Chinese Butterfly

by Christina K
Copyright 2002

Comments & suggestions welcomed. Spoilers through "Normal Again." Thanks to the Horsechicks for reading and liking.

I think I finally get that joke of Tara's about insect reflections.

The mirror above the sink has steamed over from the shower I just took, and so has the magnifying one on the counter. I crack open the window to let some of the trapped heat escape, and shiver as cooler air hits a damp spot on my neck. The hard formica under my fingers is slick with moisture, and it doesn't feel any less real than the thick cotton-and-leather restraints at the clinic. But it doesn't feel any more real, either. To my skin, they were the same. Demon antidote or no demon antidote, I keep scratching my wrists, sense memory claiming that they should be blistering.

The full-length mirror on the back of the door is still streaky but starting to clear, and in it Iım zebra-striped with mist and dots of water, like my image is surfacing from a jacuzzi. I can see a sliver of the counter mirror in the corner of its reflection; it's showing a weird angle of the floor, and my bare feet. I step sideways and turn my head, and in the corner medicine-cabinet mirror, I can see the surface of the sink mirror, which is reflecting a piece of the one on the back of the door, which bounces back the sunlight coming through the window and a square of blue sky.

From that angle, I'm not in the bathroom at all. Giles told me the story about the butterfly and the dreaming Chinese philosopher a long time ago--- I thought it sounded like a riddle Kwai Chang Caine would come up with after he'd smoked one too many pipes of Œspecialı herbs. Butterfly, Confucius, Grasshopper, Kung Fu master, whatever. What did it matter? I asked him. You were where you were. Flying or sleeping. Awake or dreaming. If I was someone else's dream, they had a pretty sick imagination (because seriously: Lothos as a Master Vampire? Cheesier than Wisconsin). But that didn't change anything important about me. There were still vampires to slay, friends to dance with at the Bronze, Angel to love, my mom to protect. He tried to tell me that it meant that the world we're in, the things we touch and feel, might not be the most important reality, but I kind of missed the point.

I hold the plastic makeup mirror behind me, tilt it so I can see myself in the counter mirror, then tilt it again so I can catch a glint of the full-length's reflection. A million Buffys, going on forever in a long corridor of copies. Willow would know how many reflections you can actually see when you put a mirror in front of mirror. There has to be some math equation for it somewhere, about light and mirror size and what your eye can make out. Maybe I have more reflections because I'm a Slayer, and I can see more of them than normal people would.

Unless I'm just a butterfly sitting in between two mirrors. Or unless there are no mirrors at all, and that Buffy behind me is as real as the one in front of me, or the one whose skin I'm in. It seems like all it takes for me to have fabulously pointless flashes of insight is to go crazy out-of-my- head for a while. Because I'm wondering about the World Without Shrimp. And Troll World. And the universe Anya claims Cordelia wished into existence three years ago--- I never could take that seriously. Not even after meeting SkankVamp Willow.

But we all believed Jonathan was cooler than Michael Jordan times Tom Cruise for almost a week; and Dawn feels as real when I hug her as the memories of the clinic did. I think I'm getting what Anya, in her dead- ahead-no-sidetracks-for-sanity way was trying to explain, and what Giles was oh-so-patiently telling me: if you can think it, it's real. I don't know if that's profound, obvious, shallow, or just plain scary. Right now, scary has the lead, with one almost-bearable footnote. I might not be the butterfly, or the Chinese philosopher. I might be the smoke from the funky cigarette of some doper on Venice Beach. But I was right when I told Giles that it didn't matter.

If I have to choose one reality over another--- if I have to wake up from this dream or that one--- I'm still not going to be the person who would sacrifice her friends for it. Maybe it wouldn't matter to whatever is the real world, because Dawn and Willow, and Xander and Tara, are only made-up things. Maybe I'm choosing wrong in staying here, taking on more than I can carry and more than I really want to face. I might have just signed my ultimate death warrant here at the hands of vampires, while adding in brain- death for that comatose girl lying in her room at the clinic.

But I won't be that Buffy. I won't be the one who let her friends and her sister die so she could run away. I'd know the difference, even if it meant I woke up sane and alone somewhere else. If they all go away--- if *I* go away again--- I'll deal with whatever reality comes after that. But I won't make it happen by crawling in a corner and closing my eyes to anyone else's pain and fear. I canıt believe that imagining their pain or their deaths would ever make mine go away.

No more hiding.

I angle the hand mirror again, and a perfect triangle of reflections forms between the one in my hand, the one before me, and those behind me. And I see:

The Buffy who is finally waking up in the clinic....
The Buffy who is still asleep....
The Buffy whose grave is undisturbed....
The Buffy who is picking Dawn up from school in L.A.....
The Buffy who died when the Master rose....
The Buffy who is laughing with Angel in New York....
The Buffy who is lying on a beach in China.

I can't see her in the reflections around me. But I'm sure that somewhere down the line of mirrors there's a Buffy with wings.

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