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we've got to believe in something

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Crystalline roses, falling in the darkness. A flash of blue caught Madoka's eye, and she reached for Sayaka. Yet their fingers slipped from the other's, and the darkness shattered into countless fragments, revealing only a stark, frightening whiteness, and Madoka kept falling.

"Madoka! Wake up, Madoka!"

Slowly Madoka opened her eyes, and her entire body ached. Sayaka shook her shoulder, having already transformed into her magical girl outfit, and upon seeing Madoka come to, she let out a sigh of relief. Madoka sat up, despite her body protesting, and her first thought was that she and Sayaka were inside a garden. However, all of the flowers were actually crystals, and above the sky was a sickly violet with streaks of writhing black. She lowered her gaze, suddenly dizzy. "What… happened…?" she forced out.

"We're inside a witch's labyrinth," Sayaka said carefully.

Madoka touched her forehead, and a throbbing filled her skull. She and Sayaka had been leaving Mami's place after discussing Walpurgisnacht - Madoka still wasn't a magical girl, so Sayaka hadn't wanted her to come, but she had insisted - and as they were passing a construction site, Sayaka had sensed something strange, so they had gone down an alleyway, and then… "We heard cars crashing, and then a Grief Seed drew us in here," Madoka said aloud, remembering the screams of the construction workers.

"Once I defeat this witch, everyone will be safe," Sayaka said with a grin, but since she had become a magical girl, Madoka knew that grin had changed. "Just keep close to me, all right?"

"I could…" Madoka began to say as she stood, but the words died in her throat. Sayaka had said that Madoka didn't need to become a magical girl and Kyubey wasn't around either to grant any potential wishes.

Sayaka took the lead as she usually did, and Madoka followed closely. That transfer student, Akemi Homura, had also warned Madoka against becoming a magical girl, and although neither Sayaka nor Mami trusted Homura, they had agreed to a temporary truce to defeat Walpurgisnacht together in a week's time. Three magical girls would be enough, they had told Madoka. She didn't need to change herself.

Since Sayaka had become a magical girl, she and Madoka hadn't had as much time together, and Madoka's chest ached.

"Madoka," Sayaka said suddenly as they walked past jagged, frozen daisies. "Are you scared?"

The path began to narrow, and Madoka was careful not to shag her clothing on any of the broken shards or sharp petals, and she had an easier time doing so than Sayaka with her cape. "Yes, I am," she said after a moment's pause. "We've never been in a witch's labyrinth without Mami-san before."

"I'm scared too." Sayaka's fingers tightened around the hilt of her sword. "But if I can't defeat this witch on my own, I won't be of any use against Walpurgisnacht."

"What is Walpurgisnacht, really…?"

"The most evil of witches who doesn't need to hide within a barrier. That's what Kyubey says. Mami-san says she's never seen a Walpurgisnacht, but Akemi has, if you can believe her."

"Homura-chan has, huh…?" Madoka said softly. Homura couldn't be any older than her or Sayaka, but whenever Madoka looked into those violet eyes, she felt as if she was staring at someone who had been a magical girl for countless years.

Sayaka stopped and turned to face Madoka, and her expression was unreadable. "Madoka, are you sure you've never met that transfer student before?"

Madoka stiffened under Sayaka's piercing gaze. "N-No, I really don't remember ever meeting her before…" she stammered. She had dreamed of Homura, a dream that had left her in tears, the morning before Homura had transferred into their class, but she couldn't bring herself to tell Sayaka something so nonsensical.

"Are you sure?" Sayaka stepped closer to Madoka, worry clear in her blue eyes. "The way she's always appearing in front of you, like some stalker - I mean, I agree with her that you don't need to become a magical girl, but still, there's something weird about her…!"

"Sayaka-chan—!" Madoka tried to reach for Sayaka, but the ground trembled and split between them, pulling them apart.

From the nearly-formed rift emerged myriad paper butterflies, obscuring Madoka's view of Sayaka. "Madoka, stay back!" came Sayaka's voice, and flashes of silver cut through the unstable wall of familiars.

Madoka, having fallen back onto her rear, remained frozen in spot. A high-pitched squealing filled the air as the fake butterflies swarmed Sayaka, and Madoka slapped her hands over her ears, fighting back the urge to vomit. What could she do now? Sayaka was fighting for her life, alone. Even if those butterflies were only the witch's familiars, both Mami and Homura had warned her that familiars could often be just as dangerous as witches, and there were just so many of them now. Madoka forced herself to her feet, but even once standing, she was still too scared to move forward. After all, she was just an ordinary girl, nothing magical about her.

(If she was a magical girl, she could stand on equal footing with Sayaka, and tell Sayaka how she truly felt.)

The swarm flew upwards, and as it vanished into the distance, a blissful silence fell over Madoka. However, her relief was short-lived when she saw no signs of Sayaka. Her blood ran cold; had those familiars taken Sayaka with them?

Madoka fell to her knees. Now completely alone, what could she do? She had no way of contacting Homura or Mami, and Kyubey wasn't here to turn her into a magical girl. She raised her head, and the crystalline flowers towered over her, as if mocking her. Sayaka had always been stronger, protecting Madoka, and she had even used to her wish to help another. Madoka, however, wasn't particularly good at anything, and secretly wished Sayaka would look at her the way she looked at Kyousuke.

(Whenever Sayaka called Madoka her wife, Madoka was always delighted, even though she knew Sayaka was only joking.)

Tears stung at Madoka's eyes. Once, after a particularly brutal witch battle, Madoka had been cleaning and bandaging Sayaka's injuries, and she had asked how Sayaka could be so brave in the face of such danger, and Sayaka had smiled awkwardly and answered, "Well, we've got to believe in something. And I believe that magical girls are supposed to protect others."

I'll protect you, Madoka, no matter what.

Carefully Madoka forced herself to her feet once more, her knees shaking. She couldn't hesitate now, not after all the times Sayaka had protected her. Even if she was weak, there had to be something she could do. She took a cautious step forward, ignoring the flowers watching her every move. First, she had to find Sayaka. After that, she didn't know.

She stepped over the rift over the rift in the ground - it was wide, not but so wide she couldn't stretch her legs over it, and she refused to look down - and a glowing sphere in the distance caught her eye. That was where the familiars had flown to, and if they had taken Sayaka, that was as good a place as any to start looking. As long as she kept that sphere in sight, she hoped she wouldn't become lost.

"We've got to believe in something," Madoka muttered to herself. "And I believe in Sayaka-chan's strength."

She pushed deeper into the garden of crystal flowers, and they grew darker and thornier. The sharp points gleaned, as if coated in poison, but that thought was brief before she pushed it from her mind. She kept low, wanting to avoid being spotted by any of those butterfly familiars, and much to her relief, she heard none of that distorted squealing.

Madoka had seen more witch's labyrinths than a non-magical girl probably should have, and what struck her most was how lonely they were. They were terrifying and incomprehensible, but more than that was the pain of the solitude they held, and sometimes Madoka almost felt pity for these witches. What witches actually were, she didn't know. Mami and Kyubey had said that witches were born from a curse just as magical girls were born from a miracle, and Homura had simply refused to answer, and the sorrow in her dark eyes had been heartbreaking.

Although Madoka had no idea how much time had passed since she and Sayaka fell into this labyrinth, soon enough she came to an open clearing littered with the stems of broken flowers, and finally face-to-face with that white sphere. It resembled a cocoon, and the paper butterflies orbited it like moons around a planet. The cocoon pulsed and glowed, and Madoka took a step closer to it without thinking, but upon seeing Sayaka unconscious below the cocoon, she gasped and dashed forward.

"Sayaka-chan!" Madoka exclaimed as she knelt beside Sayaka's body. Sayaka had lost her magical girl transformation, but upon pressing an ear to her chest, Madoka heard a heartbeat. "Sayaka-chan, please wake up!"

Sayaka didn't stir, but the paper butterflies swarming around grew more agitated. Madoka clenched her teeth; because Sayaka was still alive, she had to do something. She curled her fingers around one of the broken plant stems, the crystal cold against her palm, and, being careful of the thorns, swung it at the witch's familiars with all her might.

"Go away!" Madoka screamed, her eyes watering. "Leave us alone!"

The more distorted butterflies Madoka struck with her makeshift weapon, the more seemed to mob her and Sayaka. Her head felt as if it were about to split open from the high-pitched buzzing, but she had to hold her ground until Sayaka regained consciousness. For Sayaka's sake, she couldn't give up.

One butterfly drew too close and slashed Madoka's arm, spilling a few drops of blood onto Sayaka's face. Madoka bit her lip to hold back a cry of pain, but another butterfly smashed into her side, knocking her away from Sayaka. She tried to regain her footing; however, she froze upon seeing the hovering cocoon begin to tremble.

The paper butterflies flew toward the cocoon like insects to an electric light, and they were absorbed into the white glow. The cocoon throbbed and cracked, and tattered wings began to emerge from the pale threads. Once Madoka had thought butterflies were pretty. Now, she wasn't sure if would be able to look at them the same way ever again.

The witch soon burst free of the cocoon, spreading its prism-colored wings, and its pale body looked like a discarded wooden puppet. Strange runes surrounded it, and it let out a low, piercing howl that Madoka could only describe as maddening. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't move. Yet even if she could run, where would she go, trapped as she was?

A flash of blue sparked beneath the witch, and a familiar white cape flew upwards, piercing the witch's wings with dozens of swords. The witch tried to slash at the now-awake Sayaka, but she moved quickly to dodge and summoned more swords to strike the witch. Much to Madoka's shock, the witch bled red.

Again and again Sayaka struck the witch with her swords, and Madoka had never seen Sayaka fight so aggressively before. Soon the witch's wings were no more than shreds, and as it fell to the ground, Sayaka impaled it with even more swords, like pinning an insect to paper. The witch twitched and writhed, and then went still as the labyrinth began to dissolve. Sayaka fell to her knees and Madoka rushed to her side, trying to ignore the pain of her bleeding arm.

When the labyrinth fully vanished, Madoka and Sayaka again found themselves in the alleyway near the construction site, away from the eyes of any onlookers. Her heart finally calming, Madoka was about to thank Sayaka for saving her, but Sayaka had again lost her magical girl transformation and her face was twisted in pain. In her hands she cradled her Soul Gem, which had almost gone completely black.

"Oh, no…!" Madoka exclaimed. Even she knew a Soul Gem wasn't supposed to get that dark. She glanced around frantically, and her heart nearly leapt out of her chest when she spotted the Grief Seed left behind by the witch. She took it and pressed it to Sayaka's Soul Gem, and several agonizing seconds passed as it drew the impurities from the Soul Gem.

Both Mami and Homura had said that not all witches drop Grief Seeds, and Madoka didn't want to imagine what would've happened if that had been the case now.

As Sayaka's Soul Gem returned to its usual beautiful blue color, her expression softened and her eyes locked with Madoka's. A breathless moment passed, and then Sayaka pressed her lips against Madoka's, and all Madoka could think was that she didn't want to wake from this dream.

However, a siren blared nearby, and Sayaka jerked back from Madoka. Her eyes were wide, and she seized Madoka's hand and headed deeper into the alley, and Madoka's mind raced as she fumbled over her words.

Sayaka had kissed her. Her best friend, the one she loved most, and maybe it wasn't such a hopeless love after all.

"Oh, your arm!" Sayaka said suddenly as she came to a stop. She held her Soul Gem over Madoka's injured arm, and Madoka felt gentle magic heal the skin. That was something she had once seen Mami teach Sayaka, and because of her wish, Sayaka's healing magic was especially potent.

Yet once Madoka's arm was healed, silence fell over the two of them. Something, everything had changed between them, and Madoka didn't want to regret that. So she took Sayaka's face between her hands and kissed her best friend, and this time she was certain to savor the taste of Sayaka's lips.

When their lips parted, Sayaka asked in a whisper, "You really feel the same way?"

Madoka fidgeted under Sayaka's hopeful gaze. "And I thought you and Kamijou-kun…"

"Well, you're not wrong, and I did want to be his savior, I think." Sayaka smiled grimly. "But I don't think I could be together with him like this, and then…" Her cheeks grew red. "When you started getting close to that transfer student, I got jealous, and at first I didn't understand why."

"Jealous?" Madoka repeated, her voice a squeak.

Sayaka's blush deepened. "When that witch was draining my magic, I could sense how hard you were fighting to protect me, and then when you got hurt, I… I finally realized how I felt about you."

Madoka wiped her eyes with her arm. "Oh, Sayaka-chan…!"

Gently Sayaka touched Madoka's cheek. "And stop putting yourself down so much. You're already the bravest girl I know if you're willing to stick around someone like me."

Madoka giggled and threw her arms around Sayaka for a tight embrace. Maybe this alleyway wasn't the most romantic of places for love confessions, but it was enough for now. "You're brave too, Sayaka-chan. When you defeat Walpurgisnacht, I'll be waiting for you."

Sayaka put her arms around Madoka, threading her fingers through Madoka's hair. "As long as you believe in me, I won't lose, I promise."