Betty Grof often stares at her reflection in the mirror.
These days, she usually sees Simon staring back at her. Not literally, but it might as well be him. She sees what she imagines Simon might if only he could look at her now the way he used to. She sees a monster. A guardian angel. She sees a manifestation of her love for him: a love that is toxic, tired but uncompromising, sustained by the need to capture what once was. She sees an aching, crushing responsibility on her slowly caving shoulders to never allow that love to die or falter. A promise of dedication that she could not, would not live down. Never, not until her last breath- labored and trembling and, probably, alone. She wonders if he would be disappointed if he could see.
A shadow of a woman, really.
Not sure there's even any me left, anymore. Her own words echo in her head. She tries her best to ignore them.
Betty Grof has to save Simon Petrikov. That's just the way things are. There is no other ending to this story. No other option, no other outcome. What might happen to Betty is irrelevant. Inconsequential. It doesn't have to be a happy outcome. Not for her.
For Simon, though, anything less is unacceptable.
Betty pressed her own hand to her cheek, and imagined it was his. She imagined his delicate frame, his brown skin and his gentle smile and his wispy bangs that always fell perfectly around his ridiculously dorky, but cute, very John-Lennon-esque glasses.
She would do anything to make her daydreams feel real again.
She missed the days when daydreams were merely to pass the short time before she would see him next. Maybe he was teaching a lecture, or out getting groceries. Maybe he'd buy her flowers on his way home to surprise her.
He wasn't. He wouldn't. Not now. Now, he was cold and pale and blue and old and certainly didn't remember who she was anymore. Flowers, but from a different hand. He humored her, though. Simon was sweet like that. She thought he was, anyway, and maybe that was enough to keep going. Whenever the realization that they were both losing themselves began to creep in, Betty nearly panicked. It had been a matter of timing until she made up her mind that Simon's life mattered more than her own. Doubt still crept in. After hundreds of years of just him and the crown and no Betty, maybe there wasn't any Simon left to save anymore. She'd arrived at that conclusion, already. Several times. She knew it was true. What was the use? Death said it himself, 'Ice King until the sun blows up'.
No. She can't afford to think like that, can't accept that. She's so close.
She lost him once and somehow she found him again, and now she won't let him go. At first, Betty hardly let him out of her sight. That was before she realized that he wasn't under any threat in this world, anymore. Magic made sure of that. By now, the crown had done just about all the damage it could do to Simon without killing him, and then some.
He doesn't remember her. He doesn't care that he doesn't remember her. He remembers Marceline. Maybe not the little girl he saw as his own before the crown devoured his mind and sapped every last bit of sanity from it, but he remembers her. Loves her. She has a place in his mind and heart. Betty tries not to resent either of them for that fact. It's difficult. Marceline is his friend. Betty is a nameless stranger. She doesn't always succeed, often doesn't. She wants so desperately to salvage his mind. She worries that Marceline has given up, accepted his fate for what it is. Betty could never accept that.
They are two broken women who just want their Simon back if only they could reach him, only Betty doesn't know when to stop reaching. Reaching is all she knows. Reaching for a book in the library, fingers brushing against fingers, frames of eyeglasses awkwardly clunking against other between kisses. Two names side by side on the spine of a book. Dates in a nautical-themed restaurant. Ice cream sundaes with too much chocolate syrup. Simon. To Marceline, Simon was her protector. He was campfires and VHS tapes and sleeping bags and one-man-sitcoms and motorcycles and chicken soup. That scares Betty more than anything. A Simon she never got to know, and Marcy saw it all. She watched him slowly drown and deteriorate until he had completely disappeared into the deep, leaving her behind with nothing but broken trust and promises. Betty hadn't. She took the easy way out, skipped ahead because he had wanted her to. Marceline was never given that luxury.
Betty found it was easier just to avoid and ignore the vampire girl whenever possible. She couldn't afford to let petty jealousy interfere with her mission. Marcy was a child then, still is. She needed him and probably still does and maybe a part of Betty was doing this for her, too, although she'd never say it to anyone.
You look so happy and...sane. Betty doesn't realize she's crying until she's wiping the hot tears from her face. I was. She couldn't give up now. She'd given up too much of herself to turn back. She shook her head. Betty from the past didn't matter. Mind games and manipulation and magic could never stand between her and Simon, she wouldn't allow it.
After all, she couldn't miss her flight.
Betty takes off her glasses and wipes her eyes and nose on her sleeve. She puts them back on, and the staring contest resumes.
Her vision less blurry, Betty finds her disheveled reflection glaring back at her. Her eyes look vacant, yet intensely focused. They are paler than before, whatever "before" means now. The bags underneath seem to be getting darker, heavier. She is getting more desperate and more tired with each day she spends devoted to this cause. Her red hair, once radiant and soft, is now frayed at the ends and matted. She was pale before, now she has to half-convince herself that she isn't looking at an apparition. She wears that stupid, stupid hat. Betty sometimes hates herself for everything she put herself through with him, the only other person in Ooo who truly and fully understood what she was going through. Maybe Simon would, too. She emerged from his convoluted mind a different person; whether she had intended to or not, she wasn't quite sure anymore. All she knew for certain was that it got her one step closer to saving Simon, and that was all that mattered.
You forgot your floaties. Betty shuddered. She dug her fingernails into her clammy palms and winced. I'll save you, Simon, whatever it takes.
It was all she could do not to break down into miserable sobs, sinking to the cold tile floor of the washroom and remaining there for hours upon hours, staring listlessly at the grout on the wall. Instead, she took a deep breath, stifled the tears this time, and turned away from the mirror. She had a new plan.
She was in the Magic Man House. She had returned to gather her bearings and to think. They didn't have much time. Margles and Simon, for all the time they had taken, didn't have much time.
Betty shut off the bathroom light with a flick of her hand, and walked out the door, breathing sharply. The hallway floorboards creaked under her heavy, off-balance steps. She fumbled for her back pocket. Digging into her wallet, Betty extracted from it a square piece of film. A photograph of them together in front of mountains, hands entwined. After her initial arrival through the portal, Betty had forgotten about the photo. She was so focused on saving Simon in that moment. Now, it was a ritual to examine it and note how things have changed from the way they were. The way they were supposed to be. Have to fix Simon. His name haunted her thoughts as if to ensure that she never forgot her purpose, her drive for every action. Save her long-dead fiancé from the mental labyrinth that holds him prisoner, hold his hand again. Easy enough. Nothing was too difficult if it allowed her to see Simon alive, safe and well. Of that, Betty was certain. Always had been, always would be.
The next day, the mirror was broken, its shards strewn across the bathroom floor. The house was empty.
Reflections can't bring back the dead, only those desperate and mad enough to try.