ptahrrific: Madoka preparing to take on Walpurgis (madoka magica)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2012-12-02 10:54 am

Madoka Magica | Homura, Madoka | PG-13 | Persephone's Waltz (4)

Title: Persephone's Waltz, Chapter 4: She's a puella magi, just as I am.
Characters/Pairings: Homura, Madoka
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer/Warnings: See table of contents.

Madoka begins to become more familiar with Homura's battle scars, and gets a few worrisome wounds of her own.



***

March 29
(Continued)


Madoka skipped her shower. She ate cake and canned fruit one-handed, never moving from the desk. Her class notes lay untouched beside the computer; she'd have ample time to catch up on those once she finished this game.

After a dozen rounds or so, she had gathered that the trick was to get several Princesses fighting the same Shadow, so you could defeat the ones already on the board without having any individual remaining Princess run out of Moonlight. Simple enough. All she had to do was get the hang of the timing.

She opened a can of iced coffee, then another, the better to stay up late into the night.


***

March 30
Wednesday


The next morning found her with a crick in her neck, a headache pounding behind her eyes, and a piercing sense of shame at the memory of her dismal score.

"What was I thinking, Panda-san?" she moaned, squeezing the stuffed panda's fuzzy paw. From what she could remember of her caffeinated daze, it was a minor miracle she'd dragged herself to bed at all, and where had any of it gotten her? Not even the promise of freedom could morph her into some kind of super gaming otaku overnight.

Did Homura think she was an otaku in the first place? Were gaming skills supposed to help her defend herself against the mysterious Incubator? Or maybe this was all some kind of twisted manipulation tactic, designed to fill her with false hope before driving home how clumsy and unskilled she was.

Somehow, though none of them were cheery prospects, she couldn't believe the last one to be true.

Homura had taken the letter to her parents, after all. Even when Madoka had tried to trick her, Homura hadn't lost her temper or arranged some kind of punishment for taking advantage of her offer. And if she believed all along that Madoka was in danger...under the circumstances, she had been downright kind.

Unless she had only claimed to deliver the letter, and thrown the paper out as soon as she got upstairs.

"But she seemed so honest," said Madoka weakly, resting her forehead against Panda-san's. For relative values of honest, at least. On the most basic level, she had no reason to believe the calm and cool Homura was any less of a pretense than the shy and anxious girl with glasses who had preceded her.

Hopefully there was a germ of reality to the glasses-girl persona, hidden somewhere in that cold-eyed shell. If there wasn't enough left of her to draw out again, Madoka didn't know who she had left to appeal to.

Wary of her sore muscles, she dragged herself out of bed and tried to reconstruct the stretching routine they always did at the start of gym class. Right arm across chest, left arm across chest, right elbow over her head, left elbow over her head....

She counted off fifteen ticks of the second hand on the wall clock for each, then moved on to leg stretches. Her legs felt strange too, though not sore and cramped the way bad posture had left her upper body. Not pins-and-needles, either, or any discomfort she could put a name to. If only she could look for help online. Or ask Mama.

Gathering up a fresh round of clothes, including an apple-green tank top and a pair of yellow ribbons, she retreated to the bathroom and settled in for a long, hot shower. As long as she was accepting Homura's gifts, she might as well make Homura swallow the water bill.


***


As usual, Homura knocked before coming down, and her gait on the steps was nothing special. When she reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner into view, Madoka had to stifle a gasp.

From wrist to shoulder, Homura's entire left sleeve was a mess of holes. The shredded edges were burnt a crisp, curling black, with the uniform around spattered in ash. Her skin itself was unburnt, but dusted with blackness; even her shield had accumulated a layer of soot in its intricate grooves. Only the diamond-shaped jewel on her hand was clean, the gold of its setting reflecting shimmers deep within its violet facets.

"Don't be concerned, Kaname Madoka," she said, walking right past Madoka toward the wardrobe. A stack of folded clothes sat balanced in the crook of her clean arm. "I won."

It was a relief to see her laundered uniform on top of the pile, though Madoka turned pink when she realized there was a layer of underclothes right beneath it. "I can put those away!" she stammered.

When Homura hesitated, it was more like an online video buffering than a human show of uncertainty. "If you like," she said at last, setting the pile at the foot of bed.

"The letter," babbled Madoka, half-falling onto the mattress and scrabbling to pull the outfits close. "My p-parents. How—? Did they—?"

"I placed the letter in their mailbox and left," said Homura flatly. "I was not seen. I have not been back. I do know that, as of this morning, the news of its arrival had reached your friends."

Madoka prepared to bite back her outrage, and found that it had mellowed. If it meant news of Hitomi and Sayaka, she was almost glad for Homura's audacity.

"Shizuki Hitomi was both relieved and agitated by the information. She advanced the theory that you had run off with a lover, perhaps to settle the issue of an unplanned pregnancy."

A strangled laugh stuck in Madoka's throat. That was Hitomi all over. She wasn't thrilled by the image of herself it suggested, but at least Hitomi wasn't dwelling on fears of her kidnapping or torture.

"Miki Sayaka needed somewhat longer to adjust. She had already taken steps to reconcile herself to what she believed to be your fate. The prospect of renewed hope was...unexpected."

"She thought I was dead?" The idea filled Madoka with a new wave of guilt. It had been hard enough for Sayaka to bear up and stay cheerful after Kamijou's accident; her surface enthusiasm masked a quiet despair that she kept hidden as much as possible, even from her own best friends. To ask her to deal with Madoka's disappearance was bad enough. For her to be convinced that Madoka was lost forever, as impossible to salvage as the use of Kamijou's arm....

"She has made contact with Tomoe Mami." Was she imagining it, or had a new layer of frost permeated Homura's voice? "She has learned of the existence of witches, and the types of person that are likely to become their prey. She believed you to be a witch's victim."

"Tomoe Mami," echoed Madoka. "The one you mentioned before. You said she...baked?"

A silent nod.

"Is she one of the good guys?"

"She's a puella magi, just as I am." Before Madoka could point out that this was ambiguous at best, Homura added in a perfect deadpan, "It would never occur to her to kidnap anyone."

It was only after she had moved on to adding the latest USB drive to the little multicolored row that Madoka wondered whether that had been meant a compliment.

Before Homura could gather up her latest round of dirtied dishes, Madoka burst out, "Akemi-san...."

Homura regarded her evenly, waiting for an answer. Her head was tilted in what might have been polite interest, if the angle hadn't been a couple of centimeters too far. As if she were double-jointed, or otherwise not quite right....

Madoka clutched her school uniform to her chest. "How did you react to the news?"

Her expectations were vague, but hardly high. A clipped, factual summary perhaps, or a point-blank refusal to answer. Homura stalled for a few moments, freezing in that unreadable, mechanical blankness, then slipped a hand under her shield and pulled out something that blew all Madoka's guesses out of the water.

The cherry-red frames settled perfectly on her face.

"S-so she's alive?" stammered Homura, knees and toes turned together, eyes bright. "I'm so glad...Kaname-san was the first person who was kind to me." Shoulders quaking, she crooked a finger under the lenses to rub at her eyes. "I c-couldn't stand it if she wasn't, knowing maybe she would have been safe if I'd stayed with her just a few minutes longer...."

"Stop!" screamed Madoka, burying her head in the pile of clothes and clapping her hands over her ears.

The voice that spoke next was the cold and toneless one. "Is there anything I should bring you tomorrow, Kaname Madoka?"

Madoka shook her head violently back and forth without looking up. She kept her face covered as the dishes clattered and the stairs creaked on the ascent.


***

March 31
Thursday


Walking, it turned out, relieved the ache in her legs. Maybe it was simple restlessness. She climbed the steps and descended them again a dozen times for the sake of a change in pace, the peppy music from the laptop fading and swelling to mark the cycle.

Each time she reached the summit she examined the door with fresh eyes, poking at its edges for weak spots that didn't materialize or giving it experimental kicks that got her nothing but bruised feet for her trouble. If only she'd had shoes. Or something sturdy, like a baseball bat. Or....

It took her ten minutes to haul the desk chair up the stairs. Her inner Sayaka cheered her on all the while.

(The real Sayaka and Hitomi would be in English now. Along with Homura, come to think of it. If someone had told Madoka a week earlier that she would desperately miss English class, she would have laughed.)

She rested for a while on the third step from the top, catching her breath with the chair balanced awkwardly beside her. It was a simple design, a plastic frame with a comfortably padded seat and back, set on four rolling wheels on spokes that fanned out from its base. Nothing that looked particularly menacing. But it was heavy. That had to get her somewhere, right?

The chair's spinning setup made it hard to get a balanced grip, and there wasn't much room to swing between the unforgiving masonry walls. At last she planted her feet as steadily as she could (knees over toes, an inner Hitomi-voice reminded her), sucked in a lungful of oxygen, and with a furious battle-cry swung her weapon so that it crashed against the lock.

With a bang and a twist the chair rebounded, wrenching at her arms before she lost her footing and her grip both. The world spun out of control for several gut-churning moments as it thudded past her toward the landing below; the wall tore at her hand when she grasped for a railing that wasn't there, and the concrete edge of a step sliced a line of pain down her calf before she flailed to a stop halfway down the staircase.

Madoka froze, every muscle tense, afraid to disrupt her hard-won stillness.

Far below, over the uninterrupted music, a single wheel spun helplessly against the air.

Bit by bit, she gathered her limbs back into place and shifted into a mostly-upright position. The stairs made a less-than-comfortable bed, and while she was aching and bruised nothing seemed to be dislocated or broken, so after a long moment of rest she started into an equally slow crabwalk downward.

The rules made themselves clear as she went along. Don't lean on your right hand. Don't bump your left hip, it's sore enough already. Pause a lot to rest your neck so it doesn't pull whatever got pulled in your shoulder.

On flat ground once more, she got to her knees and pushed the chair aside, stopping the frantic wheel with a touch. She knew how it felt.


***


"Go away!" snapped Madoka at the knock above. It was a bit of defiance that she didn't expect to be honored, but it felt good to let it out.

At least Homura's strict schedule had given her time to prepare. Her leg hadn't bled long, and a pair of knee-high socks covered the torn skin. A long skirt and a shirt with billowing lavender sleeves took care of the bruises; she was positioned naturally in bed, sitting against the pillows with the notebook propped on her knees, and Homura didn't need to know that she had been resting like that all afternoon.

To her surprise, the stairs didn't creak.

"I upset you yesterday," said Homura's distant voice.

That didn't deserve an answer. If she had done it on purpose, it was a nasty trick to play on her mind without warning; and if she hadn't realized it would freak Madoka out to watch her change personas in an instant, then it hardly endeared Madoka to like or trust the real Homura. Whichever one that was.

"I've been fighting this war for...a long time," continued the person above. "There are things it becomes hard to remember. How little other people know. How to explain things...slowly."

A thought flashed across Madoka's head: How to be yourself.

"I'll be back at the same time tomorrow."

Click.


***


Time crawled slowly forward. Madoka stared through her neatly penciled two-week calendar without really seeing it.

Of course a feeling of constant danger would do strange things to your personality. How could you be expected to go on acting like an everyday teenage student when there were monsters to fight? Maybe someone like Sayaka could pull it off, the same way she laughed and joked in between throwing herself into a knight's quest for rare music to bring to Kamijou's bedside. But if there was any of the real Homura to be glimpsed through the shy, stumbling bespectacled version, how could she be expected to hold up?

Madoka had to feel some sympathy. Even if the actual threat was all in her head.

And what if it wasn't?

After all Madoka had seen, why keep trying to believe that Homura's battle-scarred world wasn't real?


***

April 1
Friday


The soreness she had felt the morning after her video-game binge was nothing to now.

Conscious every moment of the tenderness in her scraped palm, Madoka started the water in the bath one-handed. She did her stretches as the tub filled up, or tried to. Right arm across chest; something in her shoulder ached, like it would after heavy exercise. Left arm across chest; that felt normal, as long as she avoided pressure to the bruises on her upper arm, and she held the full count of fifteen with no trouble. Right elbow over head pulled an underarm muscle with such a shooting pain that she dropped her arm back to her side almost immediately. Left elbow over head, full count of fifteen.

The room was beginning to fill with steam when she finished. She turned off the tap and fumbled out of her pajamas with her left hand, then rested it on the support bar as she dipped one foot into the clear, hot water.

She missed bubble bath.

In one way it was comforting to have another reminder that Homura's knowledge of her wasn't infinite. Madoka tried to dwell on that. Besides, it was a stupid, silly thing to miss. She wasn't even sure there had been bubble bath in the house when she'd last seen it!

(And if you get really desperate, a small voice muttered in the back of her head, Homura promised to bring whatever you asked for....)

But none of that was the point, was it? No matter what was in the closets at home, if the wish had struck her, she could have run out and bought some. What she missed was grass and pavement under her feet, and smiling cashiers wishing her a good day, and the pride of having run some little errand for Papa while she was out. And running into Sayaka or Hitomi along the way, and eating ice cream on the slope by the canal, and sunshine, and....

A sudden throbbing flare of pain on her hip yanked her back to her senses. She'd pushed the worst of her bruises against hard porcelain.

Madoka quickly shifted to a safe position, blinked back tears, and lifted one foot out of the water. Carefully, lightly, she checked the skin on all sides, then moved the examination up the curve of her leg. The scrape on her calf had scabbed over normally, and a thin purple bruise above her knee didn't look too bad. It was tricky to check her right hip without being able to lean on the left one or brace herself with her right hand, but she managed.

The left leg was also mostly fine, with the glaring exception of the lopsided splotching from hip bone to upper thigh. She moved up her torso next, testing her backside by using gentle pressure from her fingers on as much as she could reach.

After some consideration of the room around her, she turned around in the tub so the faucet was at her back and leaned delicately against it. Sure enough, there was extra tenderness low on her shoulder blade, mirroring the lower pain right around...her kidneys? Her stomach? Madoka wished she had more of an idea. All she remembered from the model organs in her fourth-year science class was one of the boys stealing the ketchup-colored plastic heart and using it to chase girls around.

There was a lump on the back of her head, and somewhere along the line she discovered sharp pains in her neck when she craned it too far. No other swelling; no bleeding that she could find. That was a good sign, right? When Sayaka sprained her ankle in gym last year, it was swelling that the doctor looked for first, right?

Madoka sank low in the water, skinny knees protruding above the surface, pink hair floating in clumps around her chin. She just didn't know. Unless she could convince Homura to bring her some first aid books without arousing suspicion, she would have to either tough this out or reveal how she had gotten injured in the first place.

Would Homura be willing to help? Would her unstable captor even take the news well?

She drew in a breath through her nose, blew a stream of underwater bubbles, and hoped.
masu_trout: Delicious. ((PMMM) Madoka *Witch Hunter*)

[personal profile] masu_trout 2012-12-02 11:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh no! D: Poor Madoka. I really like how she's doing her best to escape, even if her efforts aren't really amounting to much. And Homura's scene with the glasses was creepy. You've got me hooked; I can't wait to find out what happens next!