This is not enough, and Madoka is not enough. She knows that now.
She knows that she’s not enough, because Kyubey told her.
(In only minutes, but after more than an eternity, she’ll look back on that as the moment when things went askew.)
This has happened before, Kyubey had said, in his saccharine voice. And it will happen again, and again, and again. Who’s to say when it will stop?
Do you want this to go on forever, even as it goes nowhere, Kaname Madoka?
She can hear the shrieking metal of Walpurgisnacht, or maybe she can only imagine it; she knows she can hear the thundering of lightning, and the thundering of every weapon collected from over three dozen military institutions and then some.
She can see Homura’s face, or maybe she’s only imagining it, at a distance; Madoka knows she can remember it. Homura is so sad. And it’s not going to work, it’s never going to work, Homura is only drawing them further into a trap that the two of them will never ever get out of.
Madoka looks at Kyubey, and she thinks she can guess what he wants her to wish for. He wants her to break this time loop that they’ve found themselves in, him and Homura and Walpurgis and Madoka herself.
She doesn’t want to break this loop. If she breaks this loop, then what will be left of them? She’ll be a Magical Girl, herself, and how will Homura ever be able to accept that? What will that do to Homura? Madoka knows what that will do to Homura; she’s pieced it together from broken and pieced-together memories, recovered from only a handful of timelines out of a hundred, out of hundreds.
(And what will be left of them, at the end of it all, when they slide down, because everything slides down? Will they be monsters together?)
(Would that be any better?)
But Madoka has to break this loop. She has to break this cycle. What will any of it mean, if nothing ever changes? Is that a life? For her or Homura -- for anyone?
She can't change the world, but she can't leave the world as it is.
She’s not smart enough. She can’t find the way out, the way to escape to a better future, and part of her knows that there might not be a better future in any world at all. She can’t deny that.
But she can’t give up, either. This is the contradiction that Kyubey has trapped her in. She is pinned between possibilities and timelines. If she makes a wish and contracts, no matter the outcome, Homura will reset time, because she could never accept that. If Madoka does nothing, Homura will fail, and she will reset time.
And Madoka can't stop Homura or her wish. She can't stop Homura from resetting time. She’s not even sure she wants to.
She’s not smart enough, she’s not enough at all.
“I wish,” Madoka whispers, and her voice chokes on her emotions, on what feels like weakness. “I wish that in the next timeline, I would be a better Madoka.”
Madoka’s potential burns out of the universe, guttered out in an instant. She wishes with nothing to show for it. She is a Magical Girl to end all Magical Girls, for all that her wish magic is useless and empty, and she shoots Walpurgisnacht down with one arrow.
“I’m sorry,” Madoka says to Homura. “I'm sorry that I wasn’t enough.”
Homura screams, because how can Madoka say that about herself-?
Time resets, and Madoka dies.
And Madoka wakes up, and it is the end of the world.
What can she say about the end of the world? She had wished to be the kind of person who could find her way to a better future, and now she was that kind of person. Potential folded in on itself from multitudes of timelines.
“I wish that in this and all possible future timelines, that I would be a better Madoka,” Madoka says. Not wishing to be able to find a better future, because this is the better future. No, now Madoka wishes for something weirder, something askew. She wants to know more, she wants to know... maybe, everything. She wants to think faster. She wants to be the person that she always wished she would grow up to be.
Not just a grown-up, a mother with a loving family. She wants and wishes to be the kind of person who couldn’t exist, someone more, who would never have to compromise on her ideals, her wish to nurture and soothe and protect and shelter, no matter how ridiculous and childish and impossible that would be.
By wishing, Madoka seals the fate of this timeline. Homura is certain to loop back again. But by wishing, Madoka is more.
She steps into the next timeline, or what passes for it. Homura has already triggered the temporal reset. Potential loops in on itself and unfolds as the system strains.
“I wish that in this timeline and all other timelines, I would be a better Madoka,” Madoka says. Kyubey doesn’t grant her wish, although he would have no choice if she tried with him.
She just doesn’t need him, anymore, because she is her own Incubator and her own Contractor. He was only ever a soulless arrangement of matter and energy, and that was enough for him to unseal miracles; and since when have matter and energy been anything but trivial for magic, a force to move the world? She doesn’t even need to wish, now. Not the same way that she did before.
In a single line of metaphor, she steps through and beyond an eternity of timelines, each one infinitesimal in duration, each one folding back on itself in the breath of an untouchable moment.
In a single line, she transcends the countable.
She transcends the uncountable.
Transcends the inaccessible.
No longer physical, no longer metaphysical, no longer pataphysical. She has left behind the concrete universe, she has left behind abstraction to become the prime mover behind abstraction, and left behind the prime mover.
She is the end of the world.
By definition, Madoka remembers everything. She is a better Madoka; she is the best Madoka. She is the Madoka that Madoka could never be, but she has not left behind the small girl that Homura fell in love with, indefinite eternities and microcosmic eons ago. Madoka Kaname is a schoolgirl who holds the godhead in her palm. She contains multitudes.
Her grief is incalculable. She remembers everything, and she remembers more than everything, because she sees every outcome and every story, even the ones that were never able to be told. Every timeline is equally real, but some of them are more or less real than others. Infinity contains multitudes.
“I’m not alone anymore!” Mami cries tearfully, in a timeline that never was, but it resonates. And Madoka is there; wrapped in flesh and bone again, she enters the story doomed to tragedy, and decides: this story won't be tragedy, not anymore.
The world -- the story -- demands melancholy and equal measures. Happiness requires sorrow; the paradigm of dukkha has become a superreal totem over life.
Madoka names this paradigm a broken concept.
“No,” she says. “You’re not alone anymore, Mami. You never will be.”
Charlotte is defeated, but she doesn’t drop a Grief Seed. Nothing does, anymore, but Mami doesn’t notice. Her Soul Gem glows like the noon-day sun at all hours.
They are happy. Mami is so happy, and Madoka -- who contains all Madokas, in the whole and in each part -- remembers the Madoka who always thought Mami was so beautiful, and so Madoka knows that Mami is beautiful.
Madoka transcendental (with stars and nebulae in her eyes) recedes, and then there is only Madoka the singular (with stars of adoration in her eyes). For all that the two of them are the same, and for all that the two of them contain each other. And Mami is just so happy. Her lips curve with a smile that makes it hard to return Madoka’s clumsy kisses.
For a time, it looks like it won’t last.
“This isn’t real, is it?” Mami asks, when the cynic returns and the dream-logic begins to fade. "This is too good to be true."
“It’s real in all of the ways that matter,” Madoka says. “Even if it’s not real in the way that you want it to be right now. But I can promise you this: I’ll still be here when you wake up.”
“You can’t promise that,” Mami says.
“I can,” Madoka says, with stars in her eyes. “And you’ll be there when you wake up, too. The both of us, all of us.
“Do you trust me?”
So Mami wakes up, and Madoka is there when she emerges. Madoka, and Kyouko. And Nagisa too, although Mami won't notice or care for months. And her family --
Madoka is a lot of things to a lot of different people.
“This is ridiculous,” Hitomi says. "There is no reason for your world to be so... lewd!"
"On the contrary," Madoka replies. "Humans love each other, and they love to love each other. Human sexuality is a critical facet of human flourishing."
(Of course, it isn't always as such. There's room for many different kinds of love and many different kinds of people, but right now Madoka is in elevator-pitch mode.)
"And... everything else!?"
“I'm telling the truth,” Madoka says.
“No. I don’t believe it."
“Look,” Madoka says. “I know it's silly, but you can blame Homura. She was rather insistent that she got her say.”
“You mean the creepy transfer student? What does she-? No, nevermind.”
Madoka puts her hand on Hitomi’s shoulder. “I wish things were different, but as it stands… the only way you can get into my new world is by becoming a lewd lesbian.”
“This is ridiculous. No, no, no -- I am a girl, and girls do not love girls!”
“You will love girls if you want to get into my world,” Madoka insists.
“No! You can’t just bribe me into lesbianism with paradise!”
“It’s a really good paradise,” Madoka says earnestly. “You’ll never have to eat or drink or sleep if you don’t want to, you’ll be perfectly healthy for all of eternity, you’ll have all of the physical goods you could ask for, and you’ll be able to spend time with your family and friends, as much as you want.”
Also, I’ll be optimizing for your happiness and eudaimonia in the background, but you wouldn’t actually care about knowing that either way, in the supermajority of possible futures.
“My family and friends all agreed to become dykes!?” Hitomi asks, torn between outrage and... something else.
Hitomi swallows back a sudden wetness in her throat. “...even Kyosuke?”
Madoka smiles, not cruel at all.
Twelve hours later, Hitomi sits in Madokahalla, on a plush throne meters across. She is surrounded by instances of Kyosuke, pulled in from possibilities and obviated timelines that deserved their chances to shine, different types of the same token and different tokens of the same type:
- The Kyosuke Who Was Always A Girl And A Total Lesbian
- The Kyosuke Who Was Always A Girl But More Conflicted Sexually
- The Kyosuke Who Was Born A Guy But Chose To Become A Lesbian
- The Kyosuke Who Was Born A Girl But Chose To Become A Person With A Penis
- The Kyosuke Who Was Born A Guy And Chose To Stay That Way But Got Grandfathered In
- The Kyosuke In The Corner, Staying Out Because She Was A Voyeur
- The Kyosuke In The Other Corner, Playing The Violin Because He Was Asexual And Doing A Gig
Hitomi, on her part, is absolutely covered in bodies.
“You totally lied,” Hitomi pants, glancing at the various cocks in the room, and at the men. “You don’t have to be a lesbian to make it into this paradise.”
“That’s right, I lied,” Madoka admits. “I don’t do that most of the time. I don't like doing it at all. But honestly -- why would I change your soul when I could give you what you and your soul want, instead?”
“...you said you were going to turn me into a lesbian?”
“That was a lie too.”
Hitomi’s eyes -- dull from a little too many orgasms -- sharpen and widen.
“Yes, the girls-loving-girls was already in you, all along. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you’re bisexual.”
“What!?” Hitomi’s splutters. “No! You’re lying!”
That's about when one of the instances of Sayaka walks in, dripping wet and stark naked from the hot tub (where she had been in an orgy with Kyouko and Kyosuke). And Hitomi was forced to admit that she was, in fact, very bisexual.
Very, very bisexual.
"You guys!" Sayaka yells, mock-upset. "I can't believe you started without me!"
Madoka is many things to many people, and some of them are more serious than others.
“You can’t make it so it never happened,” Homura says.
“I can,” Madoka replies gently.
“No, you can’t. You can make it so it never happened to others. Maybe you can make it so it never happened to the you I see in front of me. But I know it will still have always happened to you. The real you.”
It’s true, and both of them know it. Madoka will always remember it. It doesn’t hurt, because she is God, but it still hurts, because she is Madoka, and it happened and Homura hates that. Homura hurts.
Homura hates her own failures. She can see them all, all of the ways that she went wrong. When did she fail to protect Madoka? Was it when she decided that she needed to protect Madoka at all -- or rather, was it when she decided that she needed to go back rather than undo?
Homura dances with Madoka, their feet tapping against the cosmic firmament.
“I messed up,” Homura says.
“You did nothing wrong,” Madoka says.
“I did everything wrong,” Homura says.
The two of them pass through multitudes of possibilities and roles. In one step, they are schoolchildren walking along the hills outside middle school. In the next, they are Magical Girls, stepping around ruin. In the next, they are impossible; Madoka’s eyes burn gold and Homura bears the coiling body of a salamander, a weight around her shoulders and choking around her neck.
“I’m sorry,” Homura says, burning with helplessness. “I wasn’t enough.”
And Madoka cries, because how can Homura say that about herself?
“There’s more than one way to undo things,” Madoka says. “And there’s more than one way to go back.”
Homura tucks her head underneath Madoka’s chin, and she cries, too.
“What are you suggesting?”
“What do you think I’m suggesting?” Madoka asks.
Timelines and selves collapse and are collated; multitudes intersect into singularities, forking again where forks are desired.
The universe is made anew to make itself anew. There are many Madokas -- for Mami, for Sayaka, for her family, for Hitomi, for so many people -- but there is one Madoka who finds herself at the center, and this is who she is, and this is what matters to her.
All of them are at the center, perhaps, but there is one who Homura cares about.
Madoka is five when she meets Homura again for the first time, feeling as if she is meeting her oldest friend in the world --
She is six when Homura kisses her for the first time, her lips gracing her cheek with puppy love that makes her blush and giggle --
Homura is ten when she and her parents move in with her best friend’s family, and her heart beats strong in her chest, healthy --
Madoka is thirteen when Homura kisses her and she somehow knows she really means it, and she’s thirteen when she responds in kind --
Homura is sixteen when she meets Madoka’s godmother.
“She’s very important,” Madoka’s mother whispers, with the strangest lilt in her voice like she’s going to break down laughing or crying.
Junko shakes her head, because Homura has no reason to find this world strange, to suspect that they need someone “important” to put it in motion. She has no reason to think that paradise isn't just the way things always were.
(If Madoka is mortal, then what is left of the “better Madoka” she wished for?)
“I can see why Madoka is so smitten with you,” Madoka’s godmother chuckles. Tomohisa wants to take this the wrong way, but he can’t, because Madoka’s godmother is nothing like Madoka herself, not anymore.
(Madoka’s godmother is the woman that remains.)
“Auntie Gretchen!” Madoka yells with a blush. “Don’t be weird about things!”
“I am not weird,” Kriemhild Gretchen says. “I am the most normal person there could ever be.”
(She is the better Kriemhild Gretchen. She dreamed of being an angel of salvation, and now she is. She kisses Homura on the forehead.)
“Welcome home,” she says softly.
Infinitely far above, the stars twinkle almost pink, at least from the right perspective. Vast solar gemstones churn out the light of magic, each three-dimensional gem one facet of the fine structure of a higher-dimensional soul gem. Black holes outlined in psychedelic oil paint and collages sink excess energy back out of the world.
"Where are you going?" Junko asks, when Gretchen finally goes to take her leave. The older woman smiles, apologetically.
"Would you believe it? Someone's building too many Dyson spheres again, and it's not even the Incubators this time."
Madoka is in her twenties when she drinks with Junko and breaks down in the middle of her glass for reasons that she can’t quite explain --
And Homura is in her late thirties when the both of them finally start to remember.
Madoka -- in this life, mortal and all -- is in her late forties when Homura finally learns to forgive herself.
“Do you want to go back?” Kriemhild Gretchen asks Madoka one night, when Homura is asleep and dreaming.
“I had my run,” Madoka says. “I had enough.”