It hurts. A terrible pain clutched at Homura's heart, but she knew it wasn't her heart. She was looking through the eyes, feeling the mind of May's father. Andy. Why couldn't I be named something else? A low, dry voice called out in Homura's mind. CaptainAfrica. EpicBoredom. EpicImpotence. Shade. Vladmir. Ivan. Evan. No matter what though, it all felt so lame.
Homura hated this already, but had a feeling it was just beginning. Certainly, someone with the psychological complexity to account for May's thought patterns wouldn't be limited to mere self-loathing. That's right, it was something more. The desire to please someone else, to live for something more that was present in every human being – and the pain of not doing good enough. The idea, the ludicrous idea of bearing torture and infinite deaths all for the sake of that special someone. No God or justice or reason was needed – just that wretched feeling of love that destroyed one's heart.
Why should I care? The man's voice called out. Why do I have to care about other people, about the rest of the world? People seem so much happier just focusing on others similar to them, not trying anything new. Should one take this guaranteed happiness and be satisfied with it? Should one merely turn a blind eye to those that are different? "He's messed up. Forget about it. I feel bad and all, but I'd much rather live my life than help someone else's." We'll just pity the Africans and send them unreliable donations through mail instead of going out of our way to help them. We'll just jail sex offenders and gang members and disregard them as actual human beings. That's the easiest way, right?
"No," Homura said to herself. "There's more to it." From the outside, she was nothing but a cool-headed transfer student. But inside, she was something more. Everyone had this more inside.
There was more than just "he's attracted to children and that's terribly wrong." There was the basic sexual drive or libido that urged an animal to mate. But there was something human, something needed. A psychological libido. When everyone in the world gives up all the dreams and aspirations to follow orders and convention, when everyone is busy selling themselves just to eat and propagate unsure of what they want to do, what is there to live for? Freedom, the kind of freedom seen when a child gazes at the falling snow with innocent, adorable eyes. To lose that sense of freedom and to give everything up to convention was terrible. To do everything proper and to never let passion run loose – why tolerate this slow, dry death? Be forever young. Go back to that sense of freedom, open up the mind and still see everything in a pure light. Hug that freedom, bond with that freedom; remain free despite engaging in the natural order of procreation and decomposition. It doesn't matter if it's seen as perversion or debauchery.
"Adults are disgusting. They treat each other like machines and economic variables. Once a person's used up, just toss him or her to the side. Why should I care about this adult world, with all their narrow, mechanical eyes? I don't like looking at their faces. It's constricting; it's stressful. I can't turn to God, either. It's not in my role to be submissive, but neither do I want to control people. I just want to make sure there's someone next to me, which is impossible in a world full of competition and bragging."
It doesn't matter how close she is to you. The closer, the better. Disprove this cultural bias, disprove this false morality. It's okay as long as no one really gets hurt, and no one will. It's all known and it's all consensual. Father and daughter can become lovers. When it's desired, everything is permissible.
Homura wanted to close her eyes and turn away, but she couldn't. The words and images were so disturbing, but they all rang true. Taking things into rational consideration, freedom could really go anywhere without moral constraints.
It's not like I want to hurt them. Sex should be something more than the sleaziness that's portrayed in reality. I only want to do it with someone I adore and care for, and natural relationships are far too shallow to create something like that. I want to be gentle, but I can't do it with grown-ups. It's them that are cruel and terrible. Putting meanings and prices on meaningless and priceless things… Why can't I just get a little girl in a box? For Christmas, maybe. I'll definitely treat her nicer than the people in this stupid world.
Homura didn't know what she was feeling. Countless lonely nights of looking at lolicon. It was only in those relaxing, gentle eyes that he could find peace. And the feeling of just committing the act in bed, it was more than just pleasure. It was forwards and backwards, permissible and forbidden, beautiful and disgusting. It was like the mind was being pulled apart in completely opposite directions, as if the human eye could suddenly glimpse into eternity.
"You disgusting, pretentious piece of crap!" Sayaka's voice called out as the scene suddenly changed. Homura found herself sitting in a theatre, stuck in her position with her eyes forced open. On the stage were all of her friends and another version of herself, and a male figure was lying on the floor. "Your heart hurts, doesn't it?!" Sayaka stabbed her sword into the man's chest repeatedly, and black blood came spurting out. "You want to help us, huh?! Then take all of our sadistic desires!" The stabbing almost made a rhythmic sound as the blood kept flowing, leaking onto the stage…
"You don't like maturity, do you?" Mami asked as she balled up a string of yellow ribbons, her chest in her outfit in plain view. "And you're deluded into thinking you can live this kind of life… We'll be part of your training then." Mami smashed the yellow ball into the man's face, bits of bone and tissue flying off into the distance. The back of the skull smashed into the floor, and the dark blood splattered where the head collided. The muscles were distorted, and the nerves on Andy's face writhed in pain pathetically.
"We'll act all sweet and pure for the cameras and the outside world," Kyoko said as she walked up to Andy with her spear. "But behind the scenes, you'll be our punching bag. What? You thought we were good or something? Hmph, what a delusion." Chains wrapped around the man's arms and tightened, tightened until the arms shattered, and bits of white bone and saggy red flesh and black blood was sent everywhere. In an instant, however, Andy's arms regenerated. "That desperate to live, are you?" Kyoko asked. "…Why do you have that smile on your face?"
The damaged figure spoke out. "I'm causing the people I care about pleasure. That's all that really matters…"
"You…!" Kyoko started. "If that's so, killing you isn't nearly enough, huh? Let's make him wish he was dead. We got to beat the pedophilia out of him." Kyoko chained up Andy's crotch and dragged the man around violently. "How does it feel?" Kyoko asked as she threw Andy up into the air and slammed him against the ground. "Sexually gratifying, isn't it?"
"No…" Homura whispered. "Kyoko, that hurts!" No one heard her. "No matter who it is, that shouldn't happen to anybody!"
"And yet it does," Rumi said. "Not just to the men fighting for their causes, but to innocent villagers, women, children… Can you bear allowing this to happen?"
"You wanted to enlighten us, did you?" Madoka asked as she stepped up to the battered and tortured body. "Well, you did. Most people do evil due to some misunderstanding or loss of reason… But given who you are, you could've only done all the wrong things out of your free will. I didn't think I could hate anybody, or do this to anybody. But I hate you."
"Madoka…!" Homura yelled desperately. Even if this all wasn't real, even if this was a tormented man's nightmare, the image was still too much. Madoka drew an arrow and prepared to fire it up towards the sky. "How is he even that bad?!" Homura asked. "He didn't even want to hurt anyone…"
"Whenever you make a choice, you hurt," Rumi said. "Most people aren't aware of that. You can either choose to please one group, or please another. It's the same with individuals. By only choosing one thing, you always commit some sort of evil. In any case, even if it's just due to world public opinion, most of what this man wants makes him reasonably spiteful."
The arrow went down into Andy's stomach and into his body, inflating the tormented figure like a balloon. "You want to know everything, do you, philosopher-king?" Madoka asked. "Well pay the price, you glutton!" The man's stomach exploded, and innards and black blood flew about everywhere. What was left of the body was devastated and punctured, but it immediately began to heal and regenerate, even while bits of gore still rained from the sky.
"Why…?" Homura asked to herself. "May…"
"It's like confetti," May said on the stage as she picked up bits of her father's gore. "Anyways, Homura-onee-chan, how should we torture my dad?"
"Let's see how many bullet holes we can fit in him," Homura saw herself say. "And then let's see how we can violate those holes. It's a fitting punishment for how much he fantasizes about opening up children," Stage Homura took out a heavy machine gun and began pouring rounds into the regenerating body. "Is that over two hundred?"
"I'm not sure, but it's a good amount," May said cheerfully as she summoned a column of water and sent it pouring into her father's wounds. The figure jerked upwards and contorted painfully, the water crushing and pushing and preventing the wounds from healing. The body twisted left, right, into impossible shapes and figures. "This is like the time we played Twister, right?"
"Had enough?" Rumi asked as the stage faded away. Homura couldn't respond, and noticed that tears were forming in her eyes. It was one thing to see this sort of thing happen. It was another to recognize all of the cruelty in humanity. "You know…" Rumi said. "It's not just a sob story. Before you met Madoka, haven't you ever even thought about a shining knight sweeping you away?" The scene changed, and it was a flashback of Homura walking by herself on that familiar bridge where she had contemplated suicide. "It could've all worked out so perfectly." As glasses-Homura leaned over the bridge dejectedly, an observant and decent-looking boy walked up to her. In an instant, things had changed from nightmares to dreams.
Glasses-Homura was talking solemnly, and the boy was listening, awkward but attentive. He said something shyly, and then the scene changed. The two of them laughing as they shared a joke in a restaurant. Peaceful hobbies, like kite-flying and bird-watching. Bowling together, sitting next to each other and hugging, sharing a soft kiss and gazing into each other's eyes, walking home together sharing an umbrella with a hot drink in the rain… Small arguments and "I'm sorry"s. The smiles and laughs that conveyed another human being was feeling a meaningful joy. "Is it all so terrible?" Rumi asked. "Sometimes, the shining knight just misses that perfect opportunity. But even as you go your own ways, that knight would be there for you, no matter how twisted he became."
"But…" Homura started. The scenes wouldn't stop flashing before her eyes. There were those countless nights spent alone with disgusting pleasures, but there was something else. Lonely night after night embracing that weakness inside of him, that desire to share things with someone, not knowing whether he would be able to think of such a wish peacefully. He had all those hateful feelings, but he also had that lovely, ecstatic feeling of wanting to bring someone pleasure. Admitting his irrational love, and never letting go. He never gave up, and that was something that should be noted. While most people would just abandon their wild and ridiculous dreams, Andy kicked and fought to keep something special within him.
"You were the only bright light in my life." Homura was now face-to-face with the man she had commonly seen as May's father in his youthful state. His eyebrows somewhat thick and his curved eyes and pupils always seemed to be focusing on something beyond reality as the dark brown irises reflected a watery obsidian. His skin was a light tan, and his body was lean enough for his clothing to make patterned wraps around him. His chin was unshaved, although the goatee was really just a small entanglement of hair, and his unkempt black hair touched the tips of his eyebrows, causing him to brush it away every now and then. "Sorry… It looks like you're going to be stuck with me for a while, aren't you?" Homura looked away instinctively, feeling that it was hurtful but permissible. "I caused all this trouble, didn't I?" the boy asked as he gazed away shyly. "If only I kept to myself, none of this would've happened. I tried not to be selfish, I really did. Before I met you, though, I was probably filled with nothing but pride and frustration. It was… Illogical of me, I suppose, but to realize this sort of hell-raising love and adoration and accept it allowed me to see more of the world. If only I wasn't like this, right?" Andy brushed away part of his hair.
Homura wondered if she would have met May had her father not fallen into this disastrous mess. She wondered about how much more troublesome or boring or lonely it would've been if it was just her, Mami, and Kyoko with no May to interfere. But there had to be another way, right? That was something Rumi would say.
"People don't like this sort of person, do they?" Andy asked, and another set of images came up in Homura's mind. This time, the boy was in his weakest state, helpless and extremely shy. He didn't say anything as Homura and her four original Puella Magi acquaintances slowly accepted him into the group. All that time spent alone with no one to confess his weakness to… Sorrow turned to anger, arrogance, hypocrisy, judgment. Can't one just snuggle up like a child and ignore all of that? Indeed, his eyes were definitely adorable as they looked up pathetically, uselessly – Homura suddenly felt that innate urge to nurture someone in her heart. This was wrong, though.
"People don't really want to understand each other, do they?" May's voice rang in Homura's mind.
"There are a lot of possible worlds to give everyone a happy ending," Rumi said. "It need not be limited to what you can imagine."
Homura woke up to find herself in an entirely new bed and an entirely new room. It was probably a new house, too… I see, Homura thought. She was still trapped in Rumi's mental magic. Falsely constructed memories rose up in Homura's mind as she brushed her teeth and walked into the dining room to see another considerable surprise. May and her father were sitting down at the dining table, ready with a breakfast of thick waffles and authentic syrup and strawberries. "It looks like you woke up just in time," May said.
So that's how it is, Homura thought. In this world, May was her daughter and she was married to that man. It didn't feel right at all, but neither did a world where someone needed to imagine himself being torn alive by middle school girls and had to desensitize himself with lolicon and alcohol.
The father-daughter pair almost immediately noticed that something was off, but didn't raise it up. Homura for some reason felt a sense of trust in this situation, and decided to say it outright. "This world is an imagined illusion," Homura said. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I quite belong here." A small silence passed between the three people.
"…So it's a magical predicament, is it?" Andy replied rather calmly with an interested glance. Wrinkles had appeared on his face with age, but it still gave off a soft sense of acceptance. "One of those commonly used in modern storytelling where the protagonist walks into a different world, and has to decide whether to stay in it. Since stories in this scenario aren't that much different than reality, you're probably intending to return to your original world, right, Homura? In that case, I'm quite worried about what will happen to the two of us now…"
"Don't just make assumptions like that," Homura said. This person really was May's father. "It's a weird surprise, but by this time in my journeys, I'm not always begging to be back in my comfort zone. In addition, I don't think I can just walk out of this world immediately…" Homura sat down on the chair and looked at the moderately-sized stack of waffles.
"Is it cliché for distorting the cliché, then?" Andy mused as he snagged up a waffle with chopsticks and placed it on Homura's plate. "I'd hate to think that I'm seducing you or anything, but perhaps I have that sort of charm, and that's why people avoid me. But it's better to be as I am now rather than a cult or fascist leader…" The man drank his tea speculatively. "In any case, I can't prove that I'm not actually using a form of mind control, as I may perhaps not be a free agent. But I suppose I'll have to hear your story."
"Basically, I was in a fight with a magical group that tried to change the laws of human existence, and the leader trapped me in your mind in an attempt to persuade me." Homura didn't know why she felt so comfortable just saying all of this. "On that world…" Homura's voice trailed off. "You're a different person."
"Do you know me there then?" Andy asked. "Or do you just know me because you were installed with memories corresponding to this simulation?"
"My memory was supposedly wiped a couple of times," Homura said as she looked at May. The hazel-eyed girl looked exactly the same despite having come from a different mother, and also seemed to believe Homura's tale. There was definitely a bond of trust between her and them. "You're merely a single father in that world who raised May, and fell into a pit of depression after your daughter slid to another universe. There, I'm not May's mother, but her friend. As for you… You're known to have unhappy endings across the multiverse."
Andy chuckled curiously. "I suppose we can go over how ridiculous this world had come to be after breakfast. It's sort of hard to eat while thinking, don't you agree?"
Homura found the breakfast fairly tasty, and noticed that it was more than just something pulled out of a freezer. She, May, and Andy sat on the floor around the coffee table, and prepared to continue the odd discussion. "Sorry, is this really uncomfortable for you?" Homura asked May.
"Hearing my mom say that she apparently came from another universe and talk about weird things is a rather interesting way to start the day, honestly," May said. Homura turned to Andy.
"Well, in this world, I first got to know you as a fictional character," the man said. "When alternate dimensions collided for whatever reason, I was able to meet you – also for whatever reason. We spent quite a good bit of time together as the chaos in the world started to calm down… It's rather awkward to talk about while in May's presence. A few years later, we started to raise said daughter, and have been living pretty peaceful lives ever since."
Homura couldn't stop herself from casting a cynical glance to the side. "Did I… Did I give birth to May?"
"Ah, there was still something to do with magic," Andy said. "Puella Magi are sort of forced to have their bodies stay in a certain stage, so even if an egg got fertilized, it would just get washed out. She was created by merging our genes in a lab..." Homura looked at May, still seeing no resemblance of her in this version of her friend. "I swear, no one of my knowing tweaked with the genes. I know it's always sort of uncomfortable for you when you feel that May doesn't share any of your traits… Ah, you just entered this world this morning, didn't you?"
"Right…" Homura said. The conversation was strange as a conversation could be, but still felt as perfectly comfortable as chatting about some daily matter. "The May I know gave off the impression that, well, both of you would live a, how should I say it…? A more interesting life." This was something that could definitely be used to refute Rumi's arguments.
Andy shrugged. "I think it's pretty interesting. Our daughter turned out pretty special, after all." May blushed upon hearing the statement. "We can always be so open with her, and she keeps her school stuff in check as well. As far as her being a supposed girl genius, that just allows whoever she's talking to to learn so many things in a conversation with her. What did you have in mind of a more interesting life?"
"…I don't really know," Homura said. Perhaps such a man would've been better off becoming a sage in the mountains. But then he would've never been able to help May become the wonderful person she was. Even then, someone of this… attitude seemed like he would never be able to live this sort of domestic life. "What do we usually talk about at the dinner table?"
"Scientific news," Andy said. "It's a mental burden to think of human ideas all the time, but really quite pointless to talk about material goods or other people. Science falls nicely in between, especially since May's always making new discoveries by herself. You sometimes share stories from your workplace, but you seem to be more of the listener type of introvert."
Homura blinked. Work…? That was right. She wasn't entirely normal, either. None of her life was. On what basis would she judge whether or not to accept this type of emotional, hypothetical argument that the Rebellion was proposing? "Do we ever get into fights?"
"Sometimes," Andy said. "But May usually comes between us and reasons it out. I wish we wouldn't put such a heavy burden on her, but she just sort of takes it for herself."
"Sorry," May said as she got up from the coffee table. "You can probably talk about more things if I wasn't here. I'll be heading to the library to do some stuff." May left the scene without another word. Apparently that was seen as a valid reason to leave the house.
Homura sighed as she looked at a spot on the ceiling. Logically, what was wrong with this world? She couldn't say. Was it all right for her to be so selfish and arbitrary? "I guess this wasn't an accurate simulation for you," Andy said. "The obvious reason to return to your world is because even with my supposed good qualities considered, you wouldn't love me as much as Madoka."
"That…" Homura began. Even on the old world, there was no guarantee of her seeing Madoka again. And Rumi could probably provide a world with that, too… But she had fought her with the mindset that she would reject such a temptation. Why, though? "Don't worry about that," Homura said. "Can you tell me more things about this world? Like in regards to… sex?"
"We don't really do it now, and never really did it that much," Andy admitted shamelessly. "You never really did find my body very attractive. Since May was born, she's been our priority, even though she's not a problem child. That girl really needs a bit of support, you know?"
"How about romance?" Homura asked. "What was the nature of that, if I ended up marrying you?"
"Talking and listening," Andy said. "That was something I usually couldn't do because normal interactions involved mindlessly judging and labeling people. But… You were a really great person, you know? I never expected you to be so nice to me. At the beginning, I clung to you a lot when we slept together. I was afraid, and just wanted to be sure that I had someone to hold. Eventually, though, you helped me overcome those unpleasant feelings. Our relationship's a lot more mature now, and doesn't involve that much physical contact. As for why you ended up with me, I suppose you just saw my emotions and mental states as things of interest… Rather, you respected my happiness. I'm not sure if that could be called love."
"…It's fine," Homura said as she brushed away one of her bangs. "What about Madoka?"
"I think she preferred fighting for humanity's sake after learning about all of the complexities of it rather than spending time with her friends," Andy said. "Kyoko Sakura and Sayaka Miki are somewhere around here, while Mami Tomoe went off somewhere on her own… I guess you could just turn away from this world due to the fact that you'll miss out life experiences. Or perhaps if you choose it, you'll slowly ease into this state and still have the precious days of youth to live."
Homura shook her head. "I don't know now. I never really liked the term 'moral obligation', but if it isn't one of these worlds where I'm with you, you seem to end up as a really sad person. I don't want that to happen, but of course…" Homura put her hand over her heart.
"It's awkward with May as your daughter and not your friend, right?" Andy asked warily. "We can't just revoke and recreate her existence, no matter how hard we try to make a paradise. I don't think you'd be the type that'd be up for memory-wiping, either…"
"And it'd also feel wrong if you just lost your feelings for me," Homura said. The generational paradox. The lover's paradox. Andy looked down at the patterns on the table patiently, but the gleam of sorrow and frustration flickered in his eyes. "I'll stay in this world for a bit longer, although I'm not sure when I can leave," Homura said firmly. "I still feel I have something to learn from it."
This world changes too much, Homura thought as she walked to the master bedroom and lay down on the queen-sized bed. Upon closer inspection, she saw that there seemed to be only the bare minimum of furniture, simply designed with no real effort put in to make it look elegant. Even if the surroundings remained the same, some part of her inside was changing. Even if her body wouldn't age, her mind would. Even without the Ordered's interference, memories would become distorted and blurred. Was there really nothing permanent in this world except change?
Then again, Homura didn't want to consider herself an inflexible person. Indeed, why couldn't things just change? She could change and grow up to live a life more like this… But why was she the one that had to carry the burden? Well, that seemed easier than having Andy give up such a powerful love of his. In this world, she wasn't really forced to do anything, after all…
Homura lay on the bed for a while, thinking of these types of questions. After a while, however, she gave up, not bothering to find the answer, and then stumbled across something. Was it what exactly was fundamentally wrong with this world? She had a collection of answers in her head.
Homura returned to the living room, where she found Andy reading a relatively thick book, and prepared herself to ask the question. "Do you still look at lolicon?"
"Not really," Andy said. "Due to our togetherness and perhaps of aging, I don't feel myself craving such things anymore."
"Right," Homura said, racking her head for ideas. "…Have you heard of the Eastern philosophies? Monks would meditate over something for days and weeks, almost tearing their mind apart in the process. But they suddenly stumble across the answer and find it all too simple – I don't think it's the answer that makes these meditations great. Without all of that pain, no matter how unnecessary it seems, they never really would've found the answer…"
"Perhaps their minds really do break, and they suggest something obscure when it does," Andy suggested as he put a hand over his heart. "You've found this a curious thing about me in the past, right? Happy endings are uninteresting." Andy looked to the side, outside the window. "But I don't want to go back to a world where I have to totter on the edge of insanity every other day and never be sure that I can remain on the sane side. I still get emotional, you know? But when you're here, I always calm down… If it was anyone else, I'd feel that something was betrayed."
"…Sorry," Homura said. "How do you make a living?"
"Computer stuff," Andy said. "I was never into strictly programmed math despite having a somewhat logical train of thought. But whatever might've made my art and literature good was all of the suffering my works expressed. Happiness really was too simple." Andy's face contorted into a scowl. "This created a negative feedback loop where I constantly had to visit those painful feelings every damn day… Sorry."
Homura looked aside and thought of all of the artworks and writings she had seen in the family room with May on the day she first arrived. "But really… Doesn't it seem like a waste?"
"I'm living a happy life with you," Andy tried to say without regrets. "May will easily outdo me with all of her talents in whatever field she chooses, be it biological research or video gaming." The man chuckled. "I was never one to like the idea of enlightenment – when everything is known and no questions will further be asked. That seemed to me to be the kind of life the ascetic, artist, or public hero lives, where there death is an ultimate completion of who they are. Maybe it seems a bit cowardly to hand the torch over to May, but I think it's for the better this way." Homura looked at those dark brown eyes, constantly softening and hardening from word to word. "You know, I was the type of person with no excuses. I grew up in one of the richest areas in the world with two healthy parents and a good enough older brother. I never made the actual mistake of getting into drugs or alcohol, and never was severely bullied. I didn't have any visible psychiatric disorders and possessed a fair intellect. I was just shy. But I became really messed up when I entered adolescence. My evil thoughts and unproductive actions couldn't ever be excused – I wasn't even following the majority. I was so surprised when you actually bothered to interact with me. I didn't know such an evil being like myself could end up living such a life. I guess I was just looking for nice people."
"…So you chose to love me?" Homura asked.
"I want everything I do to try and feel like a choice," Andy said. "But I don't recall consciously wanting to fall in love with you. Perhaps it wasn't impossible to shake it off had I tried, but… I want the capacity to be responsible for my irrational actions. I don't want to complain about how something isn't fair, for me or for anybody else."
"So," Homura repeated. "Your feelings for me were the only things that you couldn't control. Everything else you could grab under the arm and excel at, but this…" Would this support Rumi's claim that freedom was bad for humanity? Or did this person deserve all of his psychological suffering?
"When you're devoted to something, that's the way it seems," Andy said. "I just find a person much more likable than an idea or group, for people change. For now, I think May should be my priority though. It may be a Western notion, but I think parents owe everything to their kids."
Homura shook her head. Then was it up to May? Which May would be better, which May would be happier? The one here or the one she originally met? Did Homura have an idea of which one? "…I might stay here after all," Homura said. "There are some things I have to see."
Homura spent a few hours reading some books and looking around the town as she waited for May. The city was as nice as the one she had come from, and felt to a degree a lot less cluttered. It had really been quite a while since Madoka had disappeared, Homura realized. She had spent so much time in that time loop, and was awed by the rate at which present conditions changed. All of this sudden oddness and influx of new characters really made her wonder about who she really was.
Homura made a simple lunch for herself and was about to stare blankly at something when May came home with a solemn glance on her face. "Hey, find anything interesting today?" Homura asked. May turned her face away and stormed to her room. So even this May has those moments, Homura thought. It was probably better to leave May by herself for some time.
After a little bit less than an hour, Homura knocked twice on May's door, ready to be ignored. "Come in," May said gloomily, and Homura eased the door open gently to find May lying prostrate on the bed. Homura moved over a bit to sit on the mattress and waited. "As you can guess, something happened," May said. "Well, when does something not happen?"
"May I ask what?" Homura asked.
May sighed. "It's always a small thing. I was reading a book on recent genocides in the world when some annoying school-mates came up and made fun of me. Stupid things really, like how my hair's always so messy and I always get dirt on my face, or how childish and animalistic my yellow eyes look. And then the social issues, like how I'm always so shy in school and so absent-minded, or how I'm reading about grim subjects in my spare time." Homura wasn't sure what to say. "I know that seems insignificant, especially since I was reading a book on genocide, but when I look into their eyes as they mock me, I see the contempt of murderers – or perhaps something worse. Murderers are just cold-blooded, wired different. But for minds to take that sort of form… Maybe terrible things aren't happening to me, but I still consider myself a member of the human race. The people that spit cruel words thoughtlessly – perhaps everybody – are no different from those that commit genocide."
"Do you feel obligated to feel this way?" Homura asked, thinking of Madoka and Kyoko and whoever else might feel this sort of way among observing humans.
"No," May said. "But it's one of the things I don't want to disregard. I can disregard the newspaper or test scores, but this is something I can't… Sorry, mom. Did you want to spend a day off in a better manner than this?"
"I'd be ignoring things if I suddenly just treated you to ice cream, huh?" Homura asked with a soft smile as she brushed a clump of May's messy hair. She didn't have anything to actually say, but felt like this bond between her and May was really something special. But she would definitely prefer being called "Homura-onee-chan" than "mom".
"Thanks," May said as she reflected the smile. "I think I'll stay on the bed for a while, though. I'm growing up anyways, and need to learn to cope with these things on my own, right?" The words felt shaky coming out of May's mouth, but Homura decided to leave.
"Do you ever wish that you hadn't gone through that pain you felt before meeting me?" Homura asked Andy. The man looked up from his book. "I look at May and really feel it's something terrible."
"Not really," Andy said. "I feel like this way, I'm much better equipped to raise May. And it helps when it comes to dealing with other people. There's one thing considering the rationality of Plato's saying 'be kind to everyone you meet, for they are always fighting a harder battle', and another to feel the emotion behind it."
"Then…" Homura said. "Why didn't you become a hero, if you cared so much? Why settle down… Why want to settle down with me?"
"I don't dictate most of my wants," Andy admitted. "And I prefer a cyclical rather than a linear nature of life. But if I hadn't met you, I might have joined the Peace Corps or something, and then die due to a foreign disease or a lion. Well, that still wouldn't feel like I would change human nature… How effective would it have been if I wrote novels and essays instead?"
Homura stumbled through the regenerating collection of memories that she had stored in her mind – the ones Zusa wiped. Like May, he had a certain egocentricity in his intellect, and even worse, as a male he usually masked his feelings under a curtain of reason. But the times where he did show his true self certainly meant something, when he lay himself on Homura's chest peacefully and willingly…. To think that this sort of person valued this sort of life above all else… "What do you think I should choose, though? This world or my old world? Aside from the thing that makes me happy – what do you think is the right path?"
"Homura, that's assuming there is a right path," Andy said. "Power or majority doesn't make something right, and reason is completely subjective. If I stated something I'd merely be putting forward my own views or regurgitating someone else's, not saying some profound moral truth."
"Right," Homura said. "Well, do you really want me to leave this place?"
Andy shrugged his shoulders. "There's a good chance that I may be nothing more than a simulated apparition. If that's so, my existence wouldn't even matter."
"But there's another you," Homura said. "Another you that honestly wants this, that… maybe needs this. I don't want to feel responsible if I turn you down and destroy your life…"
"Homura, you were never responsible for me in the first place," Andy said. "If you feel so, I certainly wish you don't. Who were the people closest to you in your old world? Kyoko, Madoka? May? Think that you're responsible for their happiness."
"How do you make decisions though," Homura said, suddenly becoming indecisive. "When you can't measure happiness?"
"With difficulty," Andy explained.
May came out of her room to and took out the chess box, arranging the pieces by herself. Her father got up from his book and sat down on the opposite end. "Two Rooks and a Bishop?" May asked.
"Let's try a Queen and a Bishop," Andy said. "I have to learn how to defeat your rook game." With that, May took off her queen and bishop from the board and set them to the side.
"You better put up a good challenge, then," May said. "I'd rather be handicapped than play an easy match." As the game started, Homura observed the father-daughter pair. It seemed so peaceful, so wonderful – something that wouldn't be able to happen anymore in the original world. Andy didn't look particularly talented and didn't seem to ruminate on thinking several steps ahead, but still managed to put up a decent fight among knowing May's style.
"Well-played," May said as she trapped her father's king in a clutter of pieces. "You were actually closer to winning than you might've thought. I guess this will be my new handicap. Want to play again?"
"Sure." May and Andy began setting up the board again.
Well? Are you satisfied? Homura heard Rumi's voice in her head.
This world still had its problems, Homura replied with her mind.
Human nature will still be interesting, but violence will drop to nothing for whatever reason, though. A human will never murder another human – just think of it. And you will be the last generation of Puella Magi. Middle school girls need not suffer tragic fates any more.
Why didn't you create a more appealing universe? Homura asked.
I couldn't trap you within anyone else's mind, because the charm would've protected you from it. It still had the rationality to keep itself alive instead of blowing itself up in this case, though.
Really…? Homura thought. How do I get out of here?
The simulation will end in a week at most. When it's over, it's up to you to whether you want to touch the spinning coin or not. Also, I'll be dead again for a while, seeing as I'm only living in so far as this simulation. Unless, of course, you touch that coin.
After Rumi's voice faded away and May won her second match, Homura joined in and played a few board games with this new family of hers. After that, they did some housework and decided to go out for dinner.
"It's a shame having to prepare everything all the time," May said. "And even worse if we make mom do all the cooking. Where do you want to go?"
Homura found herself with the father-daughter pair at a Thai restaurant. While she was still trying to get accustomed to the strangeness of the situation, she had realized that she really did enjoy these rather relaxing environments, where no one had any obligations. The participation in a normal sort of smile would stress her out a bit, but this sense of just being felt like another sort of refined pleasure.
"…Hey, did you hear about the new train they're making?" May asked.
"Sort of," Andy said. "It's one of those streamlined ones polished white, right? How fast does it go?"
"Always focusing on the speeds," May rolled her eyes. Homura sat by herself as Andy and May discussed things, letting all her thoughts surface to her mind. Was she getting tired of this new world already?
"Hey," Homura said. "How do you measure what's good or bad, in a reasonable way? Doesn't all of this cross-examining just tie in with our emotions and seem arbitrary?"
"It's something that's unquantifiable," May said. "And I think that's what makes it precious. Something that's meaningless and priceless, something that we assign value to… It would be both boring and sad if everyone kept in line with perfectly calculated standards."
"…The world I came from was worse, you know that?" Homura asked. "There was no divine intervention in order to restrict humanity's self-destructive nature. But I can see the argument that such is the price to pay for freedom and diversity. On the other side, perhaps I was just wondering, would humankind be better off if it wasn't free?"
"I don't think the two worlds are that different," Andy said. "In your world, supposedly, people already have an option to give themselves in to an absolutist value instead of being programmed by it. Even if they choose not to be free, I still prefer a world where there's a choice, even if the pain and suffering there is far worse."
"But as for this situation…" Homura shook her head. "You're hiding some feelings, I know it. In that world, you'll feel abandoned once I reject you. May will find her own people to talk to as she grows up. Wouldn't you prefer wronging humanity and saving yourself? This world doesn't cause deep pain for me, and perhaps when this simulation carries things through things will be even better. I don't get why you two think such an old world would be better…"
"It's the one you're going to choose, though," Andy said as he looked away. "As much as I want you to say that I'm a valuable person to you, I don't think you should say it." A short silence passed around the table before May spoke up.
"Hey, hey, I can go trick-or-treating for Halloween again, right?" May asked. "That May cosplay probably still fits on me."
"Do I really have to have my chest exposed in the autumn air?" Andy replied. "You always make me dress up as Johnny…"
Homura sighed. In addition to this strange simulation, the memories Zusa had wiped were surfacing to her head. She felt considerably guilty for leaning one way or another in this case. It appeared that she really would just be making an arbitrary decision regardless of the world she chose.
The following Monday in this world, Homura found herself in a boring but ultimately not-too-stressful job organizing files or something, and found nothing worth mentioning until she got back home. This wasn't something that could be used to compare things though, as she had plenty of boring moments in the original world too. Homura returned to her new home to see May in her school uniform, this one a black and red one that matched her pantyhose. In this world, it looked like May and Homura also made dinner together.
While preparing the meal, May brought up some random happenings from her school, and Homura listened and responded with her own stories. This was something that the May she knew still had time getting used to. "You know, mom, you really are a good listener," May said. "Daddy probably… well, needs you to some extent. That's why it was so hard for him during high school. I think that people like me have a lot of thoughts in their head, and if these feelings are repressed and psychoanalyzed, they can come out in weird manners. We need good listeners."
"You don't have a problem with it?" Homura asked. "That is, if I leave this world and leave your dad alone…?"
"If the me on that world's fine with it, I guess I should be too," May said. "She's not too different from me, right?"
"But…" Homura started. "It feels like I'm the only one that can hear his scars. I heard that he was an alright guy in my world after being given the innocent joy of raising a child, but children grow up…"
"…Yeah," May said as she looked down at her cut vegetables. "Maybe."
Homura felt a sense of utter responsibility as she went to bed that night. Even with all of May's musings, even if she knew the correct answer to this, it wouldn't calm the painful feelings in her heart. It's not just him, you know, Rumi said. There are plenty of people out there that die lonely deaths because they can never find that certain someone. Homura turned over in bed to look at Andy's back. The two were pretty far apart, and facing away from each other. If it's not this world, he'll forever spend the rest of his nights afraid and alone with a bundle of blankets.
"There's got to be another way," Homura whispered.
Or he can just harden himself up and lose that sense of human compassion and emotion you people value so much. Were those the only two options? Imagining all of the different situations, that's what seemed to be the case.
"Huh?" Homura said as May's figure crept into the room. The hazel-eyed girl tugged her father's sleeve slightly. Homura watched Andy wake up drowsily to see May's sensitive eyes.
"I had a nightmare," May said. "Can I sleep with you two tonight?"
"It depends on whether your mom's okay with it," Andy said as he turned to Homura.
"Isn't she fourteen by now?" Homura asked. "This feels a little too much for parents to give."
"I don't want to have her go through… what I went through though," Andy said. "But if you insist…"
"All right, she can sleep with us," Homura said a little reluctantly. The original May still had those moments from time to time as well. As May snuggled into the spot between her parents, Homura thought about what a sweet and gentle scene this was. But May couldn't really keep acting this way, could she? Why was that? Because of a realistic standard?
…Should the realistic standard even be considered? Homura didn't know whether she should as she drifted off to sleep with this strange family.
The next day was Halloween. None of the three looked like who they were dressing up as, but that didn't stop May from acting like a young child, pretending to be stealing treasure as a pirate. "Doesn't she have any friends of her own?" Homura asked.
"She's a little too strange for that," Andy said nervously. "Hey… When you return to your world, take good care of her, will you?"
"And what if I don't?"
"I won't let you go back," Andy said matter-of-factly as he zipped up his jacket as to not expose his open chest, although that was part of the costume.
"Are you sure you're able to take care of yourself?" Homura asked. Homura saw a glint in the man's eye, but it was quickly wiped away with a finger. He was so composed in comparison to the last time they had parted, in which he had mentally broken down in a pile of bodily fluids.
"That's something of a lesser priority to you, and you know it," Andy said. "Should we say our good-bye tomorrow?"
Homura shrugged. "I'm not sure how I'd get back, but tomorrow works. But it'll just be the bye in this world. When we get back to the original world, I'll have to say a bit more."
Homura would say farewell to this alternate world at a nearby park, in the collection of trees near the creek. The bright white sunlight glittered and filtered into a yellowish haze as it passed through the leaves of a tree, dancing along with the shadows on the dirt floor. May was climbing trees and jumping on stones protruding from the flowing stream. "Well, I guess this is it," Andy said. "Maybe it wasn't of my doing this time, but after this, you won't have to be at risk of being seduced into my own little dream world."
"What will you do after this?" Homura asked as May attempted to balance on a stone with one foot.
"I don't really know," Andy said. "The world is just so full of opportunities… That world even more so. I feel that it's a little too late to pursue dreams of becoming a hero or villain, though."
"Well, whatever you do, don't waste your life," Homura said as she continued to observe May playing around with nature. The hazel-eyed girl was staring intently at something stuck in the stream's gravel now, watching the water wisp in its delicate patterns. "…You haven't wasted it so far. You've raised a really wonderful daughter, you know that?"
"…But it's time for her to move on," Andy admitted. "Surely, you'll provide her more fitting support as a friend than as a mother, right?"
"I hope so," Homura said as she closed her eyes solemnly. The world went white, and Homura found herself standing in front of the spinning coin on the pedestal again. The Purifier's corpse was gone, sent into an unknown oblivion. "I guess I still have a chance to mess with this…" Homura said to herself.
For some odd reason, the coin began wobbling on its own, and started to fall off the pedestal. Homura wondered what she should do about it. As the coin rolled off the pedestal and onto the featureless white floor, Homura picked it up and gazed at its pattern. It was a darkish-grey coin that glimmered in the light. On one side was a line with three arrows to the right, and another with a line with three arrows to the left. "Whatever should be done in this situation?" Homure whispered softly to herself.
"I guess I'm a little predictable." Homura smiled as she placed the coin on the pedestal and spun it again, keeping an eye on it for a bit to ensure that it didn't fall or topple over. Indeed, with this tiny push, it seemed that this cyclical coin would keep spinning for a very long time. Homura walked in the direction of the magical gate and jumped through the white distorted flames, returning to the universe as it should be.
"Oh, you're back," Sayaka said as Homura slowed her descent from the sky with her new metallic and silver wings. "They stopped throwing themselves at us after a while since it seemed like their leader had fallen against you. They don't seem to be the type to fight for nothing, I guess."
"Homura-onee-chan…" May muttered as she looked up at the normalized sky, and then over to Homura.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, May." Homura couldn't think up a better statement. She retracted her new wings and walked over to Zusa, holding out the charm that contained Andy in her hand. "So what's going to become of him?"
Zusa took the charm and observed it carefully. "It looks like that troublemaker's power has awakened again, so his body is going to regenerate somehow… May, you can supply this thing with water, right?" Zusa tossed the charm over to May. "Have a few nice moments with your dad. You both deserve it."
"There are still have a lot of repairs to make," Ruth said as she stretched her arms. "But given that magical essence has leaked into this world, I don't think that we need to go to the length to reconstruct buildings and wipe people's memories. All I really have to ask is that after you girls return to your original world, don't slide between universes very often. It creates a rather big mess."
May was still staring at the charm in her hands. "Guys, I want to be alone in my house for a while. There are a lot of private moments I want to share with him."
"Hey, are you sure we can't just drag him back to our world?" Mami asked. "It seems rather strange to have to separate father and daughter."
"He doesn't 'fit in' well," Zusa said. "And he probably hardly knows any Japanese at this point. If he constantly faces you girls he won't be able to outgrow that dreaded stage he was stuck in. But I guess we can do a few visits from time to time."
For the next few days, May stayed in her house regenerating her father's body. The other four girls went out and explored parts of the city that weren't demolished by the short war, and taught the residents of this world how to deal with and control the magical essence that had been introduced. Zusa was off healing some sort of rift, or just doing her own thing. The broken buildings would take a while to reconstruct, and walking was relatively annoying, so Sayaka decided to have the girls drop in on May one day despite what she had said.
"It's still not yet complete," May said as she supplied water to an odd lump of red flesh growing out from the wall. It was around the size of a pillow, and pulsing and beating oddly. "I don't think his regenerative capabilities are as effective as they could be, and I want to stay here providing water in case an emergency comes up."
"I can fast-time it," Homura said with a ball of purple magic in her hand.
"…I'd rather not," May said with an earnest look in her eyes. Sayaka sighed, and the four girls left May to her own business.
"It's really not as fun without her, is it?" Kyoko commented.
It was a while after Andy's full body regenerated before he could actually function and talk to May. "…I feel that I had a very interesting dream," the man said. Instantly, among seeing her father awake, May leaned in for a deep hug. "So you aren't dead after all, are you, May?"
"I have a whole lot of things to talk to you about," May said as she drew away from Andy with a relieved smile. Upon such a statement, May described all of the events and adventures she had with the Puella Magi in the alternate universe, trying not to leave out a single event. Andy just smiled among hearing it all.
"I guess I'm jealous," Andy said softly, and before he knew it, a painful emotion tugged down at his heart. "You're growing up, aren't you? You couldn't be dependent on me forever, of course… And I can't come to that world, either…" May shared her father's sorrowful expression.
"I'm sorry," May said.
"No, no," Andy said. "You could already say that I've had enough ego-inflating as it is. In fact, you can even say that it's enough that I have my one and only daughter doing all the things I've ever wished to do…" A single tear ran down the man's cheek. "Hey, May… Am I a coward? I've had opportunities before, but I didn't just snatch Homura up from under her arms and run with her." Andy let out a grim chuckle. "And even now, I'm having my daughter do all the work for me."
"Well…" May said as she leaned back. "Sometimes the cowardly act is the best thing to do." Andy looked only slightly comforted from that statement. "Thanks for helping me become the person I am, dad. It means a lot to me." With that, May leaned in for another hug.
The other four Puella Magi barged back into May's house sometime later, to realize that they really didn't have anything to say to May's father. Having May translate from Japanese to English and back would be certainly awkward as well. All Andy could really say as he gazed upon the four girls while sitting stunned on the floor was, "…Homura."
"You'll get moments to visit us," May said to her father. "But for the most part, you'll have to do without her. Sorry." Andy looked like he was about to break down, and Homura leaned in to give the man a deep hug. "She's probably not going to go farther than that anymore," May said.
"It's okay," Homura said in Japanese. She supposed Andy should have at least some idea of what she was saying due to all those years of being an otaku. With that hug, Homura pulled herself away and gave Andy a friendly smile. May got up and brushed her father's hair, and then stood up with the four other Puella Magi.
"I guess this is goodbye," May said. "Your torch is going to burn in another generation."
"Hmph," Andy said. The five girls looked at the man for a while before leaving the room and then the house. "…Perhaps," Andy added when no one was listening.
Zusa came soon after and took the girls back to their original world, which was apparently ready after some memory-wiping and rift-alternations. "But before we go back, I think that we should pay a visit to her, shouldn't we?" Zusa asked as she led the girls through the blank, contorting space between universes.
"Homura-chan, it's been a while," Madoka said in her simple white dress. Her eyes had returned to their human pinkness, and her pigtails were cropped short once again. Immediately, Homura ran up to her beloved friend and engaged in a deep hug. It was much longer than the one she gave my father, May noticed.
"Calm down, it's not going to be the last time you'll be seeing her," Zusa said. "We've worked out some sort of system, actually. Some other girls will swap for Madoka's role every now and then, so you'll be able to see her as a normal human – well, as a Puella Magi – one-third of the year, perhaps? Maybe a little more than that. Give us a few weeks and we'll make our first shift."
"…Madoka," Homura said as she suddenly became aware of her friends' gazes and pulled back. "I… I can't say too much here, can I?" Homura chuckled nervously. "Did I make the wrong choice for the world? You were always so opposed to its suffering…"
"It's fine, Homura-chan," Madoka said as she took her friend's delicate hands. "I don't know what I would've done in your situation, but you made a good decision."
Homura remembered the nightmare realm she had faced when Rumi first trapped her inside Andy's mind. "I don't know… This seems like a silly, irrelevant question, but by chance do you hate May's father? He's been the one causing all this trouble we've been facing."
Madoka looked away sorrowfully. "Yes… I don't know why. I'd prefer it if I didn't hate him. I don't get it. I can't hate anyone else, be it Freud or serial killers or other fanboys of you on that world, and I find May-chan likable, but the very thought of him just… Instills some unwanted feelings inside me. I'm working hard not to hate him." Homura wondered whether it was because she secretly hated Andy that she rejected his proposals, but dismissed the notion.
"I guess that could be considered a pretty outstanding accomplishment," Zusa joked sarcastically. "Now come on, let's move along. You'll see Madoka again in a couple of weeks anyways."
Homura blinked, alerted. "Okay, promise this time that we can all live the live we should have lived, sometime in the far future. All five of us, and May too."
"I can feel myself hardening already," Andy said as he yawned, looking out into the ocean sunset. He had taken claim of one of the abandoned room-sized boats and set out into the sea from time to time, just appreciating the calming scenery. To his surprise, Zusa would come visit him from time to time.
"I suppose it'd be illogical to expect you to stay as the soft, sensitive man-child you always were," Zusa said as she sat on the edge of the boat, swinging her legs. "Knowing your personality, what do you think you're going to do after this?"
"It seems that I can wield a good deal of magic in this world now," Andy grinned devilishly. "While you said I couldn't use it to its full extent, as in summoning weapons or my wings, I still can do quite a bit of brawling with this, and there's some regeneration too."
"I thought you would choose to do something stranger than join a fight club."
"I wasn't finished," Andy said, still with that joking smile of his. "Since everyone in this world looks all anime-ish, this means that I'm actually attracted to all the delicious lolis running around." Zusa put her palm to her forehead. "I was just thinking, wander the world, have philosophical conversations with people's daughters and then have sex with them, and then carry on the conversation to their parents and try to get the children to gain autonomy and independence. And maybe get into a fight or two along the way. And then I'd change my name to something else, like I don't know, Sagan Russell."
"Sagan Russell… You really want your life to be like that?" Zusa asked. "I've always seen you as an idiot, but also as a much more sensitive guy."
"Well, maybe after a year or two. And maybe my name will be Friedrich Rasilinikov instead." Andy sighed. "I can't keep caring about Homura and May forever, after all. Perhaps I've left all of my good inside my daughter's heart – what you see here is just going to become a lousy, self-interested shell. However, that doesn't mean I shouldn't have fun doing so, right?"
Zusa let out a skeptical laugh. "If only you were born a girl, huh?"
It was a Saturday, and Homura found herself at a neighborhood park relaxing with the five other Puella Magi. Incidentally, Madoka still didn't have records in this world, so she sort of ended up sharing the apartment with Homura and May. Although Homura sometimes wanted to just keep Madoka for herself, this could also be seen in a positive light, for it would restrain her from acting out upon too many of her selfish interests. In any case, May would go out and play with the other three girls often enough, leaving a good deal of time for Madoka and Homura to go out on dates.
As for what happened to Kyoko and Sayaka, they seemed to be more of childhood friends than anything, only occasionally participating in those romantic moments. Mami seemed content and calm with her role as always. Kyosuke Kamijou and Hitomi supposedly stopped dating, but both looked like they were doing well and didn't hold grudges against each other. Kyubey was probably out there making more contracts, and the Ordered swore not to erase any more memories. Although there were no philosophical epiphanies (except from May), it looked like the universe was getting along just fine.
Despite all of the crap in the world, there were still the beautiful moments. However, Homura really couldn't help wondering from time to time about what really happened to Andy, or all of the other young men lusting after non-existent people or impossible dreams, or tormented by intellectual ideas. Although she wasn't really sure how much better it made things, when she looked at May's smile – when she made May smile – she just felt that the world and humanity could be forgiven and accepted.
"Yes - You, May."