2018-11-12 - TIMELINE 1: First Day Of School! Homura's Heart-Pounding Introduction!

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First Day Of School! Homura's Heart-Pounding Introduction!

The title says it all, really, like a good magical girl episode should.


Homura Akemi, Madoka Kaname, Eri Shimanouchi, Nori Ankou, Sayaka Miki


Classrooms, Ohtori

OOC - IC Date:

11-12-18 - 09-20-2013

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Classrooms +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  The heart of Ohtori Academy, the classrooms are lushly appointed.             
  Brass-fitted panels of clear glass replace the walls, sacrificing privacy     
  for a sensation of great, airy space. Cutting edge technology is everywhere   
  apparent, albeit obscured with tasteful minimalist interfaces. Interactive    
  digital screens take the place of traditional blackboards, the desks and      
  chairs fold down flush with the ground when not in use, and some classes      
  allow or even mandate the use of laptops.                                     
  The natural dignity of most of the students, the strictness of the teachers,  
  and the sound-resistant glass panels combine to keep the halls unusually      
  quiet. When class is in session, the hallways are almost silent, though       
  between classes they grow almost as lively as a public school might.          
  Tradition does not die easily, of course. There are a few classrooms left     
  that are still decorated in a more traditional style, generally heavy with    
  dark-stained oak, faded but lush carpeting, and a permanent scent of chalk    
  and old books.                                                                
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Postmeridie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnZACFtRbWc

Chiming bells sound down the mostly-empty halls of Ohtori Academy, chasing a few tardy stragglers with their announcement of the hour: first class period has begun! A pair of red-turned maple leaves flutter past the window of Kazuko Saotome's classroom, as if to say, what a beautiful fall day it is outside! It might have been distracting to other students in other classes, but in this particular room, at this particular moment, the teacher demands everyone's attention.

"Class! There's something we need to discuss, today. Eyes forward!"

Saotome-sensei slaps a tapered pointer into the palm of one hand, and it's a whip-crack! She seems unassuming, with her soft short brown hair and her glasses and her button-up sweater, the very image of a quiet teacher-type... but the snapping sound reverberates throughout the room. One could swear the window rattles in its pane, just a bit.

"Can someone tell me..." She surveys the room. Students divert their eyes, trying to evade the search. They know what is coming. "What is the better decorative bento to make for someone's lunch? Something cute, like a panda bear rice ball? Or something pretty, like handmade sushi shaped like flowers?"

The pointer roves across the front rows, seeking its fated prey...


He's pre-cringed. The boy still startles when Saotome-sensei points right at him. "U-uhhh, w-well, I think- I think both are good?" He's totally hedging his bets here.


Whewwww. Nakazawa tries not to look too obviously relieved. But she's not done...

"Both are good! Whether a girl chooses to make something cute, or something pretty, she's being very thoughtful and he should be grateful! Certainly not embarrassed to have something handmade and adorable--" Well, everyone knows which way Saotome-sensei went here... "--in his lunch when he opens it up! If a boy complains about the bento you make, girls, then you are better off without him!"

A general murmur rises.

Up front, Saotome-sensei huffs and squares her shoulders. She slaps the pointer to palm again, this time more perfunctorily... Closes her eyes... Opens them again and she's got a perfect friendly teacher-smile on her face, eyes bright and open. The storm has passed like it never was to begin with.

"Okay, class! Now I have a new transfer student to introduce to everyone."

The murmur grows and takes on a disbelieving tone. Kazuko Saotome's scholastic priorities are not always what they should be.

"Please come in, Akemi-san," she calls to the still-open classroom door.

Nothing happens for long seconds. Three, five, ten... Is someone out there? Did the transfer student not hear, or did they run off? Silence stretches, and Saotome-sensei's brows knit with concern under soft bangs. She's just opening her mouth again when there's a scuffing rustle outside the door.

A girl walks in.

No, that's not quite right. A girl shuffles in, toes turned inward just like every other part of her: her hunched-up shoulders, her tucked chin, her white hands together in front of her where they clutch her school satchel. It's a very nice satchel, brand new in fact and very expensive, still full of that storebought smell. Her uniform is also brand new and clean-pressed, but it's just a touch loose on her frame. Maybe it is half a size too big; maybe she is half a size too small.

Because she's a skinny thing, with two glossy black braids thicker than her frail pale arms. She has the near-translucent look of a person unacquainted with the sun. With her thin legs in their high black socks, and her large violet eyes behind their red frames, she could be a porcelain doll instead of a girl.

Or maybe she's more of a string-tangled tongue-tied marionette...

She wobbles to a stop in front of everyone. In front of everyone. All those students, those peers, those eyes, and every single one has fastened their attention on her. She quivers under the weight of it all, weak on noodly knees. The classroom is a uniform-colored blurry mass over the tops of her glasses, because she's staring at the floor tiles between her toes and wishing she could sink down into them somehow.

Saotome-sensei is good at her job, this morning's lecture aside, and she knows painful shyness when she sees it. Sensing another prompt is needed, she gives a cheerful one. "Please introduce yourself!"

The girl does indeed need the prompt. It is both lifeline and live wire, because it's much-needed instruction... to do something terrifying. To speak, in front of all of these people, who are all staring right at her. Parchment cheeks glow with radiant embarrassment. She twists the strap of her satchel with anxious kneading fists.

Monumental effort forces the words out, helped along by the guiderails of formality. "Umm... M-m-my name is Homura Akemi. I-I'm... I'm very p-pleased to m-meet you all!" Her stammer barely reaches the back of the classroom, quiet and soft like a baby bunny hiding from hawks.

With a rush of intermingled relief and shame -- she did it! but she sounded absolutely pathetic! -- Homura drops into a bow. Her thick braids fly tip-up as she does, and purple ribbons flop at their ends. To her growing horror, she feels a sting at the corners of her eyes, a treacherous welling at their rims.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura can't see the faces of her classmates but she can hear the friendly murmuring that rushes through the classroom like a spontaneously-generated, invisible wind of rumor, competing with the soft screech of pen on whiteboard as her name is inscribed for all to see, and then Kazuko-sensei's bright explanation of Homura's long absence from formalized education. There's fabric rustling, from uniform skirts and pants whose weight is being shifted upon, and from uniform sleeves being raised into scratched heads or cupped chins or even jaunty waves, from a few of the bolder children.

Smiles don't make noise, but if they did, Madoka's would be a klaxon, or maybe the vast boom of a boat's horn, or the sound that a thousand thousand doves make as they burst into flight. She's leaning forward from the edge of her seat, as though a few inches difference will allow her to see Homura's face from underneath her deep bow (it doesn't, but hope springs eternal). The tips of her red ribbons are all but vibrating with excitement.

She's persistent in her attempts to meet Homura's eyes. Her own are friendly and kind, which are easy, lazy words. Say instead that the warmth there makes them twinkle far more brightly than the hint of teeth beneath her joyfully spread lips. That they'd never fit beneath Homura's sensible eyeglasses, because they are far too wide, vast with wonder, the simple happiness of someone for whom a new transfer student is its own precious, perfect miracle, every time.

The sunlight folded away for safekeeping in the corners of her mouth implies an internal debate. Akemi-san is so cute... what's the best part? The super-neat schoolbag? The braids, it might be the braids, or maybe the bows on their ends. Or is it the ribbon that crowns her? Or the soft sweetness of her voice, so briefly heard?

It really was brief. Madoka's eyes linger on the new student's sloped shoulders. Her smile doesn't fade -- it intensifies, as though she's hoping that she can blow away the other girl's obvious worries with raw force of expression. Sympathetically, her hands fold together in front of her chest. They tremble with raw eagerness, as though they have to physically hold each other back from bursting into the air and gesturing HOORAY! WELCOME TO OUR SCHOOL! WE'RE ALL SO GLAD YOU'RE HERE!

Many other students take the time and trouble to subtly glance left, glance right, to gauge the pecking order's reaction to the transfer student, but Madoka only has eyes for Homura Akemi.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

One girl flinches at the crack of the pointer, looking up from the notes on her desk. She had it all ordered out, her notes for the first few periods on top. The plans for her assigned plots for the late fall had a corner poked out beneath. The corner of it peaked out currently, with a half-finished doodle of a pansy in the corner. Nervously she straightened up, and used the opportunity to smooth her skirts and put her bespectacled gaze forward.

Despite her nervous reaction, the din that drew her attention felt like a reminder of her new life, and a smile slowly formed on her expression as she tried to listen to it. Every day now she became something wonderful and magical. Put it on like a set of enchanted clothes that she didn't quite fit into in her awkward insecurity. She was hoping to grow into them though. After all she was chosen in a way that made her feel special, unique for once in her life, like some kind of rare flower blooming in the midst of a field of them.

Her wish had already bettered her world in more ways than she could count.

Resisting the urge to put her pencil back to the doodle, she tried to focus back in by putting her pencil eraser to her lips. Only to find it's about whether cooking should be pretty, and the gratitude someone should feel towards it. It felt like reinforcing everything from a Shoujo manga she'd ever read. Imagining a back and forth of Saotome and her current dating partner of them denying their feelings for each other - arguing over these small things - until!

Well there was no 'until' yet for their teacher, but she can dream of it right? Eventually it'd happen. It has to right? Smiling at the thought of their mousey teacher eventually finding happiness, she gives Nakazawa a look of sympathy for getting continually targeted by the fickle feelings of a woman's heart.

Maybe it would pay off dividends to him later too... maybe.

Stealing a glance towards her only friend in the class, she wants to keep looking until Madoka notices, but quickly puts her eyes back front at the slap of pointer to the palm. A new... Oh!

There was no real reason to sit up and pay attention, dropping her pencil to crane her neck and watch her shuffle in. Most new people come and go without even noticing her... even if she notices them. Yet something was different about this girl. The way she shuffles in. Her bag says 'rich', but her posture doesn't have the confidence of elitism.

Curious, she continues in this people watching exercise as she noticed how nervous she is, dainty and gangly to the point where a stiff breeze looks like she'd blow her away like a dandelion - leaving nothing left but her shoes.

The way she looks right now, she can empathize with that nervousness, feeling this distinct sense of pity - yet also solidarity. This girl seems destined to be one of the invisibles here at Ohtori unless she's actually a rich heiress. She'd probably know by tomorrow depending on who takes interest in her.

Here comes the name and-! Her name... doesn't match her at all. That's disappointing. Her bow makes her look like she's going to trip from simply shifting her center of gravity to the ground, then literally die of embarrassment from the act.

Eri just hopes no one laughs at her.

Despite being a fledgling magical girl that can stand up to witches - she feels in no way bold enough to stand up to her classmates if they do. She just hopes the curiosity of being a novelty gives her a pass, or that someone does if it happens.

These thoughts sinking in causes her to sink down a little in her seat, shoulders hunched from the second hand embarrassment, and tries to just smile weakly forward at the girl. Daring another look around the room - she catches that Madoka looks happy at least, and tries to feel a little more optimistic about Homura's chances here at Ohtori.

After all, thanks to her newfound friendship with her, she was starting to feel better about her own...

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Nori Ankou has her notebook open as she often does early on, because it's easier to just unpack all of that and then rest her arm the way that she likes it - she shifts arm on a weekly basis, just to avoid getting a cramp - and so it is easier than thinking to write down the notes of Nakazawa sensei's information.

  • both bento type good
  • if boy complains abt cute bento
    • ditch boy

She giggles faintly, more a strong breath, as she underlines 'ditch.'

But then a new topic comes up. Nori looks upwards, pushing back a ringlet of black hair to blink several times and focus on the new arrival. She's wobbling. She's globby. Her uniform is fitting badly. Nori lets out a small sigh: she will get eaten alive, she thinks to herself.

Homura bows down with enthusiastic force - and Nori shifts in her seat and sits upright.

Her nose twitches just once. She smiles, in a subtle and picturesque way, and if there is a little condescension in her eyes, it is only a little. (Besides, she thinks, it would be rude to laugh. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?)

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname transforms into Madoka Kaname!
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

During the transitional moments when Saotome-sensei has finished her 'lesson,' Sayaka executes a well-practiced maneuver. Feigning a stretch, she twists her torso one way. But when she swings back the other, she places the edge of her right hand against the left corner of her mouth and whispers back to Hitomi.

"I bet no boys complain about what Hitomi-chan's bento looks like."

"Be studious," Hitomi says mildly, tapping her planner on the desk to straighten the pages, but she doesn't seem displeased.

"Keh-heh." While she's leaned back there and all, Sayaka turns her smirk back to where Madoka's sitting--not for any particular reason. It's just that Madoka's always the person whose reaction Sayaka checks first when she says something witty or funny or cool. She follows Madoka's eyeline to the activity up front, though, and lets her knee off the edge of her desk to drop back into a seated position.

Well, really it's the non-activity. Sayaka lacks the dignity to just sit there, so partway through the wait, her desk creaks a little as she tries to lean forward to see the new kid. She blinks her way through the introduction. "Aa, kawaii," she whispers into the general murmuring, the way she might upon seeing a beetle struggling to right itself. This girl's probably good at math and stuff. Maybe Saotome-sensei will move some seats around and Sayaka can be partners with someone who actually knows what they're doing for once.

Next to Sayaka sits a rumple-headed boy with short mahogany hair, presently resting his chin disinterestedly in both palms, eyes halfway open. He shifts to glance at Sayaka, though, as he notices she's glaring at him. "What?" he whispers, glancing down at himself to see if he's done anything wrong. He hasn't even taken out any school supplies, though, so what could she be looking at?

"Hm," Sayaka grunts softly, and looks back at the front. The boy next to her brushes at the front of his shirt uncertainly.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> None

Just a moment ago it was the hardest thing in the world to squeeze an introduction out of a fear-tight throat. Now it is the hardest thing in the world to rise from the face-hiding shelter of her bow. It's so much easier to look at floor tiles than it is to look at people...

She cannot bow forever.

Homura trembles, and the motion amplifies through those rope-thick braids until the ends dance. Earlier this morning, the hardest thing in the world was setting out from her apartment door with a bagful of schoolbooks that felt more like live grenades to her. Then the hardest thing was walking across that pretty bridge to Southern Cross Island amid streaming, chattering students. Then it was going into the front office and reporting in to the kindly administrator there. Then it was finding her new classroom and waiting outside while all of her horrible anxiety grew and grew and grew...

Homura Akemi has done so many terribly hard things today, and she keeps having to tremble her way through more.

She strangles her poor bookbag strap with both hands and bobs upward again... and nearly topples, because Homura has been unconsciously holding her breath this whole time and, combined with her too-extended bow, her already weak blood pressure drops precipitously with her rising. The world goes all dark and spangly, and she wobbles in place and hears the roar of rushing blood...

OST: Aphex Twin - Hy a Scullyas Lyf a Dhagrow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo9CFF2QDjU

The darkness dribbles away as her strained system struggles back toward equilibrium, the roaring tides recede, and as her vision clears she sees pink.

And a smile.

A beauteous smile of welcome; a smile that lights up the whole world, that sweeps its beam into Homura Akemi's lonely dark corner and insists on including her in that world. Like she is a part of it, too. Like she is seen. Like she... matters.

She feels that smile's warmth on her cheeks, she hears the susurrus of feathers through air.

The smile comes from the prettiest girl Homura has ever seen. Homura doesn't get to see much of the outdoors but her hospital room had a western view, and by some ineffable magic the pure heavenly pink of early sunset shines right out of wondrous and wondering eyes. She takes in the cheerful curve of those cheeks, the twin fluffs of hair that must be as soft to touch as it is to look upon...

Homura's mouth is a little 'o' and she completely forgets all of the other kids in the classroom for a merciful moment of utter transportation. All she sees is that girl, and that smile.

Someone laughs, toward the back of the classroom.

Just like that, all the pressure floods in. Sayaka Miki isn't even laughing at Homura, but it doesn't matter. The reality doesn't matter because Homura Akemi is one thousand per cent certain she is being laughed at, because she is awkward and stumbly and staring, and the spell breaks when she shuffles to her designated seat with a face that could rival a tomato.

Class proceeds around the transfer student while she stares at the surface of her desk. Homura spends the entire period fighting back welling tears of embarrassment. It's the hardest thing in the world. But she manages.

When the bells sound it should be a relief, but it turns into a bit of a nightmare. Homura's slow to leave her desk, because really what she's doing is hopefully waiting for everyone else to leave so she can sneak out after to the nurse's office. But she is the transfer student, the shiny new penny, and instead she becomes an eddy in the outgoing stream as classmates stop by her desk to exchange friendly hellos.

Or, well... to say their friendly hellos. They aren't getting anything back, because Homura wilts incrementally with every new student and introduction. Her too-large uniform collar creeps up around flushed earlobes, and she huddles with her hands clutched up over her chest. Her weak heart races, frantic and sharp, and she makes the first sound since all these people started crowding her desk: a pained little "eep" of panic.

She's handled so many difficult things today... but this is just too much.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka crosses her arms and nods a few times in approval as Homura joins the class. The lazy boy next to Sayaka raises his palm in a similar greeting.

When the bell rings, Clip Girl is ready. Diagonally one seat back from Homura, she has been eager to invite a new friend into the class ever since she heard. Bounding from her seat, she joins the hungry convergence of girls who have formed a welcome committee around Homura.

"Are you from outside Tokyo, Akemi-san?" one girl asks.

"What's your favorite subject?"

Clip Girl, peach-haired and wide-faced, waits, eager to ask her own question. "What do you like to do after school?" She's had it planned, and thinks it's a good one. This girl seems really sweet, so it would be good to know what she likes to do when she's hanging out! But the other girls are a bit more assertive, and every time she starts to open her mouth, another one chimes in, forcing her to set back down on her heels and purse her lips another few seconds... only to repeat the process again.

"Did you just move here?"

"This is a really good homeroom! You're gonna like it!"

"What--" Clip Girl starts in hastily.

"Incredibly long hair!" one of the class's two bluenette tomboys bursts out noisily. It's not Sayaka, but Sayaka has just arrived to stand next to her tanned counterpart. She leans in to look at Homura's braids. "It must take you so long to braid these every morning!" she admires, brushing the edges of her much shorter hair.

"What do you like to--" Clip Girl chirps breathlessly.

"Maybe she only did it this way because it's her first day," Sayaka offers a shower thought on the situation.

"Or, you know, fresh start at a new school," her tanned counterpart agrees.

Clip Girl makes a whinny of frustration involuntarily, and the two bluenettes look at her.

"What?" they ask together.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The class proceeds and Eri straightens back up. She sees Homura take her desk and decides to stop looking. When the bell rings, Eri gathers up her things like she normally does and casts a glance towards her classmates being attracted around Homura's desk.

It's a lot of friendly hubbub and she just feels this sense of relief that its starting like this at least. The thought of joining them though? She can't bring herself to consider it. Not only because the crowd makes her nervous...

... but also because Homura hasn't answered a single question asked yet.

Instead she hoists up her own bag and starts out of the room. It's only once she's around a secluded corner in the hall that she brings out her old cell phone and turns it on.

She spends a good three minutes deciding to text Madoka a link of a flower motivational picture. In the end, optimism wins out and she sends it. A picture of a field of tulips with a quote on attached.

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.

Then hastily she turns off her phone before someone catches her with it on, "I hope she doesn't think its weird when she sees it at the end of the day..." She says quietly to herself before retreating to the restroom.


One classmate though is around Homura's desk, she has honey eyes and long brown hair and distinctly lacking your laptop manages to slip in a question deftly...

"I like your bag. What brand is it?"

Another classmate with a blonde ponytail nudges her and whispers mischievously, "Are you trying to figure out how loaded she is?"

"I would never!" She replies on the downlow, scandalized. "I bet you're going to ask her next if you can study together..."

She wrings her hands together fretfully, "Well it would be nice to have someone to..." "Just so you can have her foot the bill on..." She whispers back a little indignantly, "That isn't what I'm doing at all!"

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Madoka fidgets through the rest of class, except when she's staring dreamily off into space at nothing, which is the most normal-seeming behavior she's shown all day (and is, ironically, the least, as she is having excited, not-very-conducive-to-learning telepathic confabs with Mami and Eri at the time about the adorable transfer student. She is an incessant chatterbox over the brain-comms, though dutifully silent... for a while... when chastised; blithely innocent of the hypocrisy, her phone does stay off throughout).

Certainly she's almost unrecognizable when it comes to interrupting the cluster around Homura. Who is this creature effortlessly parting the crowd with her passing, straight-backed and smiling, exuding a fey sort of confidence? It isn't completely without vague apology, but just for the inconvenience of taking the transfer student away, rather than for her simple existence.

It's so easy to imagine the opposite because it has, in fact, happened countless times. Madoka, eyes downcast and cheeks flushed, stammering at the edge of a gathering, as unable as Clip Girl to get a word in edgewise. PLUS, in this scenario, the added pressure of knowing that she HAS to get her signal through the noise, which tangles her tongue as surely as her fingers. Pidgeon-footed and awkward and meek.

She's still got her toes pointing cutely inward, as she stands amid the group, but the similarity ends there. Madoka knows where she's been, though. She gives Clip Girl a sympathetic look on her way in -- and Homura a long, knowing expression, mostly from afar, before she approached. By the time she's up close, it has faded away to something gentler. A Madoka at ease, trying to put others at ease.

"Akemi-san," she interjects as warmly as her earlier smile, though her expression has calmed (as has her attitude) from its previous brilliant vibrancy to something pleasant and almost serene, "You need to go to the nurse's office now, right? Do you know where it is? Please let me show you -- I'm the class nurse!"

Only Sayaka and Hitomi are familiar with the fact that when Madoka smiles merrily enough, her eyes close completely, consumed by her cheeks; it isn't often an expression she makes in the halls of Ohtori Academy.

Or it wasn't until now.

"Sorry, everyone!" she tells the others, the words also unrecognizable, like when you say them over and over and over again and they lose all meaning. Good cheer? Where's the embarrassment? Where's the miserable self-doubt? "You see, Akemi-san has to go to the nurse's office on breaks to take her medicine."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Questions bludgeon Homura. Watch and you can practically see them land -- she's flinching.

'Are you from outside Tokyo, Akemi-san?' A simple yes would make an easy answer, but in this uncertain transfer student's world it gets all tangled up in her hard-to-explain existence on the fringes of society, and instead what falls out of Homura's mouth is: "Ahhh... I-I..."

'I like your bag. What brand is it?' She'd just pulled it out of the delivery box last night, divested its leather pockets of tissue inserts and filled it instead with clean-paged notebooks and rattling mechanical pencils. Brand? It's some hard to pronounce Italian name... Those syllables loom over Homura like an unclimbable cliff. With boulders bouncing down it. At her head. "It... it..."

'What's your favorite subject?' Math, probably. Pure, beautiful, magical math, a subject she applies herself to with extra fervor even from a hospital bed. There's no way she's getting that out. "W-well... a-a-a-a--" Up goes her voice until it squeaks off like a leaky spigot; down goes Homura, huddling up at her desk like if she just gets small enough she could actually disappear. To her acute and horrified embarrassment she feels the sting of tears at the corners of her eyes again.

Poor Clip Girl -- though she contributes to that suffocating crowd, she never has a chance, as the transfer student doesn't see her through the black bangs she's trying to hide behind. If Homura was aware of Eri Shimanouchi's forbearance she might try to stammer a thank you... but that would never get out, either.

Homura Akemi is a girl in desperate need of rescue.

Enter a soothing voice, friendly and helpful. All those leading questions are as welcome to Homura as bumpers might be at the bowling alley. A hero has swooped in to whisk her away to safety...

She peeks up from her cower and sees the girl who smiled at her earlier.

She's still smiling, so big and and so bright, and right at Homura. Homura's hands lower from their fearful clutch over her chest. Does she know where the nurse's office is? So warmly done, Madoka's approach not only makes it alright for Homura to admit her ignorance, but guides her there with gentle hands. "N-no..." Her first full answer.

The students crowding Homura look up to their pink-haired classmate and then shuffle, looking at each other. Madoka's confidence is a surprise to them as much as it is a benediction to the girl with the thick black braids, which accounts for a few of their blinks. They parted easily for her, and now they disperse with respectful apologies... and promises to Homura to catch up with her later, meant to be friendly yet utterly frightening.

But the crowd does leave, filtering out of the classroom until it's just the two of them and Saotome-sensei. A vise unclamps from Homura's ribcage. She wonders up at Madoka with those big dark eyes, and her reward is an up close look at her savior. Then Homura hitches a little gasp as her lungs remind the rest of her that oxygen matters, and that shakes the rest of her loose. She gathers her satchel in both hands and hops up, stung to sudden action by guilt.

No wonder she's the class nurse, Homura thinks. She's sweet, and helpful, and good to everyone no matter who they are. It would be horribly rude of her to keep this girl. Surely someone like her has plenty of friends waiting, and Homura is keeping her from them... "T-Thank you...!"

She tries not to broadcast how worn she feels, from just this single class period. The emotional labor of remaining dry-faced wrung quite a bit out of Homura, and she is indeed due for her heart medicine.

The other girl's buoyance helps, though Homura couldn't say how. Her legs feel less leaden as she walks behind, her head down but not so far that she cannot follow her rescuer's feet even as she stares at her own. Occasionally she'll dare to glance at Madoka's heels instead.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Gauken no Lyrics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=270vPdVVJ74

Madoka is innocent of long struggles with hospital beds, and she knows nothing of crippling loneliness. Her lonely feelings are in spite of her circumstances, rather than because of them -- because of who she is rather than what's happened to her.

So her read on Homura's distress is superficial at best; shyness, awkwardness, these at least she has a basis for -- and, for that matter, the guilt. And she has an active imagination to help fill in the margins of the rest, but only just. The sketches of the new transfer student's life in her mind's eye are vague and abstract -- and, yes, correctly, sad.

But she doesn't have to know the why, or even the how, to recognize the what and want to reach out to it and help.

One of the first ways that she does this is by giving Homura the distance and privacy she seems to yearn for; as they walk through the sun-spilled halls, she asks the girl no questions, keeps up a warm, running commentary instead.

It is equal parts introduction to the school and its occupants, with a healthy dose of friendly, cheerful gossip.

"...and this is the hallway that is considered one of the Seven Mysteries of Ohtori, because they say that late at night, you can hear a mysterious ukelele playing when there's no one around?? But, I think that's just a trick they play on people, because if no one's around how could anyone ever know whether or not it could be heard?"

Her voice drops, self-depricating, but merrily so.

"Don't tell anyone, but I believed in it from like, kindergarden to seventh grade..."

And she doesn't turn around to staaaare, though her ears are pricked to make sure that she's still being followed, and her pace is slow enough to guarantee Homura's ease. Madoka downright ambles. Every gentle stride makes her skirt shush and those bright red ribbons on her twintails swing. Her hands move about, from flapping animatedly to being clasped enthusiastically in front of her to simply hanging at her side, moving lazily back and forth opposite her legs.

Somewhere along the way her monologue has shifted back to people rather than places.

"...and you know, this year we've had a surprisingly large number of transfer students into our class! So really, you don't have to worry about being the only new person, there are lots of you, you could form a club even!" She giggles. "Or you could join one of the other clubs... we have lots, I'm in the Gardening Club and the Crafts Club, and we're always looking for new members..."

She glances over her shoulder, as she has been occasionally, as much to smile at Homura as to get a read on her condition. If her smile is anything like the flowers she must tend at club, they are bursting with health and happiness. The very slight flush on her cheeks is delightfully human.

"I'm such a dummy, I'm so excited that I've been talking for five minutes and I never even told you my name! It's Madoka, Madoka Kaname! Please, call me Madoka. Is it okay if call you Homura-chan?"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

It's a long way to the nurse's office but Homura Akemi does not mind, does not even notice. Madoka enthralls her with friendly commentary, which just so happens to be the warmest and most thorough introduction to a new school Homura's ever gotten. They began their journey with a wincing gap between them thanks to the new girl's overwhelming shyness, but as they navigate hallways the gap closes somewhat, because Homura closes it.

She doesn't do it consciously. Those lovely stories help but it's more the way they're told, with gentle humor and an inclusiveness that draw her in like a campfire's light and heat would a freezing child in the woods. Homura creeps closer, step by step, and though she still trails after Madoka like an obedient puppy it is no longer an absurdly deferential sort of arrangement.

At points she even ventures the most halting sorts of conversation. Every word of Madoka's receives her close attention, and the tale of the haunted hallway lifts her eyebrows and her eyes both, as she glances to the girl leading her. "O-oh? Ah... That's..." strange and scary!, she thinks but doesn't finish, lacking confidence in her own contribution.

She walks with light careful little steps, tap-tap-tapping along behind the other girl. The slow pace helps the frail girl, truth be told. Homura nods to the talk of many transfer students, and does indeed feel a wash of relief that she might be one among many. Mostly, though, it just helps to have Madoka chitchatting away like she expects that Homura wants and needs to know these things... like she thinks Homura might stick around, and this is all just perfectly normal.

Homura doesn't quite know what to do with normal.

She just nods, then feels silly for nodding because she's behind Madoka, and emits a halting "Ah-hm" of agreement just in time to agree to form a club and her eyes go a little wide from belated panic. "U-uh... I mean..." She trails off again.

When Madoka glances back she finds a quietly reddening Homura who blinks and gapes and looks down, then converts to a nodding bow to cover it up. "Thank you f-for... thank you." For taking charge of a girl like me, for inviting me to clubs, for sharing that smile. She stumbles along after, catching up again from her little pause, in time for her rescuer to extend even more discombobulating normalcy.

First name familiarity feels like so much more than Homura has earned. She's such a burden, and this girl -- Madoka, Madoka Kaname! -- is being so kind and giving of her time... That, and Homura has never been on a first name basis with anyone in her life. It's too big a step for her.

At the same time... can she bear to disappoint Madoka? "I, um, b-but I..." Another unfinished sentence. She looks at her feet and tries again, her voice so quiet and soft it hardly carries. "My name... it's... no one calls me that, really. It's such a weird name, it's kind of..."

Now she's done it. Homura falls silent and shrinks a little, having vented her own strangeness to Madoka Kaname of the warm and welcoming smile because she opened her mouth. This is how it always happens, on the times she tries. She finally says something, and it's something completely awkward like that because Homura is completely awkward, and... people lose interest in her pretty quickly after that.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Oh no -- it might even be true. Homura's awkwardness has ruined everything before it could even start.

Because Madoka has stopped dead, right there in the middle of the hallway.

Their journey is over??

Unseen, except perhaps through a reflection in a nearby window, her eyes widen with distress, her lips part, just a little. But only for a moment.

She spins around slowly, leaning her weight on one heel, until they're facing one another properly, instead of with sideways or backwards glances.

Something's wrong, though, something doesn't make sense; she's still smiling. If anything, she's smiling more kindly than ever.

"Whaaaat?" she asks, and her eyes twinkle with the stars above and all of them are for the girl she's looking at. "That isn't true at all! Your name is super cool!"

She takes a half-step forward, fingers clasped in front of her chest again. If she reached out she could clutch at imaginary pearls with distress. If she reached in she'd be praying. As she is, her hands are halfway in between -- passionate hands, emphatic hands. The hands of someone who cares.

"You know, with a great name like that, it gives you a reason to live up to it, and be just as great, so it fits!"

Infinite possibility -- infinite promise -- dwells not just in her eyes but on her lips. She doesn't drop diamonds and roses from them, for Homura to trip and scratch herself on as she tries to follow along. What she drops is a simpler path, no lesser for that simplicity. Well-worn brick, or maybe the kind of wood that used to have finish but now it doesn't, but it's so smooth from all the footsteps that it doesn't matter anyway, it will never leave a splinter.

A way forward.

It lives in her smile, and in the way that -- as it did in the classroom, a while ago -- she smiles so much that it closes her eyes.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

When Madoka stops, so stops Homura -- and so stops Homura's heart.

It's even worse than she thought, Madoka is just going to give her the directions and leave her now, she's so kind but everyone has their limits and she doesn't even know yet what a waste of time it'll be to get to know her, maybe this is for the best, it definitely is...

It takes no time at all for Homura to wind herself up terribly; the mental pathways to her social despair are so efficient they might as well be chutes instead, and she falls right in. Outwardly this manifests as a defeated droop of her shoulders.

But... Madoka doesn't look weirded out.

Neither does she look irritated, nor exasperated, nor just plain out of patience.

She's still smiling that big beauteous smile, the one so bright it sparkles off even the darkest parts of Homura, the desperately sad and lonely shadows that stretch so long and grow so deep within her. No matter how much doubt Homura bears for herself, she cannot bring herself to doubt that smile and the girl beaming it at her.

Instead she blinks her bemusement, as true a thing as Madoka's smile. She's too surprised to even be shy for a moment, just absorbs this wholly unexpected response.

Her name...


Ho-mu-ra: they've always seemed such strange and, well, uncool syllables to the girl they hang on, but Madoka picks them up and polishes them till they shine. She can't believe it. Except... even more strongly, she wants to believe in this angel smiling blessings down upon her. So Homura considers it, she really thinks about it, and it shows on her face: could her name be... cool?

Maybe it could be, if only because Madoka believes it is.

Could Homura be cool?

That's a lot harder for her. A name is a name is a name. Her name could belong to anyone, right? There are other Homuras out there somewhere, and probably every last one of them is cooler than Homura Akemi of the defective heart and hospital homeschooling. She's sure of it. Homura looks down again, at her feet.

But her gaze still takes in the tips of Madoka's shoes as well as her own, pointed toward her, and after a long miserable moment Homura's chin rises again. She trembles her way back up until that smile enters her field of view again, and she doesn't even mind that it steals away Madoka's pretty pink eyes because of how much the expression warms her.

"If... if you think so... Kaname-san." It's a little step forward onto the kind way laid out before her. She can't quite agree, but... now Homura can't disagree, either. Suddenly she wants it to be possible somehow, she wants to be cool and live up to all the things Madoka sees in her name, even if it seems utterly out of her reach.

Homura wants to try, for her.

It... terrifies her. Her heart races, and she clutches a little fistful of uniform jacket over her chest, then takes a sharp breath and nods again, and she can see by the blurry tip of her own nose how well her face matches her glasses frames.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Madoka has spent long hours on her side in the dirt, waiting for plants to grow. She's tried midnight runs around the tomato patch (inspired by her favorite movie, but no less pleasant for the source). She once borrowed Papa's camera and took a picture of a flower at school every morning for a school year, or at least for three quarters of a school year until someone caught her at it and made fun of her and she stopped.

That was last year. She wouldn't stop, now.

All of this is another way of saying that Madoka appreciates, less than Eri but more than most, how long it can take for little green shoots to poke themselves joyfully above the cold hard ground. How long it can take for little green buds to unfurl and turn their faces towards the sun. She likes waiting for them. The waiting is almost better than the having, just for that magic moment when it all starts. The sweetness of the anticipation, every new spring a loose tooth to wiggle.

Madoka reopens her eyes and watches Homura, and smiles to herself.

"Okay, Homura-chan!"

She gives her a funny, jaunty little salute, with her fingers fanned wide and the two most like a V framing her right eye. It means hooray and it means victory and it means I really like you, is that okay?

Amiably oblivious to the effort that took, to the big deal it might have been -- or maybe innocently oblivious, or maybe both -- she blinks as she realizes that

"We're almost there! C'mon, just a few more steps."

She all but skips to their destination, then throws open the nurse's door with a fond familiarity.

"Good morning, nurse! I have a new patient for you! Come meet Homura-chan!"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.



Madoka asking if she could call her that was one thing, an abstraction that meant the -chan didn't count, didn't strike a direct hit. Madoka calling her that...

Her mouth falls open and she half-stammers, half-swallows her response so it garbles up completely. "Er- ah- I-I-I-ah..."

The v-gesture causes a total breakdown of the line. All gears grind to a halt. Emergency stop called. Homura chokes off the stammer because she just... chokes.

That obliviousness, amiable or innocent, saves Homura. On a delay she nods to the turned-around Madoka's back about five times, braid tips bouncing, and follows after into the nurse's office.