CHAPTER 19: I Think Have an Answer
Hiiragi Household, Takanomiya
"Do you understand now?" said Homura softly when she had finished.
Kagami sat in stunned silence. She had listened first with interest, then with horror, then in tears as Homura Akemi told the story. That story was unlike anything she could have imagined, more beautiful and terrible and sad than she had the words to express. Did she understand? It was difficult if not impossible to answer. "I…" She swallowed heavily. Could she ever fully understand the black-haired girl sitting across the table, understand her sorrows, her guilt, her grief? Could she ever comprehend the depth of the friendship Homura had fought to protect, and the one selfless wish that had saved her and countless others from dying in despair? A full and perfect sacrifice for the whole world. The phrase floated through her mind; she had heard it many times before, at the Christian church where she and Tsukasa sang Christmas carols every winter. "I don't really know what to think," admitted Kagami, clenching her hands in her lap. "What you've gone through, it's… It's more than anyone should bear. But… what she did for you…" She drew in a breath, feeling her eyes sting again. "I know you loved her, I understand why... and I understand now why it would hurt to… to have feelings for me, after all you went through together." A shaky little laugh escaped her lips before she could stop it. "H-Hell, I don't even know if I'm worthy of those feelings. I told you before, I'm not that special-"
"That's not true." Homura shook her head. "You're more than you think you are, Kagami, more than I'm able to explain…"
"But why, though?" The question felt somewhat ingratiating to her, but she had to ask it anyway. "After her, out of all people… why me?"
Homura started to speak, then paused, fidgeting uncomfortably.
"No, never mind," said Kagami quickly, waving a hand. "You don't have to say anything more tonight. It's really late, and we should try to get some rest."
Homura's face fell into that neutral mask of hers. The door to her heart had closed, just like that… Kagami found it a little disconcerting. "If you want, I can cast a spell to help…"
"I was hoping you had something like that." Kagami breathed a sigh of relief. "I'll take whatever help you can give."
An hour later, washed, changed, and under the blankets, Kagami was still wide awake. Perhaps it was the repulsion effect that Kyubey told her about earlier, or perhaps sleep was simply impossible, magic or no magic. Or, she thought, perhaps it was the warm body next to her in bed, breathing softly in a mercifully dreamless slumber, her face angelic in the moonlight.
For the sixth time in an hour, Kagami turned over to look at her. Right now, her feelings for Homura were so tangled that she doubted she could ever unravel them. She wanted… she didn't know precisely what she wanted. Lots of things, a few of them things that wouldn't help in the least, like embracing her, telling her things would be okay, running her fingers through that long, silky black hair-
Stop that, she thought savagely to herself, her cheeks burning. There's no way you should be thinking of that right now. Show some self-control, for God's sake.
The kiss, though… just remembering it made her feel a warmth inside that had nothing to do with the blankets or the still summer night air. For just a moment, they had left everything behind and come together, melding at the lips, and it was wonderful…
Kagami sighed and flopped back into her pillow, wondering if these feelings sometimes kept Tsukasa awake as well.
Takara Household, Tokyo Metropolitan Area
Damn her. It's all her fault.
Desideria stared angrily at her reflection in Miyuki Takara's vanity mirror. She was naked again; clothing seemed too confining right now. From this angle, she couldn't see the wound on the back of her leg, but it was still there. It had closed quickly enough, but it hurt, and the mark remained… which was impossible, it should have faded long before now. No mere wooden sword should have been able to scratch her, let alone leave a lingering scar. Worse still, the mark remained no matter what shape she took, always in the same spot.
Damn her. It's all her fault.
"Did you know, Miyuki?" she whispered to the girl's reflection. Miyuki's glasses, with the Lair and its prisoner still tucked safely inside, were neatly folded and resting on the vanity. "Did you know Kagami Hiiragi was capable of hurting me?" The question was rhetorical; of course Miyuki didn't know. Kagami herself didn't know how deeply her sword had cut. The Second was feeling pain for the first time in her existence… and she hated it, despised it with a fiery passion. However, hatred did her no good now. The mark was still there, the pain was still there, and to her frustration she couldn't make either go away.
Damn her. It's all her fault.
There was only one thing to do. It was dangerous, and it might well blow her cover, but her disguise would be worthless anyway if someone saw the mark and started asking questions…
There was no other choice. She would have to feed.
The tinny strains of Pachabel's Canon in D woke Tsukasa from a pleasant dream… something about a large, friendly hippo and a man in a suit saying very strange things about cheese. "Uwaah!" She squeaked and flailed at her bedside table, still half-asleep, her fingers closing around her little clamshell cell phone more by luck than skill. Briefly she panicked, hoping that the ringtone hadn't woken anyone else in the house…
She needn't have worried. A huge, rumbling snore drifted up from the futon on the floor next to her bed. Konata lay sprawled across it at an odd angle, her mouth wide open, a thread of drool hanging from her lower lip. Whatever noise the phone made, Konata drowned it out.
Konata had grilled her mercilessly, of course. The moment they were safely inside Tsukasa's room with the door shut, she demanded details on how she and Miyuki had started out, what led to it, what Tsukasa's first reaction was, and how far they had gone, squealing with surprise and delight at each new revelation. Only by making her swear up and down not to disclose said details to anyone else was Tsukasa able to relax enough to even think about sleep… thankfully, Konata pledged to be true to her word.
Even so, sleep had been hard in coming. Knowing that on the other side of the wall, Kagami and Homura were together, in the same bed… It was hypocritical of her to be so concerned, she knew, but she couldn't help it. Despite them coming clean, despite now knowing everything, trusting Homura Akemi with her sister was still too much to ask. There was something about the Puella Magi that made Tsukasa shiver.
Presently, her attention was called back to the phone. Puzzled as to who could be calling at such a late hour, Tsukasa checked the cell's screen. It was Miyuki's number… The faint electronic light cast a pale blue glow over her face as she flipped it open and read the simple text message: I need you now.
Fumbling with the buttons, Tsukasa slowly padded out a reply with her thumbs: yuki-chan, u ok? what's wrong? (;° _°)
In a few moments came another text. I'm scared. I heard what happened tonight, and I need to see you. I know it's far too late to meet at home, can you please come to a hotel?
Hotel? Did she mean… But of course she did, why else would she specify? Her eyes widening at Miyuki's boldness, Tsukasa typed another reply, even slower this time, as her hands were shaking. hotel? u sure?
Yes, said the next text. I will wait for you. There followed an address, of a place in the next district over. Please hurry.
OK. \(^_^) Tsukasa hit the "send" button and clicked the phone shut. Silently she slipped out of bed and tiptoed past Konata to her closet. Miyuki needed her, so she had to go, it was simple as that. Still, as she unbuttoned her pajamas and let them fall to the floor, a single doubting thought pierced through her concern for her lover: I can't believe I'm doing this.
Quickly she dressed and retrieved her wallet, stuffing it into her handbag. She would need money for the bus… she hoped the fares didn't increase this late at night. Tsukasa stole a backwards glance at her alarm clock as she pried her bedroom door open, praying it wouldn't creak: the clock read 2:28 AM. She swallowed heavily and stepped out, easing it closed behind her.
Two Hours Later
"Ahhh… oh God…" Tsukasa's hips bucked, and a wave of bliss spread outward from somewhere below her tummy to the very tips of her fingers and toes, leaving her flesh tingling… She fell forward on the hotel bed, collapsing between Miyuki's splayed legs, ridiculously happy. Whatever doubts she had were swept away by that wave… Miyuki needed her. She needed Miyuki. So what if it was late?
"I'm so glad you're safe, Tsukasa-chan. I was so worried…" Miyuki's voice was heavy, down at her midsection.
Tsukasa-chan. Isn't that nice. She giggled drowsily and patted Miyuki's knee. "S'aright, Yuki-chan. We'll be fine. We'll be okay." Then she frowned, noticing something strange. "Yuki-chan…" she said, "Where did you get this scar?"
"Scar?" There was a sharp intake of breath that Tsukasa didn't hear.
"Right here." Still frowning, Tsukasa traced the long, thin line that ran from the back of Miyuki's knee to her calf. "I've never noticed it before."
The sheets rustled as Miyuki shifted position, turning around. "It's nothing, Tsukasa-chan," she whispered as she caressed Tsukasa's face, but her eyes were troubled. "It's nothing."
"I don't understand." Tsukasa's lower lip trembled. "Did you get hurt? Maybe we should get you to a doc… tor…"
Her voice trailed off as Miyuki's delicate fingertip pressed against a particular spot on the back of her neck. She felt something wet, and all of a sudden the scar didn't matter anymore… Miyuki was all right, everything was fine. Tsukasa's face slid into a dreamy smile as her blue eyes glazed over slightly. Miyuki was making strange noises, almost like she was coming again, but it was all right, everything was fine.
In a few moments, Miyuki's finger went away, and Tsukasa collapsed against her, resting her cheek against her breast. "All better now," Miyuki whispered, tracing her fingertip over her lover's ear. "There's no need to worry."
"No need to worry," repeated Tsukasa, closing her eyes and melting into the other girl's touch. "All better now."
"That's right, Tsukasa-chan." Miyuki leaned down and planted a kiss on her head. She stretched out her long, shapely leg, admiring its curves and now-flawless pale skin. "Thank you."
"Anything for you, Yuki-chan," said Tsukasa, nuzzling her gently. "I love you."
"I love you too. Now, we'd better get dressed… we both need to get home before our families notice that we're missing. We don't want them to worry."
"No, no we don't…"
Four Hours Later
Her eyelids fluttered. She sat up and stretched, surprised that she had somehow fallen asleep. "Yeah, I'm up," Kagami said, punctuating it with a yawn. "Looks like we made it through the night…"
"We did," said Homura, as if she could scarcely believe it herself.
They couldn't have asked for a better morning. Columns of golden sunlight streamed through the windows, making the horror of last night seem less like reality and more like a bad dream… Kagami could already hear the song of cicadas mixing with faint chopping and bubbling noises… the sweet, slightly greasy aroma of frying sausage was drifting up from downstairs. Someone was making breakfast. "What time is it?"
"Good thing it's Sunday… I don't think I could face school today."
Homura stood patiently by the bedside with her hands clasped behind her back. She was changed into her school uniform, which looked fresh and immaculate as ever... one would think she never slept.
"You don't have to wear that, you know," said Kagami, looking her over with one eye as she rubbed sleep out of the other. "I'm sure either Tsukasa or I have something in your size that you can borrow…"
"I don't want to impose-"
"Stop it. It's fine, just as long as you don't take one of my ratty old t-shirts this time."
Homura fidgeted. "Kagami, I-"
"Wait," said Kagami, holding up a hand. "Before you say anything… there's something I wanted to ask you last night. I didn't really know how…" A blush crept up from her cheeks. "And I didn't want to make you feel any worse after… you know."
"What is it?" Homura tilted her head to one side.
Kagami took a deep breath and forged ahead. "It's about your Soul Gem," she said, determined to get this out. "Is it really… you?"
There was a long, dreadful moment of silence, during which Kagami feared that Homura would disappear again. She could almost see that temptation on the other girl's face… but then…
"It's true," she said, barely above a whisper. Her eyes disappeared into shadow beneath her bangs. "This body…" Her voice began to tremble slightly. "It's a fake, a construct of magic, created when I made my contract."
"And that's why you don't want me or Tsukasa or Konata to become magical girls," said Kagami, understanding at last. "You didn't tell them why, because-"
It was only a slight movement, but Homura cringed.
"Because Tsukasa and I are the focal points, and that would ruin everything, right? But it's more than that, you're scared they won't believe you, or… or they'll hate you because of it. Like you were scared I would… Homura…"
The Puella Magi started to turn around. "Please, don't. Don't look at me that way-"
Again, Kagami started to reach for her by instinct, then thought the better of it. "Homura, I don't care what your body is, whether it's fake or not. When we kissed last night…" Her blush returned, and the words tumbled out in a rush. "It was real. I care about you, not contracts or magic or anything like that! Please, believe me…"
Homura bowed her head slightly. Her left hand rose up to her face; she was studying the amethyst stone in her ring as if memorizing its appearance. "It's confusing…" Her voice was so quiet that Kagami had to lean forward to hear her. "Feeling this way, caring for you… it's so different from how I cared for her… but in so many ways it's the same. I don't-" She paused, dropping her hand and clenching her fist. "I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to act when I'm around you, or when you're so kind to me, and I'm still afraid of what the Demon did to me… but…"
Homura trembled as she turned around and took a seat on the bed, her eyes still hidden. She trembled as she uncurled the fingers of her left hand, and slowly, slowly reached for Kagami's hand. "But I swear to you, I'll try."
Their fingers touched and intertwined.
"Thank you, Homura," said Kagami, moved by the gesture.
The Puella Magi's eyes met hers. "I think I have an answer," she said softly.
"'Why me?' You asked that last night. I think I can answer you now."
"Ho-Homura, th-that's okay, you d-don't have to-"
"You listened," said Homura, starting to smile, just a bit. It was enough. "You've always listened to me, believed what I had to say… believed in me, even when you had every right not to. That's why."
By now Kagami's face was glowing scarlet, and deepening by the second. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her… how on earth could she respond? "Th-thank you, I, uh… I don't really know what to say-"
Her stomach let out a growl so loud that Homura drew back in shock.
Laughing with embarrassment, Kagami rubbed the back of her head. "… except maybe that we should go downstairs and get breakfast."
When Kagami turned the corner into the kitchen, her brain stopped working for a moment. She had been prepared to see her mother or father, or maybe Inori or Matsuri, or hell, even Konata standing in front of the stove fixing breakfast, but… "Tsukasa?!" She gaped, she couldn't help it. "You're awake… on a Sunday…"
Her sister giggled and waved a spoon in a nonchalant way. "G'morning, onee-chan, Akemi-san. Surprise!"
Already seated at the table, Konata beamed her cat-smile at them. "Sleep well, you two?"
That brought Kagami out of her daze. "Oi, you…" she started, then she sighed and shook her head. "Never mind, it can wait. Where's everybody else?"
"They ate already, they wanted to let us sleep in. Yui-nee-san took Yu-chan home and drove Dad to the police station… I think he's going to help set up a neighborhood watch or something, in case we have more 'delinquents', you know." She clicked her chopsticks together for emphasis. "I think your mom and dad and sisters are at the shrine."
"Kyubey, is everything quiet?" said Homura as she sat down, folding her hands in her lap.
Yes, said Kyubey. He was perched on the counter, watching Tsukasa cook with some interest. I detected no unusual energy signatures. You know… He tilted his head and stared at the pork links that were sizzling in a frying pan. I find it very unusual how you humans choose which animals to eat and which to keep as pets. You eat pigs, cows, birds, and fish, but why not eat dogs or rats? The choice of which meat to consume seems somewhat arbitrary.
"Bleah!" Kagami made a revolted face as she took her own seat. "Please don't be creepy until we've had our breakfast, okay?"
Abruptly Tsukasa burst into laughter, almost slicing open her fingers with the knife she was using to chop vegetables for the omlettes. Everyone stared at her in confusion.
"Hey, Tsukasa, what's up? Are you okay?" said Konata, starting to stand up.
"Hee hee… I-I'm fine… ha ha ha… it's just…" gasped Tsukasa, who had dropped the knife and was leaning over the cutting board, trying to catch her breath. "I never noticed it until just now… ha ha… Onee-chan, y-you and Kyubey…"
Baffled, Kagami raised an eyebrow. "What about me and the furball?"
The answer was muffled as Tsukasa clapped a hand over her mouth. "You… your voices sound the same! You talk so differently, but you sound alike…"
"What?!" Flustered at the very idea, Kagami turned a spectacular shade of beet red. "We do not!"
Do we? Kyubey tilted in the opposite direction, turning his stare on Kagami.
"You know, you're right, now that I think about it!" Looking back and forth from one to the other, Konata grinned even wider and started tittering. "That's so weird!"
"Sh-shut up! Tsukasa, that's crazy, there's no way-"
How very fascinating. Human ears must be tuned to different harmonics, I don't hear a resemblance at all.
"There is no resemblance! Homura, talk some sense into them!"
Homura was lost for words. After giving Kagami a helpless, apologetic glance, she merely sat back and watched, sipping her tea as Konata and Tsukasa dissolved into gales of laughter, Kagami's protests grew louder and louder, the omlettes began to burn, and Kyubey sat watching it all with the same frozen expression.
"Huwaaah~," sighed Konata after they had finished, leaning back from the table and patting her belly. "Gochisousama… that was terrific, Tsukasa."
"I bet anything tastes terrific when you live on chocolate cornets," sniped Kagami, jabbing a chopstick in her direction.
Tsukasa bowed slightly. "I'm sorry I burnt some of the eggs…"
"That's all right, I like 'em that way. So, down to business!"
"Business?" said Homura, setting down her empty bowl. The omlettes were delicious; she made a mental note to ask Tsukasa for the recipe.
"Yeah. I figure we all need to decide what comes next. For starters… what do we tell Miyuki-san about all this?"
The Hiiragi sisters' faces fell.
"Miyuki has a right to know," said Kagami, feeling the happiness of the meal start to fade away as reality set in.
"She does, but…" Tsukasa stuck out her lip. "Yuki-chan's so, well, skittish. Do you think she can handle something like this?"
"I'd advise against telling her unless it's absolutely necessary," said Homura. "The fewer people know the truth, the easier it is to keep what's happening a secret."
"But shouldn't we at least tell her something, so she doesn't worry? I mean, she might notice the four of us acting strangely..."
Kagami looked Homura in the eye. "This is your mission, it's your call."
Homura thought for a moment, then nodded. "When the time is right, we'll let her know… just enough to understand the danger. Let's hope it doesn't come to that."
"Mmm-hmm," said Konata, folding her arms across her chest. "And obviously we can't tell our parents. They'd never understand, and I already gave them a cover story…"
"Yeah, Bomber Bikers of Shonan, where did you come up with that? Wasn't that show on before any of us were born?"
"Shush, Kagamin, it's a classic."
Tsukasa fidgeted, somewhat downcast. "I feel bad lying to them, though…"
"I do too, but it's necessary," said Kagami, patting her sister on the shoulder. "At least there's not too many left… just four, right?"
"If the Second was telling the truth." Homura's gaze grew dark.
"I wish I could have killed her when I had the chance," Kagami growled, clenching her fists.
"You'll get another chance, Kagamin, I know you will. And when you do, I wanna watch you go all kendo badass on her." Konata swung her uninjured hand around in an approximation of swordfighting. "Chan chanbara~! I wish I could give her one myself…"
Kyubey's ears perked up at that, but at a withering glare from Homura he shrank back down.
"Anyway. Let's talk about something more fun," said Konata, with an excited gleam in her eye.
Kagami knew that gleam, and suppressed a shudder of dread. "Oh no, what are you plotting…?"
"Fufufu~," the smalled girl chuckled. "Come on, Kagamin! It's Sunday, it's a beautiful day, and Akemi-san needs an education."
Homura stared at her, completely at a loss. "'Education?'"
"About your sempai, your fellow magical girls!" Konata clapped a hand on her shoulder, making her start. "You've gotta learn about them, it's your heritage! And I know the best place in the world to start you off…"
"Oh dear God," moaned Kagami. "Please tell me you don't mean-"
"Akihabara," whispered Konata, her eyes shining with reverence.
END OF CHAPTER 19