1. The following details have been meticulously gathered and written in the diary of a desperate time-traveller, along with thousands of other ordinary-seeming events on the off chance that a minor adjustment to anyone of them could possibly hold the key to move the timeline towards her desired result.
2. On the header of a page, one such event is summarized by the name of an ex-convict.
3. Homura meets him infinite times; an infinite number of Akiyamas meets Homura once.
4. The original Homura sat quietly on the park bench, her mind full of her newly discovered secrets—the Puella Magi and her ever growing crush on Kaname Madoka.
5. The first time after her contract, she declares to him—a stranger—that she’ll save Kaname no matter what.
6. The second time, she grieves silently, the starry optimism behind her determination fading.
7. The third time, her tears provoke him into a response: He asks her what’s wrong, and it’s the stricken look he gives her when she answers “Why can’t I ever protect her?” that keeps him in her mind after the timeline resets.
8. The moment of pure, painful sympathy, is what identifies him as a possible subject.
9. She learns his name—Akiyama Shinichi—the next time, and begins to factor this no longer coincidental meeting into yet one more variable to account for.
10. The encounter takes plays on a Wednesday in April after school. It lasts anywhere from two minutes to two hours depending on what Homura seeks this time and what path Akiyama’s timeline has followed.
11. Akiyama doesn’t slip much, or easily reveal his purpose, but Homura does eventually learn the name of the idealist that he would sell his soul—were that a path open to adult men—to protect is Kanzaki Nao.
12. Though she’s always briefly curious, Homura never meets Kanzaki in any timeline.
13. Nor does Kaname ever accompany Homura.
14. It’s a (silent, one-sided) taboo to even think about it.
15. Homura finds, alluding to that person is the quickest way to predict the direction of the encounter.
16. A few times, three or four out of every hundred, he takes her to a dessert shop and buys her a chocolate parfait to brood over while he does the same over black coffee with almost as much sugar.
17. He’ll remind her to do her homework, even going so far as to try and help her, at least before she’s memorized the answers with the same inevitable repetition she's used to memorize everything else.
18. She does make note of his helpfulness.
19. On a folded up piece of paper, he lists 50 things someone could—hypothetically—use the ability to stop time to accomplish.
20. Homura's already discovered about 47 of them by her current timeline, still she appreciates the gesture.
21. More often they just sit and watch the innocents walk by unaware of what's to come.
22. Unknown to him, Akiyama's as much an innocent as any mundane.
23. Homura's worst slip—after a particularly frustrating and unsuccessful timeline—is when she in all her weariness shouts out, "The whole rest of the world can die, I just want to save her!" even though in truth there's no way Madoka would just the world die just so she herself could live on.
24. Akiyama understands too well, except when he doesn't.
25. He has variables too.
26. The first time the Akiyama she meets is disheveled and half drunk, Homura makes the mistake of mentioning Kanzaki Nao's name.
27. It ends with Homura freezing time to escape.
28. This is also the first timeline where Homura encounters an altogether too subdued witch who shuffles about inside her barrier: "100 million, 100 million is too much."
29. Turns out, Kanzaki Nao was lost far earlier in this timeline.
30. Clarification to an above fact: Homura never meets an alive, human Kanzaki Nao.
31. Through more careful probing of Akiyama during their infinite first meetings, Homura determines the rate of encounter of that witch in a particular to be approximately 5% and the average length of time between her leaving her park and entering the former Kanzaki Nao's labyrinth to be slightly over two hours.
32. Thus another tragedy slowly becomes subsumed into yet another of what Homura coldly calls a probability.
33. The variation of Kanzaki's witch pulls at least that single thin slice of the picture together.
34. With increasing familiarity comes increasing suspicion from Akiyama.
35. Where does she know him?
36. Homura builds a repertoire of answers from the very scant biographical details he's given her in other timelines.
37. The acceptable replies: She goes to the junior high school where his entrance exam scores made him a legend among students, even twelve years later; she met his mother once in the hospital much earlier in her illness; she read about his release from prison in the newspaper; she did research on his case for Psychology Club.
38. Homura's lone unacceptable answer is that she works for the Liar Game.
39. That encounter also ends with Homura freezing time.
40. She tells the truth, just once.
41. Coincidentally, it's also her last, decisive trip through the timeline.
42. After she's spilled everything, as clumsy as the original her ever was, she expects that she'll need to stop time yet again.
43. Akiyama asks one thing—the question Homura would ask about her own situation, if she didn't already know the answer.
44. "Do I ever save her?"
45. Homura doesn’t know, and in less than a month's time, nothing Akiyama does to save Kanzaki Nao will even matter because she and Akiyama and everyone else will be obliterated along with Kaname, this city, Japan, and perhaps the rest of the world.
46. Out of respect, she gives the kindest true-enough answer she can muster. "It always goes better when you try."
47. Whatever Akiyama thinks of that reply, Homura ends the encounter there, the reply echoing bitterly through her head and darkening her soul gem.
48. Maybe her words are true, even in her own situation?
49. In the final evaluation, Homura slashes that last pondering out with red ink; she holds no more illusions of what is to be a magical girl.
50. And the page full of encounters closes as frustratingly inconclusive as all the rest.