Webby didn’t know much about mourning. She’d never been to a funeral or a wake, never listened to someone perform a eulogy or dig a grave. Her parents were gone, had been gone so long that any pain Webby had was associated more with the absence than the loss. Or so she thought—the place in her heart where her parents should have been gave a hollow little note, like the wind through wooden wind chimes, whenever she thought of them. Granny never talked about them, except for her face to get very tight and her voice to softly tell Webby not to think about them too much, I know how you get when you dwell on things too much, Webby.
She didn’t know much about mourning. No one in the McDuck family whose funeral Scrooge would have cared to attend had died for as far back as Webby could remember. And sure, she wouldn’t have been attending the funeral herself, since she wasn’t considered family at the time and Granny would need to watch the house, but it would have been something to watch the mourning process to unfold. A secondhand account was still an account, even if it didn’t have as much weight as primary sources. It would have been a reference point.
Webby didn’t know much about mourning.
Lately, she was wondering a lot just how much that worked against her.
Her best friend-slash-possible (no, probable; Webby knew the writing on the wall when she saw it, and calling Lena a “snoring angel” had been the equivalent of writing on it in size-200 font. With a glitter pen.) crush was dead. That wasn’t all of it, but the vicious jumble of trying to figure out what to feel about everything Webby had found out about Lena just before she was killed was… too much. It cut her when she tried to touch it. It got bigger the more she thought about it.
This, Webby thought, must be what it’s like to have a Gordian knot take up residence in your chest. If that Gordian knot was alive and actively trying to strangle its host from the inside-out, that is. Except that Webby was no Alexander the Great, and she had no sword sharp enough to cut through it. She could see no way out of the situation she was in now.
At least no one was trying to tell her Lena wasn’t real. If she had to hear Magica’s words in somebody else’s mouth, Webby didn’t know what she would have done.
Lena was dead. That was the word for it, because ‘dead’ was a word you used to describe a real person who had died, and Lena had been real. Besides the unmistakable exercise of free will that had characterized her last act, there had been her. Her hands were warm and there was a light in her eyes that danced and flickered like fireflies on a summer evening. Whenever Webby saw it, she’d wanted to hold it in her hands, before she remembered that light didn’t work that way—you could stare dreamily at it, love it with all your heart, but you could never touch it. You couldn’t touch light; your hands would only pass through it when you tried to pull it close. And you couldn’t make it stay if it had to leave.
Apparently, part of mourning was speculating on the nature of light. Webby would have to mark that down. If she actually felt like marking anything down.
She’d only been back to what Webby supposed had been Lena’s home—though it didn’t have anything Webby would call homely in it—once since it happened. The diary was sitting open on the floor, and Webby edged around it the way someone would edge around a module of exposed, unexploded ordnance. She didn’t look at it, the way someone who didn’t have a mirrored shield given to them by Athena would avoid looking at the face of Medusa.
It was just as awful down there as Webby remembered, though it wasn’t the sad little cot or the sputtering mini-fridge or the dirty floors that were the worst thing. It was the air. It was close and stale and a little damp from all the water close around. It smelled of sweat and dust with a faint sour tang underneath that made Webby’s pulse pick up. It was heavy and didn’t seem to want to shift as she moved around. The air had forgotten that someone had lived down here, once.
Webby only took two things from Lena’s… room, and never went back. One was a book titled The Flowers of Evil. She’d been afraid it was something dangerous and hadn’t wanted anyone to find it, but it just turned out to be a book of dirty poetry. Webby tried reading some of it, but she eventually found a poem that made her face burn, and she put it away. Hid it, actually—she didn’t want to explain to Granny where she’d gotten it for so many reasons, and wanted her asking whether she’d read any of it even less.
The other thing was the lava lamp.
It was… Once Webby had gotten it completely clean of its thin crust of dust and grime, it was genuinely quite pretty. The blue liquid in which was suspended globs of wax and metallic silver stars and crescent moons was full of glitter. Even when it wasn’t turned on, it was pretty to look at, though the faint… whatever it was, like rubbing sensitive flesh the wrong way across splintered wood, lanced the prettiness with pain. Maybe it was just the knowledge that she’d never really thought too much about lava lamps before now.
The extension cord was battered and had been patched up in places with black tape, but it had worked in Lena’s room. Webby had no reason to think it wouldn’t work here in her room in the mansion, where the wiring had to be so much better. She set the lava lamp on a small dresser pressed up against the wall, hooked up the plug, and went to turn off her normal lamp. Navigating carefully through the darkness, she came to stand in front of the dresser again, drawing a slow, deep breath. Her finger hesitated over the newly-shiny black switch, before finally pressing down.
For a moment, there was nothing, and Webby wondered if one of the light bulbs had blown. Then, electricity finished coursing through, and the lava lamp came alive in the dark room.
A shimmering blue light washed over the wall, pocked with little floating shadows. The glitter erupted into points of light that swirled and tossed and frothed in the blue solution. Webby smiled looking at it; it was like being submerged in a sea full of stars. Would that make the wax clouds or foam?
Then, her eyes drifted, and she saw her shadow.
Only, it wasn’t her shadow.
Where there had been some hesitation involved in turning the lava lamp on, there was no hesitation involved in shutting it off and plunging herself into total darkness.
The dark rushed to meet her and stretched around her. It made the room stretch on for miles in every direction, the familiar dropping away. It went on and on like that until Webby felt as if she was standing in a cathedral the size of the world, with all the furniture removed, all the stained glass knocked out of the windows to be replaced by planks, and utterly empty of people.
The sound that came to Webby in the dark sounded almost like sobbing. Her chest constricted and heaved, but she did not recognize the voice.
When Webby fumbled for the light switch to her regular lamp, her room was normal. Everything was in order, everything was illuminated normally, and it didn’t even take Webby’s eyes all that long to adjust to the change in light levels. She glanced down at her shadow. It was normal.
Apparently, another part of mourning involved seeing things, and Webby had no desire to mark that down. She’d almost rather be back on the Sunchaser, listening to Dewey, Louie, Huey, and Scrooge trade recriminations over what happened to Della Duck. (Almost.)
(And it occurred to her, briefly, to wonder if she had been seeing things after all. But that thought was dismissed soon enough. The source of Magica’s power was broken, and Magica rendered either powerless or severely weakened. Without the dime and her amulet, Magica couldn’t control anyone’s shadows anymore, and the shadows had reverted to their normal state. It hadn’t been nearly long enough for Magica to get her hands on another artifact of terrible magical power.)
Her eyes turned to the lava lamp with something heavy lodging in her chest as she did so—kin of the Gordian knot, but not quite the same, no, it didn’t feel quite the same. She wouldn’t get rid of the lava lamp. Getting rid of it felt like what Magica had done, throwing Lena away like trash; Webby knew it wasn’t the same thing, but that did nothing to dislodge the sandpaper-feeling in her gut. But it was pretty enough without being turned on. Webby thought she’d just leave it turned off.
It was late, and in time, she went to bed. Webby had never been overly-plagued by nightmares (and honestly, some of the scarier dreams were also really cool, so she didn’t want to call them anything negative), but somehow, she wasn’t expecting pleasant dreams tonight. I wonder… But she fell asleep nearly as soon as her head hit the pillow, and she never finished that thought.
Later, Webby never was sure how much later, though the world outside was dark and silent still, she came around. Sleep clung to her still, that not-unpleasant heaviness that took the edges off of everything in the world and made it all seem soft and slightly fuzzy. Despite the heaviness, she felt a little lighter than she had before she’d gone to bed. That, Webby supposed, was the consequence of still being half-asleep; when the heaviness and the warmth left her, she’d feel it bearing down on her again.
Her eyes were greeted by a soft, faintly pulsing blue light.
Maybe she wasn’t as awake as she thought she was.
Arms not working as fast as they ought to have (reflexes training meant she should have been out of bed faster than this, but for some reason that just wasn’t working tonight), Webby pushed her comforter and her sheets aside, sitting up in bed and trying to blink sleep out of her eyes, though she soon recognized the futility of that.
She could only suppose she was still dreaming, and that this was a very realistic-looking dream. Her room looked just as it had when she was awake—there weren’t any fish swimming through the air at all, or the talking bowl of ice cream Webby had encountered the last time she’d had a dream about her room. It was just that the lava lamp was on again, and Webby knew she hadn’t turned it back on before she went to bed; she hadn’t unplugged it, sure, but the switch hadn’t seemed like the kind of switch that would trigger on its own all that easily.
There was someone sitting on the ground in front of the low little dresser, staring up at the lava lamp and the soft, swirling light it cast. They were made of that light, blue and sparkling and shifting slightly under the weight of Webby’s gaze. Eventually, she began to pick out features.
And because this was a dream, it did not hurt to get out of bed, and go sit down besides Lena.
A hurricane of words was building in Webby’s chest, so thunderous that even the Gordian knot had to quail before it, but she was silent. It wasn’t the kind of hurricane she’d felt when she met Scrooge’s parents, and it wasn’t the same kind of silence. She wasn’t overwhelmed; she could have spoken if she wanted to. It was just… The silence felt so fragile, and Webby had no idea what she might unleash if she broke it. For once, she wasn’t curious.
Lena stared up at the lava lamp with a smile on her face, though Webby didn’t think it was a very happy-looking smile. There was little happiness in her eyes. “She hated it, you know,” she said suddenly, without looking at Webby.
“Oh.” Webby’s heart was trying to crawl out of her throat, but she couldn’t say anything asides from that.
“Yeah, she really did. She said it was ‘frivolous.’” A bitter laugh tore from Lena’s mouth. “This actually wasn’t my first lava lamp. I had another one before it, but she made me break that one. The glass cut my hands, and I’d gotten a red one, too, so when all the water spilled out, it looked like…” She broke off, her light-form shivering violently. “I screamed,” she said in a very brittle voice. “She thought that scream meant I’d be too upset to go out and get another one. But I did after a bit, and she couldn’t be bothered to make me break this one, too.”
Webby pulled her knees up to her chest, which was starting to ache like she’d been punched. “Oh,” she said in a small voice. Her mind was full of red water dripping from broken glass and lapping at a pair of sneakers. Her mind was full of a scream that wasn’t her own, though it rang with her own voice.
Lena tilted her head towards Webby, a soft gleam in her starry eyes. “This is bumming you out, isn’t it?”
“No, no, I’m not bummed out! I’m just… I’m just thinking! That’s all!”
“Thinking about how bummed out you are,” Lena retorted gently, leaning back on her ghostly elbows. “You’re not so great at hiding it.”
“I didn’t want you to see it.”
“And I never wanted anyone to see when I was scared. But that didn’t work out.”
They drifted back into silence, aided by the dancing light on the wall, a frothy sea of silver stars and crescent moons. The shadows lapped at their backs, but since Webby was dreaming, the shadows held no threat for her.
“I’m… I’m glad we were friends,” Webby mumbled, picking at her pajama bottoms. “And…” Apparently, even dreaming, her face got hot when she blushed. “Never mind. I’m glad we were friends, Lena, and…” The Gordian knot shifted in her chest, cutting at the flesh it brushed against. It squirmed a little as she managed to say, “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” Lena murmured, very softly. She sighed, the little noise coming out of her mouth even though her body didn’t shift with the motion at all. “For the record, I don’t regret you. Or being friends with you.” Her voice rose slightly, a bit shaky, though there was another smile on her face, tremulous thought it might have been. “It was nice. It was really nice. It was—it was the nicest my life had been in…” Her face contorted. “…ever, I think.”
Webby had no idea what to do with that information, and couldn’t find the voice to stammer anything in reply.
Lena, meanwhile, had recovered enough to steady herself, even to smirk down at Webby. “And what do you mean ‘were?’”
Webby smiled back, her heart bobbing in her throat too much to let her speak—still speechless, why speechless, when she had so many things she wanted to say, even if it was to a figment of her sleeping mind—but since this was a dream, she decided to do something she’d never been able to do purposely in real life, only ever on pure impulse, without realizing what she’d done until later.
She reached out for Lena’s hand, encouraged by the warmth her dream-friend’s light-body gave off as she drew closer. She closed her hand around Lena’s—
—And hand of flesh passed through hand of light, rapping against the floor with a dull thud.
Webby woke with pale dawn light on her face, her cheek pressed up against the floorboard. She was lying on the floor with the comforter draped over her, her body stiff and protesting the at least part of the night it had spent pressed up against an unyielding floor.
She blinked blearily and sat up. The lava lamp was turned off. When she pressed her hand against the glass bottle, it was faintly warm to the touch.