The front door closed as Kate stepped through it, hanging her scarf and long, wool jacket on the coat rack. She shrugged. It bothered Mercedes how unphased Kate was by the circumstances they found themselves in, that she glided past her without a hint of worry.
The words fell on Mercedes, heavy and sudden like thunder. Externally, she felt their weight and how it slammed against her chest, but internally it didn’t register with the same impact. It didn’t make sense—or, truthfully, she didn’t want it to.
“How…” Mercedes trailed off. It was Purgatory, that’s how. A name a little too on the nose even before Mercedes knew exactly how on the nose it was.
Kate sat herself in front of the fireplace, reaching for her black silk bag of tarot cards and letting them slide out into her hands. Shuffling the deck, she laid out a few cards in a configuration only she knew the meaning of, turning them over one by one with a delicate flourish. With each reveal Kate’s brow furrowed further, making Mercedes uneasy.
“What? What is it?”
Sighing, Kate picked up the cards and put them back into the deck as she shook her head. “That’s the thing. Nothing.”
“They’re not telling me anything. It’s all meaningless or irrelevant. They’re not responding.”
Mercedes fiddled with her bracelet, trying not to focus on the bile rising in her stomach. The news shouldn't have frightened her like it did. She wanted to think she didn’t believe in that esoteric new-agey shit: fortune tellers, tarot cards, bone fragments cast from shaking hands. Yet she knew she’d be foolish not to. It certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing with all that she knew now.
“So what do we do?”
Kate looked into the fire, the glow illuminating her dark skin.
That’s what it was, at first. Waiting with blank looks while conversations ran in circles. Speculation was the only thing the two women indulged in, no theory too outlandish to mention. After a day(?) of sitting impatiently on the living room couches, they ran out of things to say, both of them retreating to bated silence.
Anticipation kept them buoyed. Any moment, she hoped, things would return to how they were, each passing minute a possible salvation. A few times Mercedes could swear it was getting darker, until the seventh time when she accepted that it was merely a trick of the eyes.
So they waited.
Mercedes wasn’t sure how she knew the direction to the Homestead. It wasn’t as if she’d ever visited it, considering how it was abandoned until Wynonna and Waverly moved in. She tried to coax Kate into coming with her, Mercedes hiding and failing to hide that she was afraid to go alone.
“I’m not allowed in. I already tried.”
“Seriously? All that “you have to be invited” crap is real? Even if…” Mercedes couldn’t say it.
Kate shrugged—she did that a lot, that shake of the head and one shoulder shrug. “It means she’s still out there.”
So Mercedes pulled up on the Homestead, vampireless and shaking with nerves. It was an overcast day like all the others since. Night and morning and everything else ceased to exist, Purgatory permanently cast in pale green-blue light, the orange Pledge Moon hanging unmoving in the sky. She should’ve been able to hear the call of the woods around her. Birdsong. Wolves.
The animals had gone. Even insects weren’t spared in the rapture; the end of the world for everyone but her.
The Day It Began, it started(?ended?) with a roar.
A mechanical, high pitched scream-rumble that shook the earth, so powerful that Mercedes crumpled to the floor, palms pressed against her ears and curling into herself. She half expected the sky to tear open, for clouds to part and make way for the seven-headed Beast adorned with ten horns. Because it could’ve been real like the myths Mercedes forsook in her teen years, as real as the devil and the woman who fought it with a magic gun. As the sound rang on, Mercedes half wondered if it was a mighty trumpet from an angel, heralding the end that was to come. Was it an angel she knew, a being written about with an -ael suffix that she could still recall? Was it—
It stopped without ceremony. So too, seemingly, did the world.
Yet Mercedes wasn’t convinced. The porch stairs creaked under her boots as she stepped up to the front door, which she realized had only been partially shut. Fear gripped Mercedes as cold as the snow around her. She wished Kate were here. She wished she knew how to fight. That was always Wynonna’s thing, and she would give anything to see her now, or ever again. There was still hope, she reminded herself. If Kate could not enter the Homestead, Wynonna had to be out there. She would fix everything like she always did. With a deep breath, Mercedes timidly pushed the door open, as if stepping inside was a great, heroic act worth immortalizing.
The Homestead was quaint and not what she expected. It screamed of Waverly’s influence, that home-grown sensibility. Woven blankets and throw pillows made up most of the decor, dried lavender and wildflowers in old porcelain vases on tables. A lamp was still on, causing Mercedes’ limbs to lock in place, listening for a sound that could indicate that something still stirred.
She waited for relief that never came. Here she was, wishing for an intruder because it’d mean there was something and someone other than her and Kate. But it was only her in the empty house of her friend, looking for an answer she knew she wouldn’t get. She continued her search of the house until she came across a table with empty shot glasses, the surrounding chairs strewn in an odd fashion. It felt off in a way Mercedes couldn’t place, like something sudden had happened. What she did know was that they were here. But now…
Panic finally overcame Mercedes, slumping into one of the chairs before she found herself on the floor. Acceptance was a terrible fate to endure, one she staved off until now. Because to accept this meant to accept that this was all there was. That this was her new life.
She dug her head into her hands, wanting so badly to cry.
Confusion and denial eventually subsided. When nothing had changed for days(?), they had to confront reality for what it was. They had to make a plan.
Raid grocery stores for fresh food and eat them first, then freeze as much as possible. A small blessing was that it was still (?always?) winter, and that they could freeze food outside if it came to it. The power still hadn't gone out, making Mercedes wonder if the world had stopped or had paused. If that were the case, then perhaps nothing rotted either.
They wouldn't take any chances. Mercedes and Kate—mostly Mercedes—carted food back into the giant, industrial freezers and looked for supplies they’d need to wait out whatever they were waiting out. Yet it wasn’t about the food, not really; it was something to do. Mercedes didn’t want to spiral deeper than she already was, and planning took the edge off of it. It was familiar and something she was good at, a sense of normalcy amongs the unknown. They could last for a long time, at least. But Kate was another issue.
“We’re stealing blood? From a hospital?” Mercedes grunted, sliding the heavy freezer door closed.
“I don’t think it qualifies as stealing anymore.” Kate looked Mercedes up and down like she was appraising a piece of jewelry. “And don’t act all high and mighty. You wouldn’t care either way.”
Mercedes stared at the hung up butcher coats and ceiling-high shelves filled with containers and cleaning supplies. The back area of the store was dull and unfinished, smelling subtly of chlorinated cleaner from the unemptied mop buckets.
“Yeah. You’re right. I wouldn’t.” She dropped a roll of garbage bags into a shopping cart. Being locked in the basement of her own home with no face and a dead sister tended to instill a bit of nihilism.
The fluorescent lights were burning her eyes, stagnant and lifeless and reminding her too much of outside. Never had Mercedes wished for night so badly. It’d be better than the mockery of endless day. There were practical reasons, however, for such a wish; Kate wasn’t healing. She would be fine, she assured Mercedes, but weak. Permanently on recovery unless something changed.
“So, what’s for dinner?” Kate mused. Mercedes bit back a scowl. Eating was ironically the last thing on her mind. Kate rolled her eyes.
“We have to eat. Might as well make it enjoyable.”
Grabbing the cart, Mercedes wheeled it through the impact traffic doors into the store proper, looking around for something she’d be able to stomach.
“I can’t do meat right now.”
When they went through the empty checkout lane, Mercedes tossed her credit card onto the counter. Not like it meant anything anymore.
Their first argument happened before long.
It was over something insignificant, as those types of arguments tended to go. In uncertainty, every small thing became so critical. It was concrete to be angry about an open drawer. It made sense to fight over dishes. It was emotions that weren’t fear and hopelessness, and Mercedes lashed out at Kate because it felt good. Normal. Coherent.
“Careful. Once cabin fever creeps in it’s over for both of us.”
“It’s my damn cabin, isn’t it?” Mercedes wanted to scream and knock something over, hear the shattering of glass or feel the vibration of wood splintering in her hands. “It’s already over, Kate. Everything is. So why bother with any of this anymore?”
Kate only blinked, unaffected by Mercedes’ panicked rambling. “It’s okay to be afraid.”
Smug goddamn vampire. Mercedes had enough. “How can you be okay with this? You just sit there with your cards and do nothing! We should be-”
“Surviving. Which is what we’re doing.”
Survival. Something Mercedes said to Wynonna the last time he saw her, when she prized it above morality and above Wynonna, the remaining piece of a past once fondly remembered. Until—
Because what was living if only to survive?
“There has to be something we can do.”
Kate stood from the couch like royalty, her steps slow and deliberate as she stood in front of Mercedes, seemingly ten feet tall. “You and I both know we’re not the heroes of our own stories. We never were. Anything that can be done won’t be because of us.”
The truth stung. Seeing Wynonna fight with a bravery only she could muster was as inspiring as it was when they were young and stupid and free, brawling in the shabby living room of some house party. It was what made Mercedes want to be more than be a lamb for the slaughter, to do something to make a difference and be the hero Wynonna was. But here, now, in whatever now even meant anymore, Mercedes knew that Kate was right. There was no great heroic stand to make. They were at the mercy of whatever happened next.
“You forget; I’ve been through the end of the world many, many times. Wars. Political turmoil. And I’m still here.” Kate’s smile was far away, stretching backwards into a time unknown, incomprehensible and vast. “And so are you. That’s no small feat.”
Mercedes couldn’t look at Kate in the eyes. It was what she told herself after she made her agonized recovery in millimeters, bandage-covered face turning her world into darkness. Living should have felt better. She should’ve been grateful to be here when Beth—even Tucker, that piece of shit—was not. It shouldn’t be like this. It wasn’t fair to be around only for everything to end.
“I don’t know what happened to you…” Kate reached out to Mercedes, her hand brushing her shoulder in a soft gesture of comfort. “But I’m sorry.”
Coarse laughter ripped through Mercedes’ lungs, her anger manifesting in the only appropriate way it could. All of this was a sick joke. She couldn’t react any other way.
“You’re right. And you don’t know me.”
That only made Kate more insistent, taking Mercedes’ cold hand into hers. “But I know pain. Lifetimes of it.”
Mercedes tore her hand away. “Forget it. Let’s just…” she looked to her shelf packed with her parents’ prized DVD collection. “Let’s just watch something and forget about it.”
Kate barely hid a smile. “What did you have in mind?”
The blue light of the TV quelled Mercedes for a few hours of calm, her and Kate curled up on the couch like it was a normal visit from a friend.
This was one of the least romantic candlelit dinners Mercedes had ever had.
The crystal chandelier hung dormant and dark above them, instead catching the glow of the candles in its intricate designs. Blackout curtains made the house darker, almost tricking Mercedes’ body into believing it was night. But she knew if she pulled back the curtains she’d see that same green-grey light, snow as still as The Day It Began. Unfortunately, Kate’s body wasn’t as easily tricked, locked in a constant state of dying for eternity, the wound refusing to heal and still raw with blood.
“I could turn you, you know.” Kate’s voice was casual, as if she’d asked Mercedes to pass the butter and not offering to make her a damn vampire.
They hadn’t been together long—hardly a month(?) now. With no indication of the passage of time, it was hard to tell. If there was one thing Mercedes caught on to, it was that Kate was casual with almost everything, even this. It made sense, she supposed. Being over a century old no doubt made day to day life seem trivial and effortless.
Mercedes frowned and tried not to look at Kate’s teeth. “You’re just hungry.”
Kate’s laugh was honey, thick and slow and smothering Mercedes’ throat as it hitched. “Doesn’t mean my offer isn’t genuine.” She sipped her wine. That casualness again.
“Who wants to live forever?” Mercedes stabbed her fork into her salad. “Besides you, apparently.”
Kate leaned back in her chair with a wave of her hand and a shrug, swirling the red wine around in her glass. “No one.”
Cryptic—something else Kate excelled at being. Mercedes didn’t ask what she meant. For some strange, inexplicable reason, she understood the unsaid: not even me.
“What’s it like?”
Kate hummed and glanced off to the side, still swirling her wine. “Quiet. Things become longer while others become shorter. You can appreciate things you didn’t have the time for. But things you wished could last forever…” she faced Mercedes and gently set her glass down onto the tablecloth. “Nothing lasts forever except me.”
And Mercedes saw Kate for the first time, tired and weary and eternal, a meandering stream that never hit the ocean. Realization hit Mercedes in slow motion.
She was just like her now.
“Yeah, that sounds fucking awful.”
When she dreamed she dreamed of her, all leather and whiskey and a snarky quip as she fired her gun.
She closed the distance between them, arms wrapping around her shoulders and feeling her chest against hers.
I missed you, she smiled, her light green eyes full of warmth.
Though she could feel her, touch her, it didn’t feel close and worst of all it wasn’t real, only now noticing that the sky was still the same green-blue, the blood of the moon a halo around her head.
I still do.
There was a grand total of one mall in Purgatory, though to call it a mall would be generous. It was two wings and a food court, the stores all boutique and family owned. Mercedes remembered how excited she was when she went to the Big City to actual, fashionable stores as a teenager, brand names across her chest and snug designer jeans. The mall was one of the first things she planned to attack when she arrived back in Purgatory, modernizing it and making it more than a building to run in and use the washrooms in.
The plans she had only a short time ago. What a waste.
“What do you think?”
Kate held up a bright red winter jacket to her chest with an excited, wide eyed smile. They were in one of the many empty stores, this one being Mercedes’ favourite since moving back to Purgatory. Like most things she liked, it was expensive and high quality stuff, though the price tag meant as much as the credit card she left on the grocery store counter.
“You look good in everything,” Mercedes said, not paying attention to Kate, who sighed and placed the coat back onto the rack.
“Come on. You were the one who suggested we go shopping.”
“I know,” Mercedes grumbled, swiping her red hair behind her ear. Shopping always made her feel better. Even if she didn’t buy anything, it was aspirational in a way, imagining how good she’d feel when she finally could get something she had her eye on. "I guess I'm just realizing how hollow it all was.”
"It's okay if it made you happy,” Kate said.
“But that’s the thing, right? It made me happy because I could create this...I don’t know, image of myself for other people. And now that those people are gone I-”
"We lived in a world with people,” Kate interrupted, placing her hand on Mercedes’ arm. “Society. It’s not a bad thing, to want to present a certain way. To wear things that made you feel good.”
“Okay Feminism 101,” Mercedes mocked. “Like, yeah, that’s all true and shit. But…”
“It’s not just the clothes, is it?”
No shit. Mercedes sat on a bench near the changerooms, eyes scanning over the hung up clothes that would never be put away again. “Everything before this was pointless.”
“Everything is pointless. That’s what makes life so good.” Kate laughed and sat beside Mercedes and daintily crossed her leg. “You know what I learned from being alive so long? Things pass and wilt away. So many of the things we do don’t go anywhere. It’s the moments now that matter the most.”
The music from the overhead speakers echoed through the abandoned store into the mall, punctuating the emptiness all around. Some moment this was.
“Get the jacket,” Mercedes said, standing up and flattening her pink coat. “You really do look good in everything.”
It was so strong Mercedes could taste it on her tongue, itching her skin and suffocating her. She’d gone to pacing around the dining room to try and get the nervous energy out, hoping that she’d get tired enough that she could go to bed and let time—whatever that was now—pass. But really, if it were just simple boredom, it’d be easier. It was the waiting.
It reminded Mercedes of being at the hospital when waiting to hear news of her parents. Nothing could entertain her and doing something made her even more bored somehow, the anticipatory dread making action impossible. It was too all consuming to do anything but wallow in anxiety.
“There’s more entertainment now than there ever was back then,” Kate said, flipping the page of her book and not bothering to look up at the pacing Mercedes. “Comparatively, this is nothing. We even still have power.”
“Well, good for you. Some of us were born in this century.” Mercedes straightened the dining room chairs, reveling in the five seconds of action that brought. “It’s the same shit every day. It’s us, day in and day out.”
“Oh, am I annoying you?”
“Anyone is annoying after spending however the fuck knows how long together.”
“Not the marriage type then.”
“Technically, I am.”
“Technically, so am I.”
They laughed because something had to be funny.
“We could leave, right?” Mercedes said, peeking behind the blackout curtains. “Go...I don’t know, look at stuff. Places. We have the entire continent, at least. Unless you secretly know how to pilot a plane or a boat.”
Kate chuckled thinly. “I don’t.”
“The Big City, at least.”
“We could try." Kate was back to her cards. Mercedes hadn't seen Kate do an actual reading for a while; instead she idly shuffled before returning the cards to their bag, only for Kate to slide them out again minutes later. A ritual once comforting now useless when past, present, and future folded in on itself.
"You've been all over the world, right?" Mercedes asked.
"Mhm. Europe, mostly, in my youth."
"It's hard to believe you were young at any point."
"It's hard for me too," Kate said, laying back on the couch with a wince. "It doesn't feel like it was me."
"I think I know what you mean. Well, less extreme," Mercedes said. She joined Kate on the couch, feeling the warmth of the fireplace on her face.
"I know it was me, because obviously it was. But I look back and it feels like I'm watching someone else's slideshow." Mercedes stopped herself. "Sorry. It feels ridiculous when you're… the world is—was—so different."
"Is," Kate said firmly. "You can't look at this like it's over. It's like you said; it's just different."
An understatement if Mercedes ever heard one. "That's inappropriately optimistic."
"Maybe. But we have to try."
Mercedes didn’t respond. She didn’t know if she wanted to try anymore.
When Kate stumbled and fell one morning(?), Mercedes knew something was wrong.
Kate’s eyes bore into Mercedes as she picked herself up, a cautionary glare that Mercedes gladly understood: it looked exactly like it was. No discussions. There was nothing to be said.
Until, on whatever day(?), month (?), year(?) they were on, Kate broke the rules and said something.
“I was wrong.”
Moving her borrowed nightgown, Kate revealed her wound, Mercedes recoiling at the sight. It was worse than before, infected despite all of their efforts. The worst was the smell, the familiar wrong stench of torn, rotting flesh that was permanently seared into Mercedes’ nostrils.
“Even I don’t last forever.”
Mercedes stifled a gag. Her senses were all tuned in to Kate’s injury, becoming every physical sensation. The unsaid was what took the bones out of her limbs, Mercedes feeling like a pile of empty skin. This could not be happening. She could not be alone.
“If you turned me…”
Kate shrugged. “It’d help.”
“Finite resources. Especially if it’s-”
Two options, both alike in inevitability.
They were waiting to die either way. The question was how long they wanted to stretch it out.
“We should head out tomorrow. Just to see, right?”
“Just to see. Sure.”
“Do you think we’ll find anyone?”
“Depends. What answer are you looking for?”
“I think you just gave me one.”
“How often do you think of her?” Kate asked, wiping the blood from her lips. A Mercedes from another timeline would be unsettled by such an action, but she wasn’t that person anymore. She ceased to give a shit when her face was ripped from her.
“A lot, I guess.”
A raised eyebrow. “You love her.”
Like something she couldn’t articulate. “I mean...it’s complicated.”
Kate scoffed. “I turned into a vampire so I could search for my man forever. I know what love is, romantic or not.”
With where they were now, Mercedes knew there wasn’t much of a point in hiding her feelings from Kate anymore. While she was still hard to read, Kate saw through Mercedes at every turn, easily interpreting her like one of her cards. This, however, was different. There was guilt Mercedes didn’t want to admit, and a pain in recalling Wynonna and the last time Mercedes saw her.
“You know one of the last things I said to her was “I even kind of love you”? I couldn’t even commit to it when it mattered. And now…” Mercedes sighed. “I wish I had another chance to say it right.”
A slow, sympathetic nod from Kate. “Talking about her keeps her alive.”
Perhaps. But Mercedes wasn’t ready to think Wynonna had to be memorialized just yet—not ever.
“We’ll go tomorrow.”
Mercedes was never a pack a day type of person. It wasn’t the healthiest thing to partake in, a bad high school habit turned addiction, one she kicked before coming back to Purgatory. It was all going so well--not just the smoking, but everything in her life. A career. A life she could start to be proud of. And, much like it had so long ago, everything changed when she saw Wynonna for the first time in almost a decade.
On the front porch of her family home, she gazed off into the distance at the familiar, drab sight before her, the same snow, the same trees. Even the blood orange of the Pledge Moon had lost its ominous splendour, its presence as regular as it was boring. It was her last cigarette before bed, the empty carton tossed carelessly off to the side with a light thud. Smoking, like so much of what Mercedes did now, was something to do. A temporary relief for those glorious few minutes until she stamped the butt out under her boot. And, honestly, what good was taking care of her health going to do now?
There was something inside of her, an animal instinct that she’d felt in the basement and never thought she’d feel again until she was old and grey and not much of anything anymore. It’d grown stronger, made her have two before-bed cigarettes and caution thrown to the wind like smoke escaping her lips.
The door behind her opened, feeble and whisper quiet.
“What is it?”
Mercedes ashed her cigarette. “How could you tell?”
“We’ve been together now for...well.” Kate folded her hands across her stomach. “So what is it?”
Where to begin. Leaning over the railing, Mercedes dropped the spent cigarette into the snow, watching the embers snuffed out as soon as it hit the ground, a small hiss as it was extinguished.
“I don’t want to die like this.”
Because she almost did, once. Feeling her life slip away minute by minute. Waiting, listening to a monster who had her voice, listening to a monster who had Beth’s when she had none anymore. Though still alive, Mercedes never stopped wishing that she died before her sister. That she didn’t have to be alone in the skittering dark.
It was the same again. Kate would go before her, leaving Mercedes alone to face the endless green-blue-green afternoon and a moon that never moved. She would not live with another body, to feel its inert gravity pull at her like guilt.
She felt Kate freeze behind her.
“You’d prolong the inevitable.”
“Look,” Mercedes hissed, whipping around to face Kate, who, for the first time, shrunk back from her. “I’m fucking bored. I’m scared. If I’m going to die anyways, I might as well...I don’t know. Do anything.”
God, and Kate looked so different than she did a day(?), a month(?), a year(?) ago. Her skin was dull, bags under her sunken eyes. She was more tired than Mercedes was, and she felt it in Kate’s sigh, the weight of generations pouring from her lungs.
“You still think there’s a chance.”
“No.” Not a chance. A small, lingering vestige of hope that Mercedes couldn’t lose lest everything crumble. “I don’t know anything anymore.”
Another heavy sigh. “I could check the Homestead. See if I can go in and-”
“No,” Mercedes said again, more firmly this time. She couldn’t know. To know would mean confirmation of the end, not just for Wynonna, but of everything. That all was truly worthless. That she should sink down and meet her end too.
“It’ll be hard, at first,” Kate said slowly.
“I’ll take it. I don’t care anymore.”
Hesitation wasn’t what Mercedes expected from Kate. “Are you sure?”
“You’re dying, Kate. I’m dying. I can feel it. And I can’t-” she was not about to cry, because to do so would spill whatever was left of her. “I can’t. I’m not going to die alone like I was dying alone before.”
The silence was more than Mercedes had ever felt before. No wind, no distant cars, no distant call of animals because the animals had gone gone gone and were granted mercy that not even she was privileged to receive.
“Okay,” Kate said finally. “Okay.”
Relief, more than Mercedes could have guessed, the first in a long, long time. She pulled at the collar of her coat, exposing her neck and gritting her teeth, eyes piercing into Kate’s and beckoning to be taken. Kate laughed.
“Slow down. Let’s go inside first.”
The scene was sickeningly sentimental. Colourful blankets and pillows laid on the wooden floor in front of the stone fireplace, amber scented candles in their silver holders surrounding them. Mercedes laughed, incredulous, Kate lighting the last of the candles.
“Really? Should I make you dinner first?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “I’m trying to make this as comfortable for you as I can. Trust me, it’s not pleasant.” She patted a pillow next to her, Mercedes slumping down and biting at the skin inside of her cheek.
“Now,” Kate said, sliding to her knees in front of Mercedes and brushing her thigh. “I could glamour you. It’d make it easier. Pleasurable, even.”
“God, Kate, are you turning me or trying to turn me on?”
Kate smirked. “Why, are you proposing something?”
“I don’t want to be glamoured,” Mercedes said quickly, her patience wearing as thin as her nerves. “It feels like I shouldn’t.”
“I get it. I was lucid too.”
Mercedes’ heart leapt to her throat when Kate reached out to her, drawing her shirt from her collarbone and tracing her fingertips over her pulse point.
“Try to relax.”
“Kate? Just shut up and bite me already.”
Golden eyes and golden teeth were the last thing Mercedes saw as a human, twin daggers stabbing through her skin with the tearing of flesh. The smell of iron and warmth on her neck, a strange pain that seized her muscles. When she felt something slip away and something new entering to take its place, her vision turned to a bright shade of alluring pink.