Author's Note: I only just realized I never uploaded this one to this account!
Written for the Rare Women exchange, for Lirillith.
Starts from the conversation between Junko and Homura in the last episode.
"Wait, do you know who 'Madoka' is? Is she some kind of anime character or something?"
The girl with the ribbon just smiled a small half-smile. "I don't know. Maybe. I've heard that name before, but I'm not sure where." Her voice was soft and gentle, almost hard to hear.
"I must have met her somewhere. Maybe when I was out with Tatsuya?" She stretched and sighed. "I don't know why, but when I heard that name, I started getting all nostalgic. Madoka…"
Junko's brow furrowed slightly as she tried to catch the snatch of memory that had just flitted past the back of her mind.
But it was gone. Refocusing, she looked back at the girl—Homura, she'd said her name was—and changed the subject.
That should have been the end of it—indeed, that little wisp of nothing at all shouldn't have been the beginning of anything.
But her son didn't forget about his newfound imaginary friend.
"Madoka" became a new household name, and Junko found herself responding to her son's declarations about "Madoka's" likes and dislikes—she liked pink, apparently, but didn't like natto or witches. Where that last one came from, Junko wasn't sure, especially since her son tended to insist in the same breath that they didn't exist anymore.
Had they been before?
But then she would just remind herself that lots of children had imaginary friends, and surely plenty of them invented detailed imaginary lives for them.
After, her son was her first child, so she had no one to compare him to.
But for some reason, she didn't like to think about that either, so she just went back to telling herself her son was going through a perfectly normal phase.
That wasn't the last she saw of the girl with the ribbon, either.
She turned out to be a new transfer student to Kazuko's class, a quiet girl with few friends who had only recently gotten out of the hospital she'd all but grown up in and had no family to speak of.
But since Homura had hit it off so well with Tatsuya, Junko took her on as an occasional babysitter when she and her husband had things to do.
She really was marvelous with him, playing along with all his games—"Yes, Madoka does like bows and arrows, doesn't she?"—that Junko found her heart warming at the sound as she got ready to go.
And then it turned to cold for reasons she couldn't fathom, and the cold settled in her stomach as she looked at them.
"Dear? Are you ready?"
"Wha—oh, yes. Yes, dear, let's go."
But she didn't quite move.
"No, nothing." With an effort, she pulled her eyes away. "Let's go!"
"…that's the secret to being pretty!"
"That's why grown-ups get to drink alcohol…"
"When you've tried doing everything right, try doing something wrong."
A swish of pink hair and a small laugh, and she was alone again.
Junko's eyes opened, and for a long moment, she wasn't sure where she was.
Why was she saying things she was sure she'd never said before? And who was she saying them to?
Before she could think more, her husband walked back into the room.
"Already awake?" he said, surprised. "Tatsuya will miss waking you up!"
Junko smiled. "For him, I'd gladly go back to sleep!"
But even as she dove back under the covers (to the dismayed cries of her husband and son), she knew it was a lie.
The dream came back the next night, and the next, always leaving her with that touch of recognition, but never leaving her with quite enough to know for sure if they were identical.
Mostly, it was just her: her voice, her words, only they weren't her words—ideas, thoughts she'd had, but never anything she'd ever had occasion to say out loud.
That shouldn't have bothered her. Didn't everyone say things in dreams that they'd thought but never said? So why should it bother her if her dream-self said things like that to someone?
Her thoughts slowed up.
She was unaccountably certain that it was always the same person, always the same flash of pink before her memory failed her.
Who was she?
She found she was also certain the mysterious person was a girl—not quite old enough to be a woman—and that she should know who she was.
It was vitally important that she know exactly who she was, and yet she was equally sure that she had never seen her before in her life.
And yet, before…
Before what? She had never seen her before in her whole life!
The contradictive certainties ate away at Junko's insides, and she wasn't even sure what it was that was even bothering her, exactly, or what any of it had to do with her, or why any of it mattered to much.
But it did.
The haunting sense of missing something important made it increasingly hard to concentrate, even at work—more than once now, she'd been caught staring puzzledly at nothing in particular, and had had to beg the excuse of a headache, which was close enough to the truth, and had the added benefit of not raising doubts as to her sanity.
The bar was dim and nearly empty as Junko and Kazuko sat together.
Junko swirled her glass idly watching as the ice clinked against the sides.
That's why grown-ups get to drink alcohol.
Junko blinked. The memory as in her voice, but when had she ever said that?
"Hey," she said, without looking up.
"Hmm?" said Kazuko.
"You ever get déjà vu?"
"Mmm, sure. Every now and again."
Junko took a long pull at her glass and settled back in to watch it again.
"Any particular reason you ask?" said Kazuko, almost disinterestedly.
"Mmm," said Junko. "Guess I've just been getting it a lot lately."
After another long pause, she added, almost offhandedly, "Have you ever wondered if you were going insane?"
There was a long pause as Kazuko gave that due consideration, complete with a contemplative sip of alcohol.
"No," she said carefully, "not in the sense I think you mean. But you're one of the most level-headed people I know. Why would you be worried about that?"
"Déjà vu everywhere, and always…connected. To the same thing."
Junko set her drink down with more force than strictly necessary.
"I don't know. I always lose it right before I find it. I just know it's from before—"
"I don't know. Before something."
But every likely point seemed either too early or too late…or both, as unlikely as that was.
"Well…maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something?"
"Well, I wish it would speak up!" she said, and downed the rest of her glass.
The ground was rising and falling slightly under her as she made her unsteady way home.
Alcohol didn't make anything clearer to her, but at least now the state of her mind matched the confused state of the world…though she wasn't certain that was actually an improvement. Even the weather was echoing her life right now—the clouds were churning as much as her mind.
Everything ran together—the dreams, the words she'd never gotten to say, the mystery girl, the déjà vu. Even her son's imaginary friend was mixed up in there.
Junko kicked the sidewalk and then stumbled. Glancing up, she thought for a terrifying, anticipation-filled moment that the mystery girl was walking towards her, hair ribbons dancing in the sharp gusts of wind…
But it wasn't.
It was only Homura, walking home. Tomohisa must have just gotten back.
Junko stared at her, eyes narrowing even as the unsteady ground made her lurch again.
Their eyes met.
"You!" said Junko, and pointed straight at Humura. The word was simultaneously an accusation and a plea.
Homura stopped short. "Me what?" Her face and voice had lost the quiet cheer Junko had always thought she saw there.
"You know!" Junko accused, suddenly sure. "You know who she is! You know, and my son knows—why don't I know?"
The ground sank down beneath her feet and then rose back up to meet her knees.
"Why don't I know?" she whispered, head bowed. The ground went blurry as hot tears filled her eyes.
She knelt there alone for a small eternity, unable to say or do anything else. She might have stayed there forever, locked in her personal limbo.
Slowly, moving like metal that needed oil, she looked up.
Homura was holding out her hand, which would have seemed welcoming, but her face was utterly, frighteningly blank.
"…come with me."
Junko stared, roiling mind trying to make sense of anything at all.
"You think I owe you answers. You're right."
Junko grasped Homura's extended hand and stumbled upright.
The girl was stronger than she looked—much stronger, as Junko found when she stumbled again and found herself almost entirely supported by Homura's arm. Indeed, she was left with the distinct impression that the girl was perfectly capable of picking her up and carrying her, if she chose to.
"Don't worry. It isn't far."
Thunder rumbled across the sky. .
"Gonna get wet," muttered Junko in the general direction of the threatening sky.
Homura glanced up. "It isn't far," she repeated.
A single fat drop of rain hit Junko's cheek, but Homura pulled her directly toward the oddly-shaped building right where the street they were on split into two.
More fat drops loudly followed the first towards the pavement as they ran—or stumbled—across the threshold.
Homura deposited Junko on a low couch, where she rubbed her head, trying to clear the alcohol from her system.
"What is this place?" she asked, even before she could think it. Everything in it seemed to float around her in a dreamlike white void. Holograms?
Off to the side, Homura touched the wall, and the light dimmed a little—Junko's head thanked her for that—and then touched a few more digital controls Junko couldn't see.
Phone, then, though Junko couldn't hear the other side of the conversation.
"Mrs. Kaname and I got caught in the storm." Her voice was quiet and respectful, just a note shy of sweet—just like it had always been. "We're at my apartment. She can stay here, of course…no, please don't wait up…yes, she's fine. It's no trouble. Really. Goodnight."
She touched the wall again, and there was a slight digital click.
For a moment, she remained perfectly stationary.
Then she turned sharply around, eyes hard, all trace of her softer manner gone.
"What do you know?"
Her voice was cool, but not angry, barely even curious.
Junko blinked slowly. Part of her was fighting to reconcile this shift with everything she thought she knew, but the rest of her just accepted the surreality of it all, at least provisionally.
Homura's words rang around her like a frozen echo.
What do you know?
The shout ripped its way out of her before she realized it.
"I don't know anything. I don't know why my son has an imaginary friend, or why you seem to know who she is, or why I feel like I remember her from before, or before WHAT, or…or…who even are you? Who is she? Why can't I remember? Why can't—"
Junko choked as her words stumbled to a halt.
"And yet, for all that, you still know more than you really ought to."
Junko's head snapped up. "I don't know anything!"
"You know that you don't know."
Junko's mouth opened, but her brain stumbled to a halt.
Homura looked down and spoke softly.
"You must really have loved her."
Junko's mind latched to that and started turning.
Junko's mouth opened again, but Homura raised her hand to the ribbon that was still tied around her hair.
The ribbon fell away.
The piece clicked into place.
"Madoka Kaname," whispered Junko.
Homura nodded heavily and sat down across from her.
"Your daughter." She held out the ribbon, offering.
Junko looked at her, but didn't reach out.
"But…I don't have a daughter."
Homura let her arm fall. "You did once. Before everything…before everything changed."
Junko jumped to her feet.
"Before? How the hell can you waltz in here and tell me I had a daughter BEFORE? Aren't I the best person to say how many children I have? Because let me tell you: I never had a daughter! I never had a girl! I never had Madoka!"
The anger drained out of Junko as quickly as it had filled her, and she sank back down onto the couch, her breath hitching oddly in her throat.
After a long moment with neither response nor defense, she looked up at Homura.
Homura's face was blank again, and it took Junko a moment before she realized she was biting the edge of her lip, and another instant before she saw the trembling in her hands. Anger…?
Homura whispered something that Junko couldn't catch.
Junko wasn't sure she understood, but couldn't quite find the words to ask.
Homura took a deep, shuddering breath, and, for the first time, Junko saw the tears threatening the edges of her eyes.
"I'm sorry…I'm so sorry."
"I stole your daughter."
Homura's eyes unfocused. "Because of me, she…isn't. I should have left well enough alone. Then at least you would have remembered her. I'm sorry." The first tear escaped Homura's eye.
Junko sat back and stared into the middle distance, trying to make sense of anything at all.
"I…had a daughter."
She shouldn't believe it. Even here, in this twilit realm of shadows and dreams, she shouldn't believe it.
But she did.
"I had a daughter." It was easier the second time. "Then…where is she? I why can't I remember her? And…when did I have her?" There weren't any blank patches in her memory large enough to hold a pregnancy and an infant.
"Before everything changed."
"Then when did everything change?"
"Before…everything. Before I changed everything."
Junko opened her mouth to protest, but Homura sighed and stood up.
"It's difficult to know here to begin." She bowed her head and spoke softly.
"If you were given a chance to make a wish, any wish you wanted…would you take it?"
Junko tilted her head. "I…I'm not sure."
"What if it was a chance to save the person you cared about most in the world?"
Images of her family ran through Junko's head—her husband and son, her parents and sister, even a few close friends.
Homura smiled bitterly. "Then for your sake, I hope you're never in that situation."
"What are you talking about?" said Junko, irritated.
"Once," said Homura, ignoring her, "I lived in a hospital, never had anyone to make friends with, never had to act on my own."
"Once?" said Junko. "You got out of the hospital barely over a month ago!"
"Did I?" said Homura, and then continued her story. "I grew up in that hospital alone, and when I was finally well enough, I transferred to Mitakihara Middle School. I was alone in a strange new world, and I would have stayed that way…except for the kindness of the nurse's assistant in Miss Saotome's class. Her name was Madoka Kaname."
Junko's eyes widened. "You're saying I had a daughter in middle school?"
Junko spread her hands. "Fine then. Let's say I believe all of this. I had a daughter old enough to be in middle school, you were friends with her, and then…what?"
"Right, she dies, and I forget I ever had a daughter!"
"No," said Homura. "Not then."
"Then what happened?"
Homura's hands balled into fists, nails digging into her skin.
"Then," she said, "I made the worst mistake of my life." She took a deep breath. "I made a wish. I wished to turn back time to protect her."
Junko's lips parted, but the cold that was settling in her stomach froze the words.
"…what?" she finally managed. "But…anyone might wish that…"
Homura shook her head. "How many would be given the chance to make that wish a reality?"
Junko couldn't speak.
"I was a fool. Perhaps if I had simply wished for her to be alive again, none of this would have happened. But I didn't. I asked for the ability to try and save her myself." She looked up and met Junko's eyes. "And try I did. Again and again, going back, trying to save her from the fate she kept choosing. She was an amazing person, I want you to know that—every time, she chose a life of self-sacrifice, no matter what happened to her."
"What…what happened to her?"
Homura hesitated. "Every time, her…her life ended because of the choices she made to protect people." She bowed her head. "And, because of me…it was worse. Every time, it was worse. Every time, her sacrifices were worth less."
The tears threatened Homura's eyes again, but her voice was steady. "She…she came behind me, saw the destruction my mistakes had cost…and paid the price to repair it all."
"What did she do?"
"She became Hope to save the world from despair." Homura's lips tightened. "But…she had to sacrifice her own existence to do it. Her past, her present, her future…all gone. Forever."
The silence rippled out in all directions.
Junko curled her knees to her chest, and then she was crying.
The sobs poured out of her for the daughter she had never known, for the arms she had never held, the hair she had never put in pigtails, the face she had never cleaned happy messes off of; for the daughter she didn't know now, who should be just now learning to step into the wide world on her own, who should be dealing with those first awkward teenage crushes and heartaches, who should have to worry about grades and friends and finding her place in the world; for the daughter who would never grow up or fall in love or figure out what she was supposed to be doing with her life…
Fragments of memories of dreams rose to the surface—laughter, pink hair, and a sense of love that surrounded her like an embrace. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't call up a face to match the memories of nothing.
"Why?" she choked out. "Why did she have to go? Can't you go back and save her?"
Homura closed her eyes.
"No. I can't."
"She never existed here, so I never made the wish to save her. I can't change time anymore."
"But you can remember it!"
Homura remained silent and let Junko's sobs exhaust themselves.
After what might have been forever, Junko finally took what felt like a normal breath. She was utterly drained.
"Why did I have to ask?" she whispered hoarsely.
"Because you loved her."
Junko didn't answer, but just squeezed her eyes closed.
Junko opened her eyes again. Homura was holding out the ribbon from her hair.
"This…was hers. You gave it to her."
Junko reached out a trembling hand and touched the ribbon gently.
Carefully, Junko picked it up. The silky surface slipped through her fingers like water, so she looped it into a bow, and carefully tied it that way. It looked right that way.
"Yes," said Homura. "Just like that."
The lump welled up in Junko's throat again, but her eyes stayed clear this time, fixed on the thin bow in her hands that was her only link to the daughter who had never been.
"Thank you," whispered Junko.
Homura bowed her head, but didn't answer.
Junko held the ribbon close to her heart and closed her eyes.
Soft eddies of air swirled around her, whisper-soft against her face. Doubtless they were drafts from the storm raging outside, but if she listened very carefully, she almost thought she could make out a message for her in the dreamlike swirl.
I love you, mom.