2019-04-30 - A Final Mercy Granted By Love
|Title: A Final Mercy Granted By Love|
Events reach full circle as a girl returns to an alley.
Shinjuku Capital Ward
| OOC - IC Date:|
2019-04-30 - Chronologically before Sleeplessover.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Garden of Sinners - A Study in Murder - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5mI700grdM
There are some alleys that are well-traveled by Shinjuku's night life. This is not one of them. It offers the illusion that if you look down one end, that is simply recedes into some otherworldly, lightless place.
If you pass the test of courage to start walking down it though, if you brave those steps past the rusted metal gates, and stagnant puddles to the end, you'll find the corner of the sharp geometric right angle it cuts between the two Shinjuku streets.
The truth is that it is brighter there than any other place because you can see the light shining from both ends. Every few seconds you can see a group of office ladies passing by, off to have drinks for the evening. A Salaryman trying to catch a train. A host or hostess on their way to work.
Day or night, Shinjuku works in cycles. Tonight is not exempt from that. It is not a special, holy night, far from it time simply keeps moving. Everything keeps changing and nothing changes at all. There was once a girl named Yaori who came here to run. Shinjuku has changed hands three times since then.
Give it six months and perhaps it'll change hands several more times. The world won't notice. It will just keep moving.
Or maybe it won't. Maybe the Silence will crumble everything to dust. Walpurgisnacht shatter Shinjuku and litter it with ashes and refuse.
All this girl knows is that she's tired. Not long ago she was angry at the futility of it all. There's a stack of rotten wooden pallets just off center from the alley corner with a girl sitting on it. She's in Ohtori high school uniform, hair matted and unkempt, glasses off. She doesn't remember when she shed her bag, maybe she left it on the train.
She's not watching the people on either end anyhow. Those little snapshots of lives disconnected from her. At this distance she can't even make out the details. Instead her posture is slumped, eyes down.
Her left palm is balanced on her knee as it holds a tiny little bauble. It'd become a fanciful little thing in the daylight. Right now the inlay has lost its golden sheen in this lack of light.
There's a singular green spot left in the gem, from a phantom sensation she holds on her lips. The rest of it swirling with miasmic poison, churning away as the world tries to claim that too. Blackness seethes across its surface like weeds from the shadows, seeking to choke her.
She's tired of holding on - but she's focusing on that feeling anyhow. Shinjuku had been her garden for a while before it changed hands again. It is a place that she hates more than anywhere else, but she's killed so many parts of herself here. Deadheading herself like a rose bush so that she could survive.
Kyubey - why would you make a girl like this a Puella Magi?
Rika-chan? Want me to show you how to make a fire?
I held your wrist and told you not to die, and I'll hold your wrist to stop you from killing, too.
If any part of you still believes in doing the right thing you should get out of my way. But if now you believe as Anko does? In that case you should get the hell out of my way.
You're right. I want to feel good about myself again. I want to be able to feel the rain on my skin again without thinking about that little child you killed.
That's it. Until one or both of us dies, I suppose.
My wish to Kyuubey was to find the person who killed neechan tonight. So they'll get here soon.
It's not her garden anymore, but there's a rightness to being here all the same.
A place that has taken so much from her can only feel like home.
When she's too tired to focus on that feeling any longer, she'll plant one final sEEd
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
It is dark and close -- claustrophobic, even. Sweat, strawberry shampoo, and a faint animalistic musk combine into a soupy aroma here, along with the musty smell of undisturbed paper.
A brilliant light comes on, demanding attention, but nobody sees it. Things escalate. Shaking, rattling, everything nearby set on edge.
The lightswitch in Madoka's room has gone untouched for days, making it -- and her -- especially sensitive to the intrusion of natural cycles.
It is easier to doze than to sleep. The in-between place, where consciousness and unconsciousness are liminal, is safer than either extreme. With full lucidity she has to confront reality. With none...
Madoka sits up with a gasp, and shivers. Sweat has made her cold.
She will not cry. She will not cry. She will not cry.
Setting her jaw, she ignores the heat trickling down along her nose, and, in the name of distraction, opens her bookbag for the first time in a long time.
Free at last.
Madoka glances disinterestedly down at her phone, the little charms on its straps tinkling as she lifts it out of the bag. Its battery is almost dead. And...
That's a lot of missed calls.
She scrolls vaguely through them.
She should be feeling something stir in her -- so many people obviously care about her -- some called again and again -- but her heart only stirs with guilt that nothing else is, not even a mouse.
Missed call: Eri-chan
Her fingertips twitch from something akin to electric shock, then, once they're back under her control, start scrolling and tapping with the frenetic skill and precision of a Tokyo teenager.
There's only one call. It wasn't long ago.
There is no message.
She looks back at the upper right corner, at the urgently flashing battery.
Rejecting the possibility of connecting and sustaining a call, she figures she has enough time to send one text instead. Probably JUST one.
Fortunately she doesn't have to lose time over debating who to contact. The screen dies just as she's pushing send.
She doesn't know if it made it or not, if it will be trapped like a bird in a cage... more like a bird's ghost, ephemeral and flickering, feathers moulting into plasma... into pale ribbons... into piano keys.
Madoka blinks with a gasp, and shivers.
Eri-chan. And then an intersection. She'll never forget those street signs.
"Madoka-chan!" Tomohisa is overjoyed to see his daughter emerge from her room, but his smile doesn't last even as long as it takes for her to pass him at a run.
The door slams behind her.
His gaze, bewildered and concerned, wanders to the ornate vase at the door... and the umbrellas there.
One, two, three.
Tokyo blurs by. Madoka can hear only the timpanis resounding in her ears, punctuated occasionally by the hot, sharp sound of breathing, that other necessity to a heartbeat, and the splatter of her shoes in what seems like every conceivable puddle in every conceivable place, and some that aren't.
Raindrops falling on her head, her body, the concrete, merging with the puddles, makes a noise more like background radiation. When it does enter her awareness, however, it only ever sounds like raindrops falling on a tarp.
The Madoka who skids to a stop at Eri's side is covered with evidence of prior falls. Muddy stockings. A big splash on her left side, darkening her mustard jacket to something closer to the chrome of some ambulances. The hem of her skirt is ripped right down the side, unable to match the pace of the legs that sprinted beneath it.
Moonlight reflects off a fractured atrium window.
Madoka blinks with a gasp, and shivers.
Struggling for air with her hands on her knees, she collapses onto them fully at Eri's left side, and wheezes.
There are so many things she could have said.
But only one thing that's true.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> NieR - Emil (Sacrifice) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDhPsYeK-jU
'...I can't stay. You need to pull yourself together.'
'W-- wait, Homura... Don't leave me! I need help! Please--!!'
Mikoto has not been home for some time.
It's a little more complicated - than not being welcome in her dorm.
Let's examine, here, the concept of a home. It is the experience of hearing okaeri to welcome you back inside, one of the many calls and responses of Tokyo learnt in the shadow of one girl. It is the comfortable knowledge of belonging; sprawling anywhere at all. It is the scent of dinner cooking. It is leaning Miroku against the wall because there are no battles to be fought here.
It has never been a place. Home was never once a place.
Home is a person.
Home is her Lord Brother; home is Mai Tokiha; home is Eri Shimanouchi.
Maybe home is even Yumi Ohzora, now.
Mikoto has not been home - no. She can't. She can't find them, or else she is certain they would not want her to find them. All those people who found and loved her when she was lost and frightened and alone... they're all...
She can't ask for help.
She needs to try harder-harder-harder, offer every drop of blood unto the altar, because it's just as she told Endo, after all. It doesn't matter. There is still so much she has to do.
It really isn't so different to when she came here, making do. Evading scrutiny. Suspecting everyone. She knows more about how Tokyo food can betray her, now; she is more successful at stealing lunches. Desperation is a sharpening force. Sharp enough to push her forwards, even though she has only slept unbroken once since Mai cast her out.
She has so little left. She has made so many promises. She will shatter --
No. She needs to pull herself together.
Push, push into the night, deeper and darker and every shadow looks familiar in the black. Every shadow looks familiar until she sees their face, and they're all brown eyes and blue eyes and purple eyes and pink eyes and green eyes and not one set of too-bright gold like hers.
Through the city streets at a pace not quite like running but still too fast too fast, the heel of a sensible Ohtori flat comes down and the other is already rising. One braid has come halfway undone, somewhere along the way, the little tie lost to a fitful nap or a too-quick scramble from the rain. Dark hair flutters out behind her as she turns her face to catch a glimpse of a boy walking past. Another disappointment; another lance of failure through a heart long-carved.
There is a particular characteristic to clothes worn too long, soaked by rain and dried underneath bright bright billboards which send their messages out for the whole of Tokyo to see. A hundred little scuff marks, and they are hardly limited to her clothes. A smudge of dirt here; uncombed hair there. She is still wearing her winter uniform, long sleeves on a jacket now closed. Now she is as cold as they are. It just took a little longer.
And at first when her phone chimes she pays it no mind. She borrowed Eri's charger, when she went to her empty dorm. She didn't check her messages when she turned it back on. She hasn't checked them since. It would be easy not to check them now.
Except -- it's so late at night, she realises, a moment later.
It's not the sort of hour someone would send a concerned message, unless...
She slips in to lean against the brickwork of a building, slips her phone out of her pocket, fumbles with it until she remembers how to get to the most recent message. (She has not set a password. She's sure she'd just forget it.) At the top of the list is Madoka, and golden eyes narrow as she taps the message open.
A pit sinks in her stomach. She thought the void could grow no deeper. She is proven wrong each time.
She does not bother to reply. She is uncertain at the keys, too slow and too inexperienced. The phone slips back in her pocket, and now she is running, faster faster, without care for who she passes. A sensible Ohtori flat slams into a puddle not yet dried. A woman yells as her shopping bags are splashed with old rainwater. It is far away; they are far away.
The alleyway darkens, small girl shading the light. They're the same height now - Madoka and Mikoto. She used to be smaller. But she ate a lot of good food, and had a long time to grow up...
And now Madoka is at Eri's side and Mikoto rushes there just the same, and Miroku's case clatters to the ground as she shrugs it off of her shoulder to crouch to the right of something dead and rotted through. Eri told her once that she hated to be given flowers. Perhaps wood is just the same.
"Eri," she says, and her name on her lips is care and concern sharpened to a desperate edge, brow arced and lips fallen. She wanted to think Eri was getting better, since Eri wasn't in bed. This isn't better, she thinks. This isn't better at all.
Eri holds herself in her left palm, so dark so dark, and Mikoto reaches for the right with fingers which tremble. She has never had the words to shape her love; it is only a name. "Eri..."
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Life passes her by. It's fitting. It's right. Her eyes are on that singular dwindling spot of green on her gem. The sensation on her lips and in her palm is growing distant. Like she's beginning to not feel it anymore. She does not see the blur of motion from the figure sprinting down the alleyway. Not until she collapses.
The sound of breathless respirations striking her ears. It's enough to cut through the static void of nothingness. The girl lifts her eyes off her gem and right upon her. From the little pink twintails to the tear in her skirt and the fractured reflection of her off a window
"Madoka... I was beginning to think..."
There's a twisted smile upon her lips, like a shadow of a real smile. True happiness.
"...I don't know what to think anymore... it just makes sense that you're here..."
Her eyes glimmer in a reflection off the light in a puddle. The shape of Mikoto enters her vision and there's a strange symmetry to her showing up right now. Like a dark reflection of the girl that had showed up in the past.
"Mi-..." She whispers. "-koto..."
The two girls have something in common.
Because I love you!
I love Eri.
Even now. Even knowing what's coming, she could never have the courage to send them away. "... it feels like all I've ever offered either of you for your love is grief. That's all... I ever offer anyone." Those better times, like quiet moments of friendship after Gardening Club, or walking home together, or sleeping over at her home. Those times when Mikoto unveiled the latest baby kitten she was taking care of, they're so far away now. She struggles to even grasp upon their fleeting images, "I really am a witch."
Before the declaration can be protested though, she adds another's love betrayed into it, "Kyouko's dead... she told me she loved me and..." There's a certain struggle in her consciousness like, she doesn't know how to articulate it. Kyouko tried to share responsibility for her death in those final moments. Yet it doesn't make sense. "...and I killed her." It is a reedy whisper, high pitched and low all at once. "Now... she doesn't have to see this."
Now the tears spatter on the decaying wood of the pallets. "... You don't have to either. If you leave right now..." She whispers, closing her eyes, mustering her courage, "Yaori's sister... Rika... she got cheated out of her real wish by Kyubey." Then her chin turns fractionally downward, her eyes opening to stare at the soul gem that feels already like a nascient grief seed.
"... I can give it to her though... she won't even have to dirty her hands." The smile she wears seems paradoxical, to what she's saying. Like she's inebriated on the feeling of despair that's driving her to such irrational thoughts, "My despair - can become her hope."
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Madoka is so alive right now. The blood all rushing from her legs to her head. Her lungs, heaving. She is not Eri's opposite, for there are also ways in which they are deeply similar right now, but she might be her inversion, just now.
She doesn't appreciate it the way that she ought. It's impossible to tell where the sweat ends and the rain begins. She doesn't feel either, really, just a numbness, with occasional vague prickling, that has less to do with her skin and more to do with her heart.
More to do with that smile.
It's barely even recognizable.
But then, neither is Madoka's face.
She isn't smiling, she's grimacing. It's a terrible expression.
Fierce in the full meaning of the term. Ferocious.
She doesn't close her eyes or turn away at the newest awful truth: the tears fall freely but without being stirred by lashes from half-lidded eyes, without being torn free by the swiveling of her head.
She just looks at Eri -- looks at her.
Not her Seed.
Unlike Mikoto, she has seen that before.
She loves Eri so fiercely, right now.
At some point her hand has wound up under Eri's and close to the Seed; very, very, very close indeed. But it is the hand that she's touching.
She's cold; she's so small, and it is relentlessly wet. She cannot warm Eri thermally. She may not even be able to warm her in any sense at all.
But she touches that hand, that murderer's hand, with her own.
And she says three words, in her tiny, quivering excuse for a voice.
Three simple words.
They were never any good to Sayaka, either, but they're all she has.
"I'm sorry, Eri."
She's sorry that Eri killed Kyouko.
She's sorry that this world is such a twisted and terrible place that Eri Shimanouchi would become someone who would kill Kyouko. Who would kill Mami. Who would kill Sayaka, for that matter, in all ways but the very last.
She's sorry that she can't think of anything better to say.
Her mind is one big razor.
It pierces her lips, on the way out.
"That's not true. She wouldn't want that for you."
And Madoka, Madoka, friend of Kyouko, friend of Mami, sister of Sayaka, must be the most qualified person in the world to say so.
She hitches a breath that is more like a cough and more like a whimper.
Her eyes are opened wide, and the starscape there is less of the majesty and more of the void. And yet...
"I will not leave you."
She found another true thing to say after all.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - Please https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8aJxSyVwiE
There's a little shake of Mikoto's head, humming discontent as Eri says she has given her so much grief for her love, and perhaps she is a pretty little liar after all. Her eyes are bright and shiny-damp as they catch the light from the street to her side, and her lips part to make way for a jagged little gasp as Eri describes herself as a witch.
Her fingers curl around Eri's right palm, grasping at that dirty hand, as if she could chase the shadows away with her contact. Eri rarely responds, any more, when Mikoto curls around her in the darkness. Mikoto never stopped. She doesn't stop now, either.
Not even as they twitch with the way her chin jerks up, gaze tearing from a green gem almost black to green eyes which have said so much in so many ways. "Kyouko..." She speaks a name in echo as she tries to comprehend it. Her throat tightens to a chokehold, cheeks risen in tension as her breath falls past lips tugged down. It only serves to underline the sorrow in her eyes and the knit of her brow. It does nothing to catch the liquid which escapes down black lashes.
(She'd talked to her so recently. Kyouko had seemed so centred, to Mikoto, even though they had lost the hope of recovering a Witch's soul. She told her to keep her head above water...)
But Eri had to kill another girl she loved, and Mikoto aches for her, heart pounding in her throat where her air has lodged and refuses to pass through.
'If someone-- dies, and, you want to die too, it's love, right?'
'Yes. That's exactly it.'
Mikoto has cried so many tears for Eri Shimanouchi, while her eyes remained dry. A hundred-hundred teardrops, like the world is summer rain. Now Eri has learned to cry again and it is no comfort at all.
But - what is Eri saying?
Now she doesn't have to --
'Did you know Yaori has a little sister who still doesn't know what happened? Every day she probably wishes the worst punishments on whoever was responsible.'
Mikoto's fingers tighten around Eri's as she shakes her head again, more emphatically. Eri is smiling but it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel right, Mikoto never wanted to see her smiling like this, this is not the happiness she wanted to protect. And at first the sound of tongue pressed to the back of clenched teeth is wordless in its misery, a single syllabic sound, before she remembers the shape of the word: "No!"
Her breath comes quick and shallow as she struggles to order her thoughts through her distress. "I'm not leaving Eri alone! I won't! I promised!" And there are so many things she has promised, and perhaps it is not just the gape of her jaw which leaves her mouth so dry. "I love Eri - I'll always love Eri - no matter what!" No matter what she has to do; no matter how many people she has to kill; as many as it takes, Mikoto said, that night. Some people matter more than others. Eri matters more than the others. Eri is the third most important person in the world. "So I'm not leaving! I won't! Just, eat something, Eri, and - and we'll survive, and..."
'I always thought, maybe if I tried hard enough, protected Eri... maybe we could be better one day... but it never stops. Just keeps going, keeps getting worse. I'm trying, I'm trying, but I can't, fight this...'
Her head bows, and her braids and the bead at her chest sway forward with the movement. "... please," she whispers, again, like she has too often. "Eri... my Eri..." Her fingers tremble as they clutch the skin there, leather stretched over the frame of a facsimile, "I'm begging you." Her voice is hushed and brittle as she looks up to her; it will shatter at a touch.
'... I... want... help then. ... your help.'
Her fingers coil into Eri's right hand, and she is an anchor, dragging her down. Holding her there, as her other hand lifts to curl around Madoka's, joining the three of them together.
It is deliberate; was deliberate from the start. Her body knows what her mind rejects. It always has.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Three words. Never much good when you hear them typically. 'I'm sorry.' You bombed the big test. I'm sorry your snapdragons didn't come in well this season. It doesn't feel like they'd do much good against the immensity of this despair.
Yet it's different when it comes from someone that actually cares. From someone who actually stays.
From someone who's actually known every cruelty the world has thrown at her.
Perhaps it makes nothing better. Yet it still validates the fact that Madoka Kaname loves her. So that's wrong too - it makes everything better just by its existence.
There's a slow blink of her eyes, and a tug at the corner of her lips.
"She wouldn't." The girl allows. "She was cross enough with me already."
Kyouko as she died - thought that Eri had chosen not to become a witch. Rejected it. Had chosen simply to embrace whatever comes after together.
If only it were so simple, neat. The world has no storybook ending to offer her.
Madoka offers the truth that she won't leave her. Mikoto cries and her hand tightens around her right one. Eri's hand is limp, it has a coolness which one would expect more from a corpse body than a living girl. How long has she been out here? She isn't even shivering, which is information enough on it's own.
Neither will leave her. Which means both will be consumed by what happens next. The explosion of grief will consume them both.
Wouldn't it be bETtEr?
To take both of them out of the world with her, rather than force either of them to suffer any longer. It's a unilateral decision in the madness of her own despair. It has always been one of her greatest flaws - that her loyalty is to what she thinks is best for someone.
Her eyes glimmering as they slide from one of them to another.
"You're... begging... me..." She echoes, and there's an abstracted quality, like she no longer comprehends the full context of what Mikoto is begging her.
It feels like everything has changed... so I wanted you to know, I haven't.
Eri's always taking care of me. Let me take care of Eri now.
Her lips part and suddenly she can articulate a certain truth, "I don't want to become a witch." There's a plaintive, frightened, small quality to it - like a child afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the creatures of the imagination that thrive in the darkness and shadows, "Not really."
Something in her breath hitches, and spasms, and it carries into the touch contact.
"... I just wanted to punish myself... for ruining another little girl's life." And smaller still, "For ruining everything. There's... just something wrong with me..."
She remembers how she felt while she was battling Sayaka. Hurting her. She remembers - letting herself enjoy it. The feeling is gut-churning in it's revulsion.
If she enjoys hurting her - she can only be a witch.
"... that has nothing to do with Kyubey."
When she asked for Mikoto's help back then - she truly didn't know what it meant. She always takes so much on to herself that even admitting she needed help provided no true catharsis or relief.
I'm here for you. You don't have to handle it all on your own.
Maybe if she'd truly unloaded these feelings in the past it would have made a difference. Truly relied on them. Perhaps - Kyouko's final words would have been enough.
Kyouko is gone though.
There's only one difference to be made now.
"If you won't leave me then... please... help me..."
The fingers of her palm no longer grip her gem. Her elbow straightening just fractionally as she offers it forward. The green spot of light left is less than a pencil prick.
In the reflections of the glass and puddles you cannot even see it. Like it's an optical illusion that it's there at all. There's a strange thickness to the air right now. Like those imaginary creatures are waiting in the wings, behind the veils of reality. Waiting to claim her.
And her only salvation is that the two of them are here for her.
"... there's no way to save me anymore..."
And in that, she finishes imparting a terrible truth of her own.
If she did it herself, then it feels like she'd betray all of them. All of their love. Every lesson that she's learned through her many mistakes. Many sins.
"Tell Homura... Kyouko was sorry. That it was a surprise for her."
More tears slide down her cheeks, they're stolen by her lap away from the hungry concrete and rotten wood that's awaiting an awful seed.
"I'm sorry too."
The words feel inadequate to cover how many promises she's broken. In how twisted and broken everything has become from the world - from her own actions - her own responsibility.
Maybe it does no good at all to say the words. It makes them no less true for her - than it was for Madoka to say them right now.
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Gardener - The Dresden Dolls - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Osv-kKKeUy4
"You really don't know anything about Sayaka, do you?"
This time, Madoka knows everything.
Her mind is a razor.
It cuts and it cuts and it cuts.
Madoka knows how much a regular Soul Gem weighs.
But now she knows how incredibly light and fragile it feels at the end of everything, and she bleeds with it.
Her hands are so small. They are pale, weak hands. The hands of a child who has enjoyed an easy life. The hands of an artist who has never had to produce to survive. The hands of a student whose mediocrity has always been enough.
But now she knows how big and strong they look, holding what's left of Eri's soul, gently, so gently, and she bleeds with it.
Madoka knows what's about to happen next.
But now she knows what it's like when everyone knows what's about to happen next, and she bleeds with it.
"How is Madoka?"
"I don't know. I feel like she knows something... but she doesn't seem to be lying. This is the first time I can't see through her. I'm pathetic... she's my daughter!"
"This is getting to you, too."
Madoka really doesn't know anything.
She doesn't know that her shoulders are quaking, that that she's bleeding anguish, squeaky and strangled, without ever bidding her throat to make noise.
Can she do this?
"I was thinking that it's strange. She locked herself up in her room instead of coming to talk to me about it like usual. I thought I could support her no matter what..."
"Kids her age grow up so suddenly. It must be shocking for a parent."
"Pr-prom...ise," she stutters through lips as numb as though this were the heart of a polar vortex. Because it is, of course. She's so cold. Everything is so cold.
Her gaze flicks over to Mikoto for the first time, and the single word is all she says. The rest is contained in her eyes.
There are still parts of her that haven't bled yet, but the razors are everywhere, and they gleam within, dripping. Scarless is the part that doesn't know what it's like for Mikoto to kill her own sister.
It can stay that way.
It was only ever going to be one of them -- Mikoto, inside a Labyrinth, with Madoka for company. As witness, as support, as reason to return.
Things never work out the way you think they will.
She can't tear her full attention from Eri for long. It isn't that she won't. She CAN'T.
Eri wanted to be punished, and Madoka bleeds with it.
Eri blames herself, even knowing everything, and Madoka bleeds with it.
Eri needs her help.
Eri needs her to SAVE her.
Be careful what you wish for.
Madoka -- Madoka who can finally save someone, anyone, to even begin to return the karmic debt that she owes so many people, so many times, including both others here -- she bleeds, and she bleeds, and she bleeds.
It drips onto the Gem in her palms, salty and, paradoxically, despite everything else, warm. The only hot thing left in the world.
"So that's how it is?"
"You have no choice but to believe in her. What Madoka needs the most is time to get her thoughts in order. Just wait for a while."
"Mmm!" she whimpers, as she positions her thumb like an executioner's axe. "Nnn!"
Would Sayaka approve? Would she be mad? Would she be glad for the wrong reason? Would she be glad for the right one?
Madoka really doesn't know anything at all, and she bleeds with it.
Her little chest bulges with her breathing, faster and faster -- it hurts to do it hyperventilating -- it hurts to not do it -- she's rocking back and forth -- it hurts and hurts and hurts but her heart will somehow tear itself in two -- for Eri -- for Eri. One of the last things the surface of Eri's cursed phylactery will know is the fiercely miserable way Madoka's heart quickens, pounding straight through her hands. Every beat breaks her in a new way.
And then she pushes. All at once. She wants it to be quick and painless.
Her thumb goes straight in, breaking the thin, thin shell of the witch's egg so easily, and then she knows that it STILL isn't the latter, even if it is the former, even though she tried so hard --
-- and she bleeds with it.
"It's tough... not being able to do anything."
"You're still bad at that, huh?"
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Sam Tinnesz - Even If It Hurts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReA_3z4gl5s
Can't they go back to when everything made sense?
Can't they go back to snacks on the rooftop?
Can't they go back to the way Mikoto never cleaned up like Eri did, after they detransformed?
Can't they go back to chasing kittens through Ohtori?
Can't they go back to secrets no one else knew?
Can't they go back? Can't they go back?
Eri says she does not want to be a witch, and the answer is made clear. Madoka echoes the word-concept-vow, and Mikoto's eyes find her in her misery. "Yes," Mikoto says, again, and the words are hollowed out and there is nothing left because they are all gone. In one sense she is here, looking at Madoka with eyes which long since learned to resign themselves as she confirms what she has choked out.
She does not stutter. Don't ask why.
'I won't let Eri hurt everyone. I'll make sure Eri's got enough to eat. I'll protect Eri. I won't let Eri turn black. No matter what... I'll be right here.'
And they slip back to Eri and she speaks the truth, and do not speak to how hard it is, how great the strain.
"I'm right here."
She always knew what it meant, and she shatters beneath the weight of them with no further complaint. She shatters because she will.
Ah, she thinks - there are so many people she has failed to kill, all for the necessity of Eri Shimanouchi. Even though she kept failing her, Eri told her she was the only one who hadn't. Eri was never angry with her; Eri never meant to hurt her. No matter what she did, Eri always just said she was... glad...
... Mikoto was there, feeling the way she did.
And she is. She's right here, love in her sad, sad eyes.
Because Mikoto was always just as glad Eri was there.
Eri's always taken care of her - is still taking care of her, Mikoto thinks. She's asking again, asking plainly. There is no ambiguity to her desires. This is what she wants; this is what she needs. This is what Mikoto can do for her. This is always what she was able to do for her. Here is one time she cannot fail, because Eri needs her once again.
She was not designed to hesitate. She isn't hesitating. It is the genius of distance.
The fingers of her right hand curl into Eri's, and the purpose of an anchor is not only to drown. It hold a ship in place in the middle of rough waves, keeps it from drifting away from the friendly shoreline lights. It digs into the deepest depths and holds them there, so they will not be swept away.
Perhaps Madoka saw it better than Mikoto ever could.
'Don't you know how important you are to her? Don't you know that if you hadn't been there for her, she'd already be--'
But even though she's always been there for Eri, she could never fix this. Mikoto can feel her, extending herself out. Her fingers have trailed over the glass of that gem before. She has felt how breakable it is. How breakable she is.
The full moon shines through a gap in the clouds, into the gap of the alleyway.
Mikoto does not know the word for 'deja vu'.
"Anything," Mikoto whispers distant echo in a vehicle separate from her body, and Eri is not the only one crying. "Anything Eri asks."
It's not 'I'm sorry.'
She has apologised to Eri many times, but she won't apologise here, not at the end, not as Mikoto faces down the sum of their sinful existence. She will carry it in her heart to the ends of the earth, and a part of Eri will still be here, and Mikoto will not betray her.
The muscles of the hand are so much more delicate than the others. It takes so little to disturb them, so fine is their movement. They are delicate, delicate things, and they feel every angstrom of movement. Madoka does not act alone when she does. There is power here, in their hands. Strength enough to rend the thicket whole.
She does not dig in her fingers, as such. Madoka provides the claw.
Mikoto's hand curls to a fist; it clenches. Hers is force, made strong even without her blade. She is well-bred and finely-crafted, and she is so, so practiced.
And it always feels the same.
It's not their fault.
They have to do it.
Eri asked them to.
It's their fault.
They have to do it.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Million Years Ago - Adele - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc4rqVwlbjU
I wish things were less terrible. I wish we didn't need to make choices like this.
It wasn't so long ago that she was scared of dying. A fear that had taken root into her in this alleyway, had been leeched up from the concrete inside of her. For a long time that fear was what had dominated her. Over time that changed.
By the time Haneda Airport happened - Sayaka Miki wanted to kill her, more than she wanted to live. It didn't matter though whose desire to kill or whose desire to live was stronger though. It feels like none of that really matters anymore, like everything she fought for, everything decision made just missed the point.
Perhaps that's why in truth she wanted to punish herself. If that much of her regret stemmed from wanting to live, then her punishment ought to be living for a while in a state worse than death. It's not what she wanted - it's just what she felt she needed to do. Like so many actions she took. What she wanted is simple.
If someone-- dies, and, you want to die too, it's love, right?
She must be such a terrible coward to have the resolve to kill someone who loved her so they wouldn't have to suffer from what came next, only to back out at the last moment, for being more scared of living that way than dying.
Is cowardice so terrible though when it's born out of love? From the love of Madoka Kaname and Mikoto Minagi, who will stay with her anyhow. From finally understanding the lesson in Kyouko's final words.
It can't be.
It is said one's life flashes before one's eyes as the end approaches. This is not precisely true for her. Her mind feels like the first thirteen years are barely worth review. She lived more in the last two, than all the rest of them. A million years might have passed for how much changed in so short a time - and not a single one anticipated by childhood innocence.
She is not simply shown those past two years, and the darkness that filled her life. Instead what happened, and what might have been blurs together in the space of a few short seconds.
Madoka and herself at Gardening club comes swiftly, more quiet afternoons of comraderie that came from nurturing things that grow. Okay then - I declare this the new home of Jackolantern-kun! Welcome home, Jackolantern-kun! When Christmas comes, we should give them all ornaments according to their names! They'll be the cutest little forest in all of Japan! Do you think we should play them music? I always thought it was silly for seasonal flowers, but these guys are going to be here for years and years and years. Kyouko and herself holding hands at a school lunch felt within her grasp. Can't we be... for a while.
Until her mind grasps for more distant and impossible might have beens. All of them taking tea at Mami's apartment before a study session. Making Homura laugh for the first time over something truly unexpected. Playing Dungeons and Dragons at the Kaname home with all of them, while they keep an eye on Tatsuya.
Mai telling her she's proud of her at her high school graduation. The three of them enjoying dinners together. Mikoto showing off her latest kitten adoptee. The three of them planting a vegetable garden together. Eri held on and saw Mai smile. Eri held on and saw flowers Eri made bloom. Eri held on and saw ginger kittens.
Some things too possible had she made different choices. Other things completely improbable. It is both hope - and happiness in what they are - and despair and regret in equal measure for why they could not be. A balanced equation.
As Madoka approaches the gem. She can see the way her shoulders quaver and quake. The trembling, and the rhythm of her tachypneic breath. She can hear the little whimpering noises as she works herself up to do it.
There is no pressure from her despite the urgency of what happens if it delays too long. She has asked so much of her in this. Too much. She does not know why Madoka bleeds this time - not specifically, but only that the thorns of her request have wounded her all the same. Like the request intrinsically has asked her to thrust her hand into a bramble patch.
She does not have to know which bramble will claim its due, to know it will hurt.
She can feel the warmth of Mikoto through her palm, and knows from that she is right there - even moreso than from the words assuring the same, she can feel the way her pulse quickens enough to carry into her hand even though her fingers do not search for it. She hears the way she says she would do anything for her, and her thoughts have no time to consider both the darkness and love in such a simple statement.
An image of a thumb sliding towards the fragile egg housing her soul dominates her vision, a sign the end is coming that she can notice as a tell far more easily than a hand about to clench. She does not flinch, which would be an understandable reaction, like watching a needle moving towards one's heart. Instead her lips form the words 'I love-'
The words do not finish forming. The gem shatters, her soul released from its gaol, and thought ceases. The lips grow slack, her body sags as gravity seizes the control her muscles now lack.
A girl dies in an alleyway where she might have died before.
A final mercy granted by love.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Homura has searched for Kyouko Sakura and Eri Shimanouchi everywhere else she can think to look, has sprinted Tokyo's streets through falling rain and amid arrested droplets both. She burns time honest and stolen, all too aware how precious each commodity is. How ruinous it could be to run out of either.
Every time the insidious question whispers from the darkness she has caged within her ribs -- "what is the point?" -- she stomps it back down with her pelting feet, reminds herself of the Incubator's insinuation: Very soon.
Very soon, it expects her fellow puella to be dead.
And every time she thinks with all mortal desperation: NOT YET. Madoka has not wished; her allies have not all died; Homura has not given up. Not yet.
There is one place left in sprawling Tama either puella might reliably be. Perhaps Homura will get lucky, and catch them there together.
The rifle-straight line she shoots through the forest says to Hell with winding paths, however meaningful. The ruined cathedral is hollow of life.
Soundtrack: Lee DeWyze - Blackbird Song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2pIoK0ID5E
She goes out into the rain.
Red spider lilies brush against her calves and paint her leggings with wet. Homura does not remember this field being so thick with them. Eri, she thinks.
They grow so thickly that she does not see the graves until she is upon them. No one is there, but... something isn't right, something else is not as she remembers, and as she turns to dash off again the feeling halts her mid-rotation.
The same number of markers stand in the Sakura family plot, but it has gained a grave.
Homura steps close to better peer at the fallen marker. It is Kyouko's father's, collecting stormwater in a dent upon its skyward face. Her eyes go next to a mound of earth nearby. Its texture better resembles fresh-turned soil than packed and settled ground.
Very soon, her adversary had crowed.
Her dead-thing heart thuds in her throat. Such a quick girl she is, yet slow, so slow to draw her gaze across the bouquet upon it and up to the new stone at its head. To trace the character carved there.
However drenched a girl can get running through the rain, that cannot compare to half a minute standing motionless within a downpour. An eyeblink eternity passes while her fine black bangs soak flat across her face: thirty long seconds of water coursing in cold rivulets down her back and through her henshin layers, right down to the skin. Time, precious time ticks away and Homura Akemi stands frozen and grey while she wages a silent battle against grief.
When the name escapes her in an exhalation, it goes unwitnessed by any but Homura and the rest of the ghosts: "Kyouko..."
Without fully understanding the how or the why of what has happened, she sees the dread shape of things enough to know -- she has to move. And she thinks she finally knows where...
Finally knows what place Eri Shimanouchi might seek, at her nadir, if she has agency left to her. If she is still Eri. Maybe even if she is not, any more.
The intact roof of the Metropolitan Building hosts nothing but satellite dishes; its many floors, only the usual smattering of too-devoted worker bees burning the midnight oil. It's always the last place you look...
Shinjuku teems with alleys. She makes directly for one among the many. One specific and fateful and nondescript alley... An alley where a more amateur Eri nearly died, once.
However fast Homura runs, it has never in her long and attenuated existence been fast enough.
Soundtrack Change: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Perihelion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISN03aa34OU
As she nears the alley's mouth a terrible echo reaches her: anguish, strangled and squeaky. She knows that voice, however pain twists it. That sound... Panic flares violet eyes.
Homura rounds the corner at a dead run, keeping her feet on rainslick pavement in that uncanny way of hers. She stumbles to a halt, after.
Not yet? No; too late.
If she'd gotten here even thirty seconds sooner...
Mikoto might not be holding the crushed remains of a Soul Gem that used to be green.
The shape of a girl, empty once and for all, might not be sagging against a dirty alley wall.
If, if, if. The thing caged in Homura's chest batters its strange dark wings against the osseous bars of its prison as she stares at Madoka's thumb -- at the wider base of a digit small and pale and soft, at where it disappears between the jagged edges of Eri Shimanouchi's broken soul.
What cost, Homura's friendship to the girl she dared call friend? And what cost, her love...?
If only her adversary could see her now. Perhaps it does; perhaps it observes the twitch of her empty fingers, the trauma shaping her eyes... and perhaps it is well pleased.
The only Puella Magi left to face Walpurgisnacht stands somehow on numb, splayed legs and feels the cold of a ghostly pistol grip in slack fingers -- feels the pull of the heaviest trigger in the world.
She sees, again, the grotesque ruins of a Soul Gem which used to be pink instead of green -- sees with indelible detail exactly how much damage a bullet can do to one precious, eggshell-delicate bauble.
The smell of latent grief in the air is the same now as it was then, and she is so small and dark beneath the gathering clouds -- just a girl with wet hair and wide eyes after all, tiny in the gap between towering skyscrapers.
Just one Puella Magi, against a storm.