Homura Akemi makes up her mind: she is going to run out into traffic.
She has never been anything but a burden to everyone. She will never be anything but a burden. She always resented the nurses and the doctors for working so hard to keep her alive when they could have been spending that effort on someone who had friends who would care if they died, or a family that wasn't as distant emotionally as hers was geographically, or a skill that could make life for other people even just a little bit safer, or kinder, or more beautiful. The only thing that kept her from screaming at them to leave her and let her heart wind down like an old, uncared for watch was the hope that, when she left behind that prison of clean white walls for the world of dirt and open sky, a miracle would transform her into someone worthwhile.
Homura spent her whole first day of school waiting for that miracle. There was one moment when she thought for sure it was about to happen. She was walking alone to the nurse's office ("I'm sorry, we don't have a health representative right now," the teacher had told her. "Maybe that can be your job! But for today, just follow these directions…") and suddenly stepped out from the fluorescent-lit corridors and onto the transparent floor of a hall made entirely of glass. In that instant, the sudden burst of sunlight seemed to pierce right through her chest. She looked down and felt as if she were floating, then looked up and felt drawn into the great blue glory of the sky. Her heart felt light in every sense, weightless and burning bright. Homura had never experienced a moment like that before, but she imagined it was a bit like truly believing in God, or like falling in love.
And yet, as soon as she returned to class, it all came crashing down. She was useless at math and other academic subjects. She was worse than useless at track. The same girls who before the first bell had gathered around her desk to admire her novelty stage-whispered disappointed mockeries after the last bell rung.
That is how Homura learned that miracles aren't real. That is how she came to be standing here on the edge of the road with no crosswalk in sight and cars whizzing by so rapidly that the wind from them tosses her hair. On the count of three, she tells herself. On the count of three, she is going to run.
On one, she bends her forward knee and tenses the muscles in her legs.
On two, she takes a deep breath and doesn't let it go.
On three, her hair ribbon comes undone. A gust of wind plucks it from her head and carries it off in the other direction.
(A little bit later, she will wonder: Why does she panic and chase it down? Why does she feel such a need to keep her hair neat when she's just resolved to make a bloody, twisted mess of her whole body? Much later, after the name "Madoka" first comes bubbling up unbidden from her lips, she will understand that all of it — her irrationality as much as the ribbon itself — is God's grace.)
By the time she catches and fixes it and is ready to take another shot at getting herself run over, the cat has beaten her to the punch.
"Hey, little girl," says the driver, who has pulled over to the side of the road and gotten out of his car, "you need to get out of the street. I know it's bad, but you're holding everyone up."
Of course she is. All she ever does is inconvenience people. But when she looks down at the little crumpled black form she's kneeling over, uncontrollable sobbing shakes her body too hard for her to stand. "Amy," she chokes. What's wrong with her brain, that it automatically gives names to dead cats? "Amy, Amy, oh Amy, I'm sorry, so sorry."
"No, no, I'm sorry," the man tells her. "Look, I can carry the body—"
"Don't touch her!" Homura yells at him. "She's our cat, ours." She barely even notices what she's saying anymore. Her mind is coming undone, and what feels like lifetimes worth of misery cascades from it like hair untied. "I was supposed to take care of her. I know, somehow, I was supposed to protect her, and I failed, like I always fail at everything no matter how many times I—"
Suddenly, there appears another cat, or cat-like thing. It is white, and it stares at Homura intently.
"I want the power to go back and save Amy. I want to protect her myself, with my own hands."
That's the sprouting part of Homura's wish, the part that she speaks out loud. But when the Incubator reaches into her heart and pulls that wish out by the roots there is more to it buried beneath the surface of her consciousness:
Just this once, I want keep all of my promises to her. In this lifetime, I don't want to let her down.