Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.
To live without Hope is to cease to live.
A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.
It was May 1st. The anniversary of the last time she saw her. At the very least, that's how Homura Akemi thought of it. Even before she was able to move through time, convalescing in the hospital and falling deeply and irrecoverably in love, keeping track of the days was never her forte. Soon after that fateful Walpurgisnacht, after on some strategic Googling, Homura decided that May 1st was as close to the right day as she could remember. That day, along with October 3rd, were Homura's holy days. October was her birthday when she was still alive. May 1st was a celebration of her apotheosis.
After all, on that day, the universe had been destroyed and remade.
That was the day Madoka Kaname made the wish that broke the cycle of despair and corruption among magical girls, removing herself from the universe in the process. While it did not ease the burden on magical girls, as the evil and ill intentions of mankind still permeated the air like a thick smog, it gave them badly needed hope for when their day of crisis arrives. Homura knew this. She also understood that, on the day she reaches her limit, she will see her again.
Homura had long since stopped counting the years since that day. She learned too quickly that, even when you allowed time to flow at its natural pace, the events still blurred, much the same as the innumerable time she spent flailing about during that two-month period. Homura was also certain that, even so, she was bound to this world for a long time to come.
For nearly ages now, she had woken up every morning and gone to bed every night saying "Madoka... I love you, always." Whenever she was troubled, she would whisper her name like a prayer. To an outside observer, it was like performing a sutra, its evocation a means of holding Homura together. it centered her, gave her focus, made her especially deadly against the ghouls.
It was 15 years later when she came to terms with the fact that she had hardly aged a day since making the contract. It was the same for all the magical girls. At least, the one's who kept going. The girls who didn't break down and seek hope after only 10 years of service were few and far between. It was a rare breed that lasted as long as Homura had. There was only one other person in Homura's world who seemed to have something to keep her moving forward. It was to that girl's apartment she was heading towards.
It is perhaps something of a misnomer to refer to Mami Tomoe's place of residence as merely an apartment. Years ago, Mami purchased the entire apartment building and gutted the top floor, renting the lower units and creating an open loft that was decorated in a mishmash of Art Deco and Swiss Design elements. Many of the pieces were collected over the years, acquired by auction from Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips de Pury & Company, and other established auction houses. However, at the center of the main living room, in stark contrast to the interior design, was an old, triangular shaped glass table, its surface low to the ground in acquiescence to Japanese tastes. On it, a gateau aux fraises was placed at the center. Two slices of the cake were place on small china plates, next to ceramic mugs filled with steaming tea, its scent, faintly of roses, wafting upwards..
Mami had been alone for a long time. She had spent the better part of the last century living alone, going to school, taking odd jobs, and acquiring investments as they came in, all of which paid off over time. In one sense, it had paid off in that she never lacked for material resources. However, filling her world with possessions was a consolation to what she wanted. Mami was happy when she met Homura again, ages after Sayaka had disappeared to the beyond. She had for decades allowed whatever magical girls that had arrived in Mitakihara City a place to stay, a meal to eat, and as much companionship as the needed. However, it had always been cordial, professional, at best friendly. Even then, it had been a long time since another magical girl had shared her life when Homura Akemi returned. She quickly offered her a place to stay and, to her surprise, she accepted.
Mami hummed to herself as she sat on the zabuton beside the table, adroitly folding her legs under herself and smoothing out her skirt, She grabbed the mug in front of her, and took a careful sip, slurping slightly to cool it as she drank. She closed her eyes and smiled as she heard the door open.
"I'm back." the voice called out softly.
Mami quietly set the mug on the table.
If there is a word to define Homura Akemi, it is "steadfast". After all, one does not defy fate and traverse the space-time continuum dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, for the sake of a girl without some amount of devotion. Even the fact that the girl in question had lost her corporeality had not shaken Homura's single-minded loyalty to her. However, it was sometimes not enough to combat her loneliness.
If there is a word to define Mami Tomoe, it is "magnanimous". Homura knew all the ways in which the (relatively) older girl had given of herself, despite her loneliness and her fear. She had made her wish and became a magical girl as a means of survival. There was no undying passion for the line of work, but she long ago made piece with the obligations the contract she sealed committed her to and she freely gave of herself as much as was possible in order to destroy the ghouls. It was a simple matter of principle that kept her going. Loneliness was, seemingly, a foregone conclusion in that context.
The sun was low in the sky, giving a soft golden light through the floor to ceiling windows to the large living room where Homura and Mami sat together at the low table.
"Today is the day," Homura said softly, as though remarking on the weather.
"Is it?" Mami asked, a hint of a titter in her voice letting on she knew the words of this particular script.
Homura nodded, "Yes. She loved you too, you know. She always looked up to her 'Mami-senpai'."
"Oh, is that so?"
Homura held the mup to her lips and said, before sipping the rose tea, she showed a small, pencil-thin smile. "She always thought you were special. Every time through she looked up to you. You were the elegant big sister she never had. She felt so childish in comparison."
Mami let out a soft smile, "So you've said. She saved us all, huh?"
Homura nodded, "She gave up everything for us. She's the reason I keep fighting. She's my light."
Mami nodded. She had heard this story so many times, she could probably repeat it verbatim. She smirked to herself. All she needed from some literature and should have proselytized for the 'Church of Madoka', not too dissimilar to the way Kyouko used to before she disappeared. Mami held her hand to her chest. She hoped, truly hoped, she would see the acerbic redhead again.
"What I never understood, Homura," Mami said calmly, sipping her tea, "is if you care that much about her, why haven't you just fallen quickly into despair and let her rescue you?"
Homura shook her head, "I will never waste her gift, her sacrifice. I will keep fighting until there's no more need for me to. Even if it means I'm the last sentient being in this universe, I will keep fighting."
Homura just sat silently, looking at the slice of cake Mami had set in front of her hours earlier. It was white, though tinged with pink by the strawberries that decorated it. She closed her eyes, letting a few tears escape as she was reminded of the color of her hair. It brought back all those memories of when the universe had ended and been recreated, how she had held Homura, wiped her tears away and promised to always be there for her. Homura put a hand to her head, feeling the tattered hair ribbon on her head.
"I wish I could remember her," Mami said, sensing the coda to this particular performance, "I think she's someone we both need."
"How do you keep going?" Homura asked quietly, her voice weak and seemingly oblivious to the script that Mami seemed to be working from.
Mami replied, matter of factly, "As long as there is someone who needs me, I will be here."
Homura shook her head, "I can fight alone. You don't need to suffer."
"I know you can," Mami said, finally picking up her fork and cutting into her slice of cake, "I just thought you might want company."
There was a minute of awkward silence before Homura picked up her fork.
"I can't be your hope. I can't be your light."
"I have no need for those things, Homura," Mami replied, holding a second piece of cake in the air, "I want someone to love in the here and now."
Later that evening, projected onto a reflective wall, in a holographic image, was a performance by the Fujiwara Opera in Tokyo of Wagner's Die Walküre.
Mami and Homura sat next to each other watching the performance. A grey fleece blanket covered the two of them, though there was a small draft from the gap between the two of them.
The production was particularly lavish, with bright costumes and effects normally reserved for more modern theatrical performances. Through the three and a half hours, Mami and Homura sat quietly enraptured by the story, which was now reaching its coda. Mami slowly reduced the gap between then and, while Homura shuddered initially, she welcomed the other girl's presence and only flinched once when Mami's hand graze her thigh, reaching for her hand.
The opera was reaching it's final moments. A surprisingly slender soprano, her hair colored in a brilliant golds, playing the valkyrie Brunhilde, kneels before the towering baritone, imposing in the black armor he is costumed in, playing Wotan, king of the Gods and Brunhilde's father.
She looked up at him, her hands clasping his knees for support as she sings her appeal.
Soll fesselnder Schlaf fest mich binden,
dem feigsten Manne zur leichten Beute:
dies Eine muß du erhören,
was heil'ge Angst zu dir fleht!
Die Schlafende schütze
mit scheuchenden Schrecken,
daß nur ein furchtlos freiester Held
hier auf dem Felsen einst mich fänd!
"She loved you this much?" Mami asked.
"She loved us all that much," was Homura's easy, sure reply.
Auf dein Gebot entbrenne ein Feuer;
den Felsen um glühe lodernde Gluth;
es leck' ihre Zung', es fresse ihr Zahn den Zagen,
der frech sich wagte,
dem freislichen Felsen zu nah'n!
"You walked through fire for her, " Mami remarked dryly, running a hand through Homura's long dark hair, now loosened.
"She did the same for me," Homura returned, pulling a loose strand behind her ear.
Mami leaned in closer, bringing an arm around Homura, whispering, "I would do the same. I can love you too"
Homura froze. "I can't be... I can't the same way as I do for her."
Mami giggled a little in response, "I have little need for the same sort of devotion. I'm pragmatic. We understand each other. We can give one another comfort. Isn't that enough for now?"
Homura turned finally, craning her neck slightly to take in Mami's eyes. Slowly, hesitantly, she nodded. Mami leaned towards her, smiling sweetly as Homura braced herself. As their lips met, Wotan sang out, moved by Brunhilde's display of love and piety:
Leb' wohl! leb' wohl! leb' wohl!
Muß ich dich meiden,
und darf nicht minnig
mein Gruß dich mehr grüßen
The kiss lasted briefly before Homura pulled back momentarily. She looked away from Mami, scared, embarrassed, and unsure.
"I can't promise anything. I still love her more than anything. I still-" she repeated, clutching to the words like a mantra.
"I will take whatever you have to offer and give you everything I can in return," Mami calmly replied, "Just like always."
Homura leaned her head against Mami's shoulder, her eyes closed momentarily. The loud voice of Wotan echoed in proclamation:
Denn Einer nur freie die Braut,
der freier als ich, der Gott!
Homura raised her head and looked into Mami's eyes one more, gauging her open expression, before leaning in to kiss her once more. Mami caressed her cheek as she returned the kiss, only slightly surprised to feel herself overcome as well.
I apologize ahead of time to those who follow me for my Ranma fiction. This is a fairly wide departure for me and, as you can see, it's exposition heavy and I still struggle with depicting romantic intimacy. I had initially planned to include more explicit interactions between the two (perhaps go in a slightly darker directio)n, but I liked the idea of linking the two of them with the idea of hope and, later, with Wagner. While Faust is the obvious narrative linkage with Madoka, I think we can imagine Der Ring des Nibelungen as a complimentary narrative, though with the time travel and alternate timelines, telling who is Wotan, Siegfried, and Brünnhilde is sometimes difficult to say.
Until next time,