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I Choose You

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It was a warm Saturday afternoon in early autumn, not too long after the beginning of the school year, still early enough that there was plenty of light left and would be for a few more hours. Ward was either out working a shift or propping up the bar at Shorty's. The girls were all supposed to stay home, but Willa had talked Wynonna into going with her to visit a friend in town, leaving Waverly behind with warnings that Revenants might not be able to set foot on Earp land but bears and coyotes could, so she had better stay indoors if she did not want to get eaten. Far from being alarmed by this kind of treatment, Waverly was used to it and just did the same thing she always did when put in such a situation: she waited until her sisters were out of sight and then went to the edge of the woods beyond the Homestead boundary line, looking for Bobo. Bobo, who had learned to feel when Waverly was looking for him, did his best not to keep her waiting.

Today Waverly was wearing a yellow sun dress, a crown of flowers with a pair of twigs sticking out of it, and no shoes. The dress, like most of the clothes Waverly wore, was a hand-me-down from Wynonna, but at least this one Wynonna had outgrown before it had had a chance to get too worn out or faded. The crown of flowers was something Bobo had made at Waverly's request just a few minutes earlier, and she had added the twigs herself, claiming they made her look like she had antlers. Her shoes were... somewhere. Hopefully they would turn up before dark. In other words, it was a day much like any other.

However, there was one difference which set this day apart from the usual. Today, instead of finding Bobo and asking him to show her something interesting to pass the time, Waverly brought an old shoebox with her and said that she had something interesting to show him, which is what led to their current state of sitting on a secluded patch of grass with Waverly's shoebox between them.

"And this," Waverly said, shoving another colorfully illustrated little card into Bobo's hands, "is a Squirtle. It's a turtle that squirts!" She giggled. "It fights with water attacks, and when it gets strong enough, it evolves into a Wartortle, and then that can evolve into a Blastoise."

Bobo Del Rey (a.k.a. Robert Svane, but that name was as dead and gone as his human existence and needed to stay that way for a wide variety of reasons) had seen a lot in his long 'life.' He had seen technology advance and social mores be overturned. He had seen generation after generation send its youth off to whatever big war was happening that decade only for them to then turn around and be oh so surprised by the state of the survivors who returned. He had once spent a few years in Hell, and recently he had seen his own hundred and fiftieth birthday come and go. None of those things managed to make him feel nearly as old or as exhausted as he did right now, listening to Waverly Earp try to explain Pokemon to him. What Waverly needed from him right now was someone to listen to her, though, so that was what he would give her without complaint.

"And this is Pidgey. It's a bird." Waverly dug another card out of the shoebox and gave it to Bobo. The illustration did indeed look like a bird. Maybe it looked more like some kind of cartoon sparrow and less like a pigeon than the name might have implied, but it was definitely a bird. "It evolves into Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto evolves into Pidgeot. I can show you Pidgey in my Pokedex too, because I caught one this morning!" Waverly scooped her little hand held videogame machine (too new to be a hand-me-down, so probably a present from Gus and Curtis, if Bobo had to guess) out from the shoebox, where it had been sitting alongside an alarmingly large pile of more Pokemon cards. She began to display it triumphantly but stopped herself short as a frown of what looked to be realization crossed her face. "Oh," she said sadly, "no, I can't. Never mind. Sorry, Bobo." She gave a deep sigh, her tiny shoulders rising and falling as if the weight of the world had suddenly come down upon them, and Bobo couldn't let her keep feeling like that, now could he?

"There, there, sweetie," Bobo said. "You're the princess of this forest, remember? And the forest princess's word is law here, so there's nothing you could possibly need to be sorry about."

"I guess," she muttered, but followed that with sniffle and trembling lower lip which implied that she found his logic to be less than reassuring.

"Aw, don't be like that. Please." Bobo really did hate seeing the kid cry, so he needed to nip this sudden sadness in the bud before it could turn into full blown waterworks. Luckily, he knew of at least one easy method of cheering up Waverly that almost always worked. "C'mon," he said. "Get over here." Bobo reached out and gently dragged Waverly into his lap, being careful not to knock over her shoebox full of confusing treasures in the process. She went willingly. He tucked her head under his chin then let go of her and held his hands out from his sides.

Recognizing Bobo's silent invitation for what it was, Waverly burrowed more tightly against his chest. Then, despite the warmth of the day, she drew the loose open flaps of his ever present fur coat around the both of them until only her head was still sticking out. When Waverly was fully settled, she gave Bobo's ribs a well-practiced nudge with one elbow, which was her signal for him to wrap his arms around her and hold tight, which he did. It only took a few moments before he could feel the tension begin to ease out of her. She had always loved bear hugs where she got to pretend she was a bear too. Although now that he thought about it, she was still wearing her 'antlers,' so maybe by the rules of her strange game she had evolved into something different.

For a while, neither of them said a word.

"Is the forest princess feeling better now?" Bobo asked after what he hoped had been a long enough wait.

"I guess," Waverly said again, but this time she sounded somewhat more positive than before. She lapsed back into silence after that, and Bobo had a brief pang of worry that maybe she was going to start crying after all. He tightened his hold ever so slightly, and then at long last she turned to tickle her cheek against the soft fluff of Bobo's collar and said airily in what she liked to call her 'royal accent,' "Yes, the forest princess is feeling better now." She paused. "Is the forest princess's forest monster feeling better?"

With Waverly's face turned into Bobo's collar like it was, one of her flower crown's antler-twigs was now scraping against his neck worryingly close to jugular, and the other was trying to jab through the outer curl of his left ear, but all Bobo said was, "Whenever the forest princess feels better, the forest monster feels better too."

Princess and monster: they were the two main roles in an old game that Bobo had started on a whim years ago when he first introduced himself to a little girl far too young to be allowed to wander around outside without supervision. He kept that game going with the knowledge that someday she would find out what he really was and with the hope that when she began to call him a monster and mean it like the rest of her family did maybe the long habit of hearing the word would keep it from hurting quite so much. It was a slim hope at best, but it was all that he had unless he could figure out a way to get Ward Earp alone long enough to talk some sense into the man without getting a bullet between the eyes before he could explain how to break the curse.

"Good," Waverly said solemnly, unaware of Bobo's thoughts. Then she giggled. It was not as joyous a giggle as when she had told him about the squirt turtle, but it was an improvement over the past few minutes. Hopefully it was enough of an improvement that Bobo had a chance of finding out what had set her off without sending her back to square one, emotionally.

"Yes, very good," Bobo agreed. "And, now that we're both feeling better, do you think you could tell me what made you so sad? Was it something about your..." What was that damn thing called? "Gameboy?"

"Yeah," Waverly sighed. She squirmed inside his coat, and Bobo loosened his grip so she could get out if she wanted and also braced himself for the possibility of her accidentally stabbing him in the eye with one or both of the sticks tied to her head as she went. However, Waverly mostly stayed where she was, only snaking one arm out of the coat to hold up the aforementioned Gameboy where Bobo could see it. She turned it over to reveal an empty battery compartment. "I could have showed you the Pidgey in my Pokedex, honest! But Willa took my batteries when her and Wynonna left! She says she'll only give 'em back if I don't tell Daddy they went out. Daddy'll find out anyway, though. He always does. I don't need to tell him. Everybody else in Purgatory will. And stupid Willa will never give my batteries back and she'll claim it's my own fault!" She pulled the Gameboy back inside the coat and hugged it close against herself with an angry huff.

Bobo did not try to tell Waverly that it couldn't possibly be that bad, because it probably was exactly that bad. Ward put little effort into disguising his disdain for the youngest member of the Earp household, and the older girls, Willa especially, had been trained from birth to follow Ward's example even when he was not explicitly giving orders. It was just one of many reasons why Bobo wanted to strangle Ward Earp and would have done so years ago if it had not been so counterproductive.

"I don't care if Willa steals all the batteries ever," Waverly continued. "Someday, I'm gonna catch a real Pidgey, and a real Charmander, and a real Bulbasaur, and all the other Pokemon, and Willa won't be able to take them because they'll be mine. I'll train them to beat her up if she even tries."

"Of course you will."

Yes, little Waverly Earp had, at the tender yet occasionally vengeful age of five, decided that she wanted to be a Pokemon trainer when she grew up. According to her, several of the other children in her kindergarten class had similar ambitions, but she was going to be the best of all of them, because she was an Earp and Earps were always the best at everything. Neither Ward Earp nor either of her sisters had been willing to take the time to listen to her grand plans for how she intended to achieve this goal, so now Waverly was telling Bobo, who always listened.

Not that Bobo would ever admit it to Waverly, but all of this was making his head hurt and had been even before she mentioned the drama of Willa taking batteries as hostages.

He understood trading cards. Those had been around for well over a century. He had accumulated quite a few of them back when they came in cigarette packs, and he still dealt with them on occasion when small collectibles proved the best way to pay off certain individuals worried about leaving a traceable money trail.

He understood cartoons and television shows. Who didn't these days? He watched the news because being trapped in middle of nowhere Canada was no excuse not to keep abreast of world events, and he watched the X-Files because it was always good for a laugh. He also watched a lot of movies, and random late night reruns of all sorts, and the occasional infomercial, because sleep was optional when you were a Revenant, and not even the great Bobo Del Rey could spend every waking moment plotting, scheming, and metaphorically herding cats in preparation for his escape from this place.

He understood videogames, if not how exactly their programming worked then at least the concept of them. He had even played a few from time to time, because (and it could never be repeated often enough) he was trapped in middle of nowhere Canada, where anyone with at least half a brain needed to try any potential form of entertainment at least once in order to keep from going insane from boredom. Videogames weren't his ideal pastime, but he could see how they kept children coming back for more.

What Bobo could not understand was why an overly complicated amalgamation of those three things as well as toys and what seemed to be an infinite variety of other merchandise would hold Waverly's interest so completely when in the end it basically boiled down to a version of cock fighting where you were supposed to make friends with your animals before sending them to get beaten up. He knew that Waverly had a dark streak of anger in her, one which even at her young age subconsciously recognized the unfairness of life in general and her home life in particular and wanted to hit back against it all, but she had never seemed like the type to be drawn to blood sports. And even though this game of hers was sanitized and, as far as he could tell, technically bloodless, making cute animals fight each other for fun didn't seem like her style.

No, before now Waverly Earp had always been the type more inclined to start fires when she wanted to act out, and even then nothing much worse than playing with matches, because she was also still very concerned with being seen as a good girl. Introducing Waverly to sparklers last year had been like opening up a whole new world to her, and since then she and Bobo had gone through countless boxes of them together, culminating in an attempt to write "Waverly" in flaming white magnesium sparks by sticking a whole case of them close enough together that lighting one would catch the next in succession, and then the next, and then the next, until they were all alight. It had worked beautifully, and the resulting prairie fire had only scorched a few acres that no one had been using anyway. It seemed to have gotten the pyromania out of Waverly's system for the moment, but Bobo suspected that she would return to the idea once she became familiar with the concept of making things big enough to be seen from space. Someday, if they were somehow still on speaking terms when he didn't need to keep a low profile anymore, then he would show her the military grade flamethrower he had stashed away. He would let her strap it on and take it for a test run, and it would probably more than make her day or make her week. He knew it would make her whole year.

Come to think of it, maybe she liked the game less for the fighting and more because some of the Pokemon seemed to enjoy being on fire? That seemed more like the girl Bobo knew, and he had seen more than a few drawings of flames as Waverly shuffled through her stack of cards. With that in mind, Bobo reached into the shoebox. He went slowly, ready to stop at the first sign of protest, because Waverly had so few things that were hers and hers alone, and he did not want to violate what little she did have by pawing through it if she didn't want him to. Waverly said nothing though, so Bobo flipped aside a few of the uppermost cards until he found one he had remembered seeing in passing earlier. The drawing showed some kind of a smiling orange bipedal newt or lizard with its tail on fire, and the label said 'Charmander,' one of the Pokemon Waver had just claimed she was going to catch for real.

"Why don't you tell me about this guy?" Bobo said, holding up the card for Waverly to see.

Waverly came tumbling out of Bobo's coat with a squeal, as if she had not been overcome by the need to conceal herself within the garment's confines mere moments ago. Landing on her knees in the grass, she wrapped her hands around Bobo's, but instead of trying to take the card away from him, she pushed both his hand and the card closer, until it was within inches of his face, as if he had previously been holding it too far away to appreciate it in its full glory of incendiary reptiles.

"Charmander is one of the best," she exclaimed excitedly. "I mean, Charmander's not quite as good as Arcanine, but it's still a really good one to get! It evolves into Charmeleon, and then, when it evolves into Charizard, it grows wings and turns into a dragon!"

"What else can you tell me about it?"

"Well, Ash gets a Charmander in the show, but when it evolves into Charmeleon it starts acting like a buttface."

"There's a Pokemon called a buttface?" Bobo knew that that probably was not what Waverly had meant, but it was good to see her smiling and full of life again instead of wanting to hide away from the world, so Bobo planned to keep her talking by whatever means necessary.

"No, silly, it's just a buttface like people can be buttfaces."

Back on track once more, they continued along in that vein until the sky began to darken and it was time to find Waverly's shoes and send her home.

Gus came by the house to spend time with all three girls the next day, so Waverly had no need of Bobo. The day after that was of course a Monday, and so Waverly was back to kindergarten. She did not feel the need to call for Bobo most school days, having already spent enough of her day with other playmates, away from the Homestead. On those that Waverly did call for him, Bobo was more likely to be busy and unable to get to her immediately, leaving them with only a short while that they could spend alone.

Trying to claim any more time for himself than those occasional stolen moments during the week would have risked them getting caught by either Earp family or friends which would have been awkward, or by Bobo's own people, who he would have needed to slaughter to keep his secret. It might not be possible to kill a Revenant without Wyatt's heir and Wyatt's gun, but there were ways to take one down and make sure it will stay down, not dead but definitely in a state where they wouldn't be able to go spreading any compromising information they might know. However, those ways were messy and time consuming, so Bobo preferred to save them for last resort.

What little time they did manage to have together during the week was mostly spent going over what Waverly had learned or had done in school. There was rarely ever time left for more than a few Pokemon cards at a time, because who knew that there were so many children's songs that needed singing and fairy tales that needed reading? Bobo didn't care if they were looking at cards or singing songs or telling stories. Either way, it was all time well spent if it made Waverly smile and let him pretend for a little while that he was, if not human, then at least a friendly forest monster instead of a cursed soul whose time on this earth should have ended a long damn time ago.

But then, after a week of waiting, Waverly's Saturday was free, as it so often was. She arrived bright and early, with an armload of stuffed animals, announcing, "Bobo, I told Daddy I'm gonna have a tea party by the stream!"

"A tea party, Waverly? Well, I suppose I could make time in my busy schedule for a tea party if you're going to be there," Bobo said, kneeling down and opening his arms to greet her with a hug. Waverly barreled into his grasp while still holding all of her stuffed animals, so he had a lot more than usual to wrap his arms around, but she was so tiny that it was easily done. Jesus, to think Ward let this little girl run around by herself so often, just the idea of it made that little bit of Hell that Bobo carried around inside himself come bubbling up to the surface, and he had to fight to force it down again before Waverly saw.

"I don't really want a tea party," Waverly said. "That's just what I told Daddy." She pushed away from Bobo with a laugh and almost dropped half of her stuffed animals in the process. Only quick reflexes on Bobo's part kept them from landing in the dirt, and seeing his diving catch made Waverly laugh even more. It was a good sound that the world needed more of.

"Then what do you want, more storytime?"

"I want to hunt Pokemon," Waverly said matter-of-factly. She began to arrange her stuffed animals in the branches of a nearby bush where they would be both off of the ground and out of immediate sight should anyone happen to pass by. Even at age five, she was capable of being practical when she put her mind to it.

"Are you sure you don't want a tea party?" Bobo asked. Waverly took the stuffed animals Bobo was holding and hid them in the bush with the others. Once his hands were free again, Bobo straightened up and fished around in one of the side pockets of his coat and pulled out the surprise he had planned. He hadn't known she was going to suggest a tea party today, but it was as good an excuse as any now that she had. "I have cookies we could use." He offered this tasty prize to her with a flourish.

Waverly took the package from him and turned it over in her hands, examining it. "Are they special tea party cookies?"

"No, they're just chocolate chip."

"Then we can eat them anywhere," Waverly said with a grin so bright that it seemed to light up the surrounding trees. She clutched the cookies to her chest with one hand, grabbed Bobo with the other, and dragged him deeper into the forest, shouting, "Let's go hunt Pokemon!"

The rest of the day was... interesting. It was also tiring.

At first, Bobo had thought that Waverly was going to lead him through the woods and then circle around so that they could 'catch' her stash of stuffed animals. It quickly became apparent that Waverly had no such plan and instead had her sights set on finding real Pokemon. This was not too surprising, considering that most young children Bobo had met had at least some level of difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality and Waverly had never been an exception to that rule. That might change soon now that she had started school, but there were a lot of things Waverly's family had never made much of an effort to explain to her young, impressionable self. For instance, she had known him for almost a year before anyone had thought to give her the 'never talk to strangers' talk, and by then he had been anything but a stranger to her. It was a fact that usually worked in Bobo's favor, because otherwise he never would have been able to talk to Waverly at all. Today, however, it was just a pain, sometimes literally.

Mostly, Bobo did what he could to spend the day teaching Waverly some low grade tracking skills, which she might need someday but hopefully not. That part was fine. But then would come the inevitable moments when they would find the hollow log with the sleeping raccoon or the burrow full of rabbits, and that was when matters became less entertaining, at least for Bobo. Waverly would tell Bobo to catch the animal, which would have been easy if Bobo hadn't known that Waverly would have been upset if he did anything to hurt them in the process. With the expedient methods at his disposal off the table, Bobo had to resort to flushing rabbits and raccoons out into the open, chasing them down, and attempting to catch them with his bare hands, while Waverly cheered him on from the sidelines.

If he was lucky, the animal evaded capture. If he was less lucky, he actually caught his quarry, at which point he had to hold on to it, flailing claws and gnashing teeth and all. His only consolation was that Revenant blood apparently tasted bad enough that most animals immediately regretted biting him and that it was dark and flowed slowly enough that he could pass it off as dirt that he had picked up in the scuffle when Waverly noticed and asked about it. At last, after yet another squirrel had escaped up to the highest tip of a tall tree where the branches were too high to even support a cat, never mind something man-sized, Waverly took pity on Bobo and called him off the hunt with a declaration of, "You're really bad at this."

"Yes I am," Bobo readily agreed and then helped Waverly drown her disappointment in chocolate chip cookies. There was still enough daylight left that they ended up having time for that tea party after all, so Waverly would not even need to have to worry about feeling guilty about lying to Ward about it that morning.

The whole next day was so rainy that even Ward Earp would not consider sending Waverly outside to play, and the following school week Waverly was kept busy with other activities. It was frustrating but also a little bit of a relief in that it gave Bobo time to take care of other business and time for the animal bites on his hands to heal. They say, 'that which does not kill you makes you stronger,' but Bobo was technically already dead and in this case that which had not killed him merely made his underlings look like they wanted to ask him if he had tried to strangle a badger when they weren't looking. Luckily for both Bobo and his underlings, they were too smart (for once) to say it aloud.

Finally, the next Saturday came around, and Bobo did not know where the rest of the Earps had taken themselves off to, but Waverly was boldly striding out through the drying grasses to look for him early enough in the morning that Bobo felt the need to question her to make certain that she had bothered to eat breakfast first.

"Does cereal count as breakfast?" Waverly had asked in return.

"Usually," Bobo said. He wisely refrained from delving into the debate on whether or not anything rainbow colored and half marshmallows by volume could really count as cereal. That kind of argument never had any winners.

"Then I ate breakfast," Waverly said. She looked a little shifty though, almost enough for Bobo to ask her exactly how much cereal she had eaten, but sending her back to the house for more food that she might not actually bother eating would only be more time out of the day when he could not be with her, so he decided to let the matter rest.

This time, instead of a shoebox of cards or armload of stuffed animals, she carried a battered old plastic milk crate containing a half full brown paper grocery bag with the top rolled down, whose hidden contents were heavy enough for Waverly's tiny little arms to show signs of struggling with the weight. Bobo met her at the boundary fence, which was closer than he usually dared to go in full daylight without good reason, but he didn't want her to risk hurting herself. She surrendered up the milk crate to him as soon as he offered to take it, and though it was not heavy for a man of Bobo's size, it was still heavier than he had expected it to be.

"Am I allowed to take a peek inside?" Bobo asked warily as he headed back into the trees with Waverly, now freed of her burden, skipping along beside him.

"No," she said with a laugh, "not unless you can guess it first!"

"Am I at least allowed to shake it to help me guess?"

She shrugged and said, "I guess." Her breath misted slightly in the morning air, and the warmth of the previous Saturday afternoon felt like it must have been months ago instead of only a week. This area rarely had much of a proper autumn. Usually there was just a short, hard slide from summer into winter. There were already nearly as many leaves on the ground as there were left in the aspen trees on the higher mountain slopes, and the first snow of the season could happen at any time now without anyone thinking it strange.

"You guess I can have help in my guess?"

"I guess I do!"

"In that case...." Bobo gave the milk crate a small shake. The weight inside the bag shifted unevenly with some dull clunking noises as well a bit of a plastic-y rustle and possibly a faint slosh. Still, Waverly had not stipulated that he would lose anything if he guessed wrong, and if there was bad news coming his way then he would rather get to it sooner rather than later, so Bobo jumped straight to the worst case scenario in terms of how little enjoyment he might get out of the rest of the day, even though the sounds from within the bag did not suggest as much. "Is it," and here he paused for dramatic effect, "more Pokemon cards than you can possibly count?" He loved the kid and loved seeing her happy about things, but he could only take so many hours of imaginary animals with nonsense names before his eyes began to glaze over enough for her to realize that he was not paying as much rapt attention as she would like.

"No, it's only a few Pokemon cards. And for your information, Bobo, I can count all the way to over a thousand. One time Wynonna bet me that I couldn't, and it took me over an hour, but I proved her wrong and won a whole candy bar all to myself from her, so there!" She ran a full circle around him as he walked, just because she could. "Now guess the rest!" By now, Bobo was no longer doubting whether she had eaten breakfast, but he was beginning to wonder how many pounds of sugar she had consumed in the process.

"Is it Pokemon toys?"

"Kinda?" Waverly said after a moment of thought.

"Is it rocks?" The box was heavy enough that Bobo would not have been too surprised if the answer turned out to be yes.

"No, but it needs rocks," Waverly said, tugging on one of Bobo's sleeves. "We need to go where we can get some rocks."

"What size?"

Waverly held up both hands formed into a circle with roughly the same circumference as a golf ball. She stared up at Bobo through the hole like she was looking through a telescope, then she frowned, furrowed her brow, and, still staring at him through the hole, began to expanded the circle. "We need them this big," she said when she got close to tennis ball size, "at least."

"I know just the place," Bobo said, "but it's farther than we usually go." He knelt down to be at eye level with her. "Do you want to walk, or do you want to ride?"

"Ride, ride, I wanna ride!" Waverly chanted, clapping her hands together with excitement before clambering up Bobo's back and onto his shoulders.

Once she had seated herself securely, Bobo stood once more and turned north, away from his original destination. He only needed to go a few miles, and the rest of the journey went much more quickly thanks to no longer needing to shorten his strides to match those of a five year old. Soon they arrived at a small, shallow lake with a coarsely pebbled shore along the near side and a stretch of densely vegetated swampland on the other side only a few dozen meters away. The pebbles of the near shore were interspersed with larger stones, many just the size that Waverly had said she was looking for and came in many different colors, washed down from all the different geological layers of the mountains where the stream which fed the lake passed through before reaching this place.

Bobo knelt down as soon as the lake came into view, because Waverly had a habit to trying to jump from his shoulders if she decided he was making her wait too long. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she raced off and began inspecting the rocks, dropping some into the milk crate Bobo still carried and discarding many others, all based on some obscure criteria known only to herself.

"Can I look in the bag now?" Bobo asked after Waverly had added the ninth or tenth rock to his load.

Waverly heaved a deep, theatrical sigh, and said in tones probably mimicking either Ward or one of her sisters, "Fine, but only to shut you up. You're so impatient!"

Bobo bent over to set down the crate, and soon as his head was within reach, Waverly leaned in, blew a raspberry into the short-cropped hair along the side that was coming due for a shave soon, and while he was distracted by that, threw the top of the paper bag open with a flourish of her hands and a laughing shout of, "Ta-da!"

Bobo knew that he had no one to blame but himself for Waverly pulling that particular stunt, because he had been the one to teach it to her. Finally, he looked into the bag to see what she had had him carry out here. Inside the bag sat a packet of plastic googly eyes, a fuzzy tangle of multicolored pipe cleaners that had probably been salvaged from older craft projects, half a pack of fruit-scented markers, some folded pieces of construction paper, a bottle of glue, an assortment of paintbrushes, and several bottles of cheap poster paint, the kind with bright synthetic colors but not enough binder to keep the pigment from crumbling off into dust at the first touch once everything was dry. He did not devote a lot of time on the more traditional creative pursuits, but he could recognize what was basically an entire low budget art studio when he saw one.

"What's all this for?"

"We're gonna make fake Pokemon, and then we're gonna use them to train you to go into battle against real ones. You were really bad at it last time, but I'm gonna be a Pokemon trainer, so I'll train you to be better next time," Waverly said cheerily, as if he had already agreed to this and telling him about it was only a formality. Maybe she was right.

"You just want an excuse to throw rocks at me, don't you?"

"No, this'll be practice for your own good. If you don't practice, then you'll die in a real fight." Bobo had a sick feeling down in his gut that Waverly was echoing Ward again and not anything from her beloved game, and ironically it was that talk about fighting that made the fight go out of Bobo.

"Fine," he said, "but it seems like kind of a waste, going to the trouble of making your rocks all cute only to throw them away."

"Practice is better when it feels real, Daddy says. Besides, I'd be throwing them, not throwing them away."

"Oh yeah?" Bobo said with a challenging grin. He took a few steps back and slapped one fisted hand into the palm of the other as if he were wearing a catcher's mitt. "Try me."

Waverly picked up one of her specially chosen stones out of the milk crate and looked at it doubtfully. It was smooth and light grey and probably would have been perfect for painting and gluing all sorts of things all over it. "This is only going to give you practice dodging rocks, not Pokemon."

"You told me that there were rock Pokemon. Just pretend we're starting with those."

Waverly hesitated for a moment and then threw the rock at Bobo. She had a good arm for a five year old. Someday she might be good enough to try out for her school baseball team. However, right now she was still just a five year old.

Bobo easily caught the rock without even needing to cheat with his powers. He made a motion as if to toss it back to her but then flung it over his shoulder to land with a splash in the lake behind him. "Oops," he said.

Waverly narrowed her eyes at him. Without a word, she reached down, grabbed another rock, and threw that one at Bobo without even taking the time to inspect it first. She might have thrown it harder than before.

Bobo caught it just as easily as the first one and threw it even further behind him. It landed with a splat right at the edge of the swampy area on the far side of the lake.

Waverly threw a third rock at him before he had a chance to consider gloating about the second one, but Bobo caught that one too.

"Admit it, Waverly, maybe this Pokemon already has all the training you can give me." He held up the third rock up for her to see and then threw that one away even further than the one before it. This one landed deep within the tall grasses and reeds of the swampland on the far side of the lake, not with a splash of water or a splat of mud or even a rustle of vegetation, but with a strangely hollow sounding thump quickly followed by the deep bellow of a very large and now very angry animal. A huge bull moose soon pushed its head and enormous rack of antlers out of the tall vegetation and glowered in their direction. Then it pushed its shoulders free. Then it pulled its hindquarters free and started picking up speed before its tail was even out of the reeds. It bellowed again and ran at them with murder in its eyes, splashing straight through the lake instead of bothering to go around.

"If you're such a great fighter, then beat that moose so I can tame it," Waverly shouted.

Bobo did not bother to argue with her, but nor did he follow her order. He just ran, scooping her up under one arm and taking her with him without slowing down as he fled as fast as his feet would carry him away from the half ton of angry ungulate headed their way. He just hoped he was fast enough.

"You're a terrible Pokemon," Waverly grumbled several minutes later, after Bobo had managed to shove the both of them up into the branches of a tree hopefully large enough to withstand a moose assault.

"The moose would have been worse," Bobo countered as he peered down through the branches at the animal in question, which was circling the base of the tree like the world's lumpiest shark.

"You didn't even try to use any special moves on it."

Actually he had, but even if telekinesis was not almost impossible to aim blindly behind you one handed while running away at top speed, he was trying to keep his powers on the down-low as an ace in the hole. So instead of admitting any of that, he just said, "I used 'escape,' didn't I?"

"It wasn't super effective, and I'm ashamed to be your trainer."

"Maybe I'm just untrainable." He'd had a few associates tell him as much over the years, using much less flattering terms but the sentiment was more or less the same. "Or," Bobo continued, "maybe you need to start smaller, maybe a hamster? Those things are supposed to be trainable, aren't they?" Yeah, they were, now that he thought about it. A plan was beginning to take shape in his mind. "I'll bring you one, and you can claim you won it in a school raffle or something."

"Can I name it after a Pokemon?" Waverly asked eagerly, the prospect of a real pet of her very own seeming to be enough to completely distract her from the half ton of maybe no longer angry but still very grumpy large ungulate pacing around below them.

"You can name your hamster whatever you want," Bobo promised. Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Maybe just don't throw rocks at it."

"It's a deal," Waverly said, and reached out a hand to Bobo.

"Agreed," Bobo said, and sealed it with a solemn handshake.

And then all that was left to do was wait for the moose to lose interest in them and leave, and then they could go home too. Bobo had plans he needed to make, long-term plans for escape, but also plans for getting to Calgary tomorrow and finding a pet store on the right side of the Ghost River Triangle boundary line. Because if Waverly wanted a hamster, then she was going to get a hamster, and then maybe both of their lives could be a little happier, but buying one was something that neither the Purgatory locals nor Bobo's fellow Revenants needed to see him doing.

"Did you bring any cookies?" Waver asked after another few minutes.

"As a matter of fact, I did," Bobo said and reached into the relevant pocket. It might be hours yet before the moose wandered away, but Bobo had lots of practice waiting and at least this time he had some good company.

Thus concludes the secret origin story of how Waverly got Pikachu the hamster.

The End