug down there. They've got great bars."

The streets in the Butcher sector ran red all right.

Bells chimed softly against rushing carriages passing her walking form. The rain had begun to fall, making the brick road glimmer in candle lanterns. She had no umbrella, settling for the cool of the rain on her skin.

Homura looked at shop windows, where medical supplies were plastered behind. People ran in and out like they were possessed, including even a couple of children. One with dark red hair carried rolls of white bandages away, running as fast as his tiny legs could take him. His arms trembled as a couple rolls fell. She gently snatched them from the ground as the child stopped, shaking his head.

"Took too many," he murmured in a high voice, looking angry with himself. "Onee-san needs this and I'm just dropping them. Silly, silly me." It was almost comical; his anger. "Thank you," he said softly as he took them back. Then he paused to look up at her. "Akemi-san?" When her frown deepened, he actually smiled. "You're Akemi-san! I recognize the hairband!" He practically bounced where he stood. "I'm Tatsuya! I'm Madoka's brother!"

Before she could actually answer, he looked at the clock overhead. "Oh! Darn it! Her shift is over!" As he murmured to himself, pacing back and forth out of the puddles, Homura mentally and systematically panicked. She could see Madoka. Would they recognize each other? Would she hate her? Was she still cool?

Did any of it matter?

For a moment, the soldier retreated in her mind, leaving that little timid girl who warned of gunfire vulnerable and shaking. Kaname-san was hurting. Kaname-san was alone.

Madoka was alone… and needed someone. She couldn't be right… Then again… Sayaka wasn't particularly well… and Hitomi needed someone to commit her… was she all that was left? Was it because she was left?

"Okay!" The child who called himself Madoka's brother exclaimed, clapping his oddly small and chubby hands together. Now that she looked at him, they were similar. Their faces were both meant to smile, large eyes glowing. They were lean, built for movement before strength. Even the way their hair surrounded their head was similar. "Akemi-san we're going to have to dash for it! Onee-san's probably heading home soon. We're gonna beat her there! Okay?"

Homura hesitated. Then she nodded, racing after the tiny child down the slick road. Twice he stumbled and hurried on, practically skipping in eagerness. Did children normally skip? She didn't remember. She knew they played hopscotch. Wondering about the antics of normal children made her smile a little. It sounded nice… spending her days like that.

If we had met any other way, would this be different?

"Hurry up Akemi-san!" Homura started from the train of thought and followed. Despite herself, she reached for a hair tie that wasn't there and wondered for red frames she had forgotten long ago. It was almost like going back in time. Habits die hard.

The aroma of an unknown flower suddenly touched her nose and she smiled a bit as Tatsuya ran up a set of steps, opening the door without any manners whatsoever. "Onee-san! Onee-san!" His excitement was rather infectious as Homura quietly, almost shyly, knocked on the door frame. "Come out wherever you are!" His shoes were already off and he was bouncing from foot to foot.

The whine of a tea kettle met her ears only to be quickly silenced. Then someone walked from another room, footsteps oddly loud. "Tatsuya, you're really early," mused the voice, quiet and dipped with melancholy. "I don't know if I have any way to feed you…" Out popped a pink, weary-looking head. Rose eyes saw her and widened, her voice trailing off.

A small smile tugged at Homura's lips. "I don't need food but… is it too early to sit and chat?"

Madoka's voice was gentler than she imagined. "Never."